What is Nutritional Yeast | Plant Based Toronto

What is Nutritional Yeast and where does it come from?

Nutritional yeast.

I love it. You love it.

But do we even know what this stuff is?

When I transitioned to a plant-based diet, I started discovering lots of interesting new foods – and nutritional yeast was one of them. It’s used as an ingredient in recipes or as a condiment. But for something so yummy, it sure has an unappetizing name: “Nutritional” doesn’t sound tasty, and “yeast” really doesn’t sound tasty.

It definitely is tasty though!

A mostly cheesy flavour, a bit umami (savoury), and a bit nutty. It tastes so good that when I use it as an ingredient, I would often just eat a spoonful from the bag.

Just don’t confuse it for baker’s or brewer’s yeast because those would taste gross.

Until recently, I still didn’t really know where nutritional yeast comes from (beyond the bin at the bulk-food store), so I contacted Bob’s Red Mill which is one of the more popular producers of nutritional yeast.

Sarah House (their Food Innovation Chef) explained it like this: The Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast is fermented, generating a wide array of amino acids and vitamins. After fermentation, the nutrient-rich liquid is pasteurized and dried, creating the bright yellow flakes of nutritional yeast – also affectionately known as nooch or hippie dust – which is then fortified with nutrients like vitamin B12.

With some digging around the internet, I found some more info. The yeast critters (S. cerevisiae) that make nutritional yeast also make beer! But to make the hippie dust, the yeast is typically grown on sugar cane or sugar beet molasses. And by the way, the pasteurization step means it won’t cause yeast to grow inside you.

I also looked into nooch’s nutritional value.

After all, with a name like nutritional yeast, it should be good stuff. According to NutritionData.com, nooch is packed with protein and fibre.

Two tablespoons (weighing about 16 g) have 8 g of protein and 4 g of dietary fibre. It’s also a good source of the B vitamins and zinc. Regarding vitamin B12, you’ll have to check the nutrition label on the package; the yeast doesn’t make B12 on its own, so the final product is only a reliable source if it’s grown in a B12-enriched medium or if B12 is added at the end of the manufacturing process.

Nutritional yeast has some remarkable health benefits too!

It’s high in beta-glucans – sugars found in the cells walls of various yeasts, bacteria, and plants – and these beta-glucans can do the body a lot of good. They can help your immune system to fight viral, fungal, parasitic, and bacterial infections, including infections caused by resistant bacteria; they can prevent or reduce inflammation, and they are used therapeutically as anti-tumor agents.[1]

Nooch is pretty impressive. Now I don’t feel so weird about sneaking a spoonful, here and there.

Hey, I might even do it more often, especially each time flu season rolls around.

Article courtesy of Marco Pagliarulo – a biologist with a background in toxicology and ecology, and a love for all things plant-based.

[1] Silva VDO, de Moura NO, de Oliveira LJR, Peconick AP, Pereira LJ. 2017. Promising effects of beta-glucans on metabolism and on the immune responses: Review article. Am J Immunol 13 :62-72.

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