Affectionately referred to as “nooch”, this uniquely flaky, cheesy, and nutty ingredient has gained a massive cult following in recent years thanks to its umami-rich flavor and wealth of health benefits.
Nutritional yeast as we know it today first arrived in stores in the United States in 1950. By then, yeast as a food product was popular among consumers thanks to a long-running “Yeast for Health” marketing campaign a few decades prior.
It grew further in popularity during the hippie era of the 60s and 70s, in conjunction with the rise of plant-based diets, as it’s an excellent source of B12 – a vitamin usually found in meat. Its mainstream popularity took a dive in the 1980s but, by that time, the product had enough loyal consumers to keep it afloat until its perceptible spike in popularity three decades later.
Today, nutritional yeast is popularly consumed throughout the world. It’s gained a large cult following, not only within plant-based circles but by the general public as well.
Nutritional yeast has a uniquely umami-rich flavor that’s pungent, nutty, and slightly sweet. Its taste is deeply reminiscent of aged cheese, such as parmesan or asiago, but without the saltiness.
Nutritional yeast is made from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a popular strain that also goes by the names baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast. The yeast is cultured in fermentation tanks for several days through a diet of sugar, typically made from sugarcane or beets. The cultured yeast is then pasteurized. This deactivates its fermenting and growing capabilities so it can’t be used like regular baking and brewing yeast. The deactivated yeast is then washed, dried, and packaged.
We like to think of nooch as the table cheese of plant-based diets. Sprinkle it over salads, pasta, popcorn, or even your morning bagel for a kick of cheesy flavor and a little nutritional boost. It also creates golden and flavorful plant-based cheese sauces. Blend it with cashews, plant milk, and your choice of seasonings, then drizzle over pasta, nachos, or roasted vegetables. Try our recipe for Mushroom Bolognese, which uses nutritional yeast to deliver rich umami flavor to this flavorful vegetarian meal. Nutritional yeast also makes a crisp and parmesan-like coating that can hold up to both deep-frying and baking.
Where to buy Nutritional Yeast
Most large grocery stores will carry nutritional yeast in the health food section of the store. If you have trouble tracking it down, you can always order nutritional yeast online. Tightly sealed in a cool, dark place, nutritional yeast will last for up to two years in your pantry.
Feature Image: Flickr user Tony Webster ( CC BY 2.0 )