What’s cheesy and nutty and perfect sprinkled on salads, pasta, and roasted veggies? Nope, not cheese. It’s nutritional yeast! Whether you’ve encountered these yellow-orange flakes in your grocery store aisles or not, there’s a good chance that you don’t know exactly how to use them in your food. Seasoned vegans know it as the ideal alternative to shredded cheese. And, while we certainly don’t expect you to hand over the cheese shaker, find out the benefits of nutritional yeast and how to best use it—it may even become a pantry staple.
“Nutritional yeast is grown from fungi. It’s made from sugarcane and beet molasses. In the scientific form Saccharomyces cerevisiae, or sugar-eating fungus, yeast cells use the sugar for energy,” says Dr. Keith Kantor, a leading nutritionist and CEO of the Nutritional Addiction Mitigation Eating and Drinking program.
Despite the name, nutritional yeast is inactive or deactivated yeast, says Bianca Osbourne, chef and holistic nutritionist. “[It] is made by culturing a yeast for several days.” When the yeast is ready, it’s deactivated with heat and then harvested, washed, dried, and packaged.
Typically nutritional yeast is yellow in color and comes in flakes, granules, or a powderlike form. It’s similar to grated or shredded parmesan in its many forms.
There are a host of benefits associated with nutritional yeast. “People use it as a condiment because of the numerous health benefits and flavor,” Dr. Kantor says. “It is rich in B vitamins, provides a complete source of protein (9 grams per serving), [and contains] folates, thiamine, niacin, selenium, zinc, and riboflavin.” For vegans, B vitamins are especially important as the vegan diet can oftentimes lack these nutrients, specifically.
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How to Use Nutritional Yeast
There are a few ways to use nutritional yeast, but one of the easiest and most delicious is as a garnish on popcorn, Osbourne says. Combine two tablespoons of nutritional yeast and one teaspoon of black pepper, and toss this seasoning with one cup of popped corn.
“We use it to impart umami and a cheese-like flavor to dishes,” says Chef Todd Gray, co-owner of Equinox Restaurant in Washington, D.C. “We’re always experimenting with new vegan dishes—half of our menu is now plant-based. Ingredients like nutritional yeast, dried mushrooms, nut milks, and nut cheeses have become a part of our repertoire,” he adds.
Vegan French Onion Soup
Courtesy of Chef Todd Gray
- 1 carrot, sliced
- 1 white onion, sliced
- 2 ribs celery
- 1 small eggplant
- 6 cloves garlic
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3 ounces tomato paste
- 1 cup dried shiitake mushrooms
- 1 six-inch piece of kombu
- ½ cup soy sauce
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- 2 ounces agave
- Roughly chop all the vegetables and combine with olive oil. Spread out on a sheet pan or roasting pan, and cook at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until lightly browned.
- Remove from oven and transfer roasted veggies to a large stockpot. Add tomato paste and cook for 3-4 minutes.
- Add 1-gallon water, dried shiitake mushrooms, kombu, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and agave. Allow broth to simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Allow to cool to room temperature to infuse flavor. Drain vegetables from the liquid. Discard vegetables.
To Finish Soup
- 6-8 medium-sized onions, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 ounces good olive oil
- 3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- ½ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 cups white wine
- 1 12-ounce bottle of good dark beer
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Heat a shallow stockpot or wide-bottom saucepan to medium to high heat, and add olive oil, onions, and nutritional yeast. Cook until the onions are golden brown, turning down the heat halfway through cooking time (about 30 minutes).
- Dust onions with flour, incorporating well, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Add white wine and beer. Reduce liquid by ½ to ¾.
- Add prepared broth, and stir well to combine.
- Simmer soup on medium-low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Ladle soup into six large bowls, and top with sourdough or focaccia croutons, a sprinkle of grated cashew cheese, and a dusting of smoked paprika.