A deactivated yeast that is sold as a food product, nutritional yeast usually comes in the form of flakes or powder. Often from a strain of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it has a strong, savory flavor that is variously described as cheesy, nutty and tangy. It is popular with vegans as a substitute for cheese in recipes.
Nutritional yeast is produced by culturing yeast for several days in a nutrient growth medium (often glucose from beet molasses or sugarcane) and then deactivating it with heat. Nutritional yeast differs from yeast used in baking and brewing in that the strains exhibit a different look, feel and color, and are specifically chosen and cultured for this use.
The health benefits of health benefits include: it is a complete protein, providing all 18 amino acids, making it a good alternative to animal-based proteins. It is also a good source of fiber, and contains B-complex vitamins. It is sometimes fortified with vitamin B12, which is naturally obtained through red meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and dairy - another reason it is popular with vegans (and vegetarians). It is low in sodium and provides iron, selenium, folic acid and potassium.
When choosing nutritional yeast, the form - flakes or powder - is your choice, as they are similar in both taste and health benefits. Some common uses include sprinkling powdered nutritional yeast on popcorn or freshly baked pizza dough in lieu of cheese. It can also lend a satisfying tang to kale chips, roasted vegetables or nuts.
Nutritional yeast has a shelf life of about a year when sealed and stored in a cool, dry place. You can also freeze it in sealed bags where it should keep for up to two years. Look for it in the bulk section at your local natural foods store.
Dr. Weil's take:
Nutritional yeast was very popular in the 1970s and I developed a taste for it then. I love the nutty flavor and find myself sprinkling it on many savory dishes to punch up the taste. I have encouraged the chefs at my True Food Kitchen restaurants to experiment with this versatile ingredient. It is a key element in Umami Sauce, a favorite dressing at the restaurant for salads and raw vegetables. Nutritional yeast is also a popular topping on our Bison burger.
Watch as Dr. Weil discusses nutrtional yeast in his healthy kitchen.
Try these tasty nutritional yeast recipes: