Nutritional yeast gets high praise for its health benefits, flavor, and versatility in a number of recipes.

By Betty Gold and Kimberly Holland
Updated October 28, 2019

Let's be honest, the name "nutritional yeast" doesn't sound all that appetizing. But here's the thing: it deserves a rebrand, because this golden yellow powder is both delicious and incredibly good for you. Nutritional yeast (sometimes referred to as “nooch") is especially rich in B vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It's common in vegan and vegetarian dishes as a stand-in for cheese: you'll see it sprinkled on everything from popcorn and baked potatoes to roasted cauliflower, kale salad, and pasta. Keep reading to learn more about nutritional yeast benefits, delicious nutritional yeast recipes, and more.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a dehydrated yeast product. The yeast comes from the strain Soccharomyces cerevisiae, the same type of yeast that’s used to brew beer and bake bread. The yeast for this food product can come from a variety of sources; whey, molasses, and sugar beets are the most widely used. The yeast is harvested, washed, and then heated to dry. For the final product, the yeast is then crumbled or pulverized into powder and packaged for retail sale.

Unlike active yeast or brewer’s yeast, nutritional yeast is pasteurized or heated to render it inactive. Because it’s deactivated, nutritional yeast has none of the leavening power of the other types. That means it’s used primarily as a flavoring agent, not one that will produce a reaction like proofing flour or turning hops and water into beer.

While it can be used in a variety of dishes and food genres, nutritional yeast is beloved among vegans and vegetarians because the rich, nutty flavor mimics the savory aspects of cheese. It’s also one of the few plant sources of B12, a vitamin that’s important for brain health, infection fighting, and more. Just one tablespoon delivers six times the B12 you need to meet your day’s recommended amount.

What Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Like?

Nutritional yeast has a nutty, savory flavor. It’s often described as “cheesy.” Indeed, it’s used in vegan “cheese” sauces frequently. But nutritional yeast is dairy-free, so it’s OK for vegans as well as anyone with a dairy allergy. Nutritional yeast is rich, with a lot of umami qualities, so a little goes a long way.

What Is Nutritional Yeast Used For?

Nutritional yeast comes in two forms: flakes and powder. They have the same taste, and they both melt or dissolve well. Which kind you pick depends on how you’re planning to use it or personal preference. Our favorite is Bragg's Nutritional Yeast Seasoning: it's the OG nooch brand and the most widely available brand.

Nutritional yeast is versatile. It can be used as a sprinkle on top of oatmeal, popcorn, or roasted veggies. It’s delicious used in place of Parmesan cheese on pasta, risotto, or soup. Stir some into scrambled eggs or a tofu scramble for a hit of umami. You can even use it to make a cheesy sauce for macaroni and “cheese,” nachos, or enchiladas.

What Benefits Does Nutritional Yeast Offer?

In addition to delivering a potent punch of flavor, nutritional yeast serves up healthy benefits. Indeed, nutritional yeast is sometimes called a superfood because just one tablespoon provides protein, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Nutritional yeast can be unfortified or fortified. Fortified nutritional yeast has added synthetic vitamins. However, unfortified nutritional yeast still provides a moderate amount of B vitamins and other minerals. If you’re looking for unfortified nutritional yeast, read the ingredient list. Any added vitamins or minerals will be listed.

For vegans and vegetarians, nutritional yeast is a rich source of B vitamins, especially B12, which is primarily found in animal products like eggs and milk. For people who avoid these animal proteins, it’s important to find sources of B12 because the nutrient is vital to your body’s blood cell and nerve production. It also helps protect against cancer and helps your body naturally produce energy.

Not everyone can safely use nutritional yeast. Researchers recommend that individuals with irritable bowel disease (IBD), hypertension, and glaucoma avoid the yeast product. Likewise, if you have frequent yeast infections or a yeast sensitivity or allergy, nutritional yeast may not be for you.

Nutritional Yeast Recipes

If you’re new to nutritional yeast, the best introduction might be with popcorn. Sprinkle nutritional yeast and salt onto freshly-popped popcorn for a rich and incredibly cheesy flavor. The heat and oil will help the powder or flakes adhere to the kernels.

From there, you can deploy the savory ingredient in any number of simple dishes, from roasted cauliflower to baked potato topper.

If you’d like something more adventurous or are looking for new ways to use a much-loved ingredient, these recipes with nutritional yeast will help: