There’s a cabinet next to my stove where I keep just the essentials—ingredients that I like having at arm’s length when whipping up a meal. There you’ll find a few oils, vinegars, and my personal favorite: nutritional yeast. I keep it in a glass flip-top jar for easy access and I reach for it often. Very often.
Why does a jar of nutritional yeast get top billing in my kitchen? The little yellow flakes add cheesy, savory flavor to everything they touch without the calories and fat associated with dairy. In fact, nutritional yeast is beloved for its health benefits, like its protein and B vitamin.
A shelf-stable, healthy ingredient that tastes somewhere right in between Parmesan and nacho cheese? Heck yes! Please excuse me while I go sprinkle it on everything.
What Is Nutritional Yeast, Exactly?
Nutritional yeast, sometimes lovingly called “nooch,” is an inactive form of a strain of yeast commonly used to make bread and brew beer. It’s cultivated using molasses or other sugar before being dried into its flake form. This makes nutritional yeast shelf-stable, and a bag or jar can hang out in your pantry for a good long while without ill effects.
Nutritional yeast used to be relegated to health food stores, but you can now find it at most major markets, including Trader Joe’s. Bob’s Red Mill is a popular brand, and you’ll sometimes find the flakes in bulk bins. It looks strikingly like fish food, and it has a strong, cheesy smell.
Why Nutritional Yeast Is the Best
Nutritional yeast is popular with vegans since it provides a distinctively cheesy flavor without the need for dairy. That being said, I’m decidedly not vegan (I love, love cheese) and still frequently use the stuff.
The reason I love nutritional yeast so much? It’s a healthy, no-fuss way to add a punch of cheesy flavor to a dish. I don’t have to scour a lump of cheese from the back of the fridge drawer for mold or pull out my grater. I don’t need to add it gradually to make sure it melts evenly, as you would be cheese. I don’t have to worry if I’ve had too much dairy that day, because I definitely have a limit. I can even skip scraping crusted cheese off of the pan afterward.
All I have to do is reach into the cabinet and sprinkle in as much cheese dust as I want. Magic!
How to Use Nutritional Yeast
Let me count the ways I use nutritional yeast. One of my favorites and quite possibly the most common use for nutritional yeast is sprinkling it on top of warm popcorn. After popping, I drizzle in a little oil or melted butter followed by a sprinkle of salt and plenty of nutritional yeast. I often add a few pinches of Kashmiri chile powder for a bit of heat before tossing everything together. It’s seriously delicious and rivals any packaged snack.
I find myself adding nutritional yeast to bechamel-style cheese sauces to lessen the amount of dairy in a recipe or replace it altogether, like in our insanely good vegan queso. I add it to vegetarian risotto, pastas, and sauces, and salad dressings. In fact, I make my vegan Caesar salad dressing more often than the real stuff. It’s quicker, easier, and doesn’t require raw eggs.
The next time you bread something for frying or baking, add nutritional yeast to the breadcrumbs for a flavor boost. Sprinkle it in your scrambled eggs or tofu scramble, add it to soups or salads… I could go on and on.