This article originally appeared on Cooking Light.
It’s simply deactivated yeast—similar to the kind in your bread or beer. To make the seasoning, manufacturers feed the yeast sugar, to make them grow and flourish. Then they kill (or deactivate) the yeast by heating them. Finally, they dry the deactivated yeast and fortify it with vitamins and minerals. That’s it.
It tastes cheesy and savory because of naturally occurring glutamate. Nutritional yeast does not contain added MSG, but it as the yeast break down, they leave behind amino acids, glutamic acid among them, which has a naturally savory, umami-like flavor.
It’s fairly nutritious. Nutritional yeast contains B vitamins and protein, and it has only about 20 calories per spoonful.
You can use it the same way you’d use Parmesan. Nutritional yeast is a super useful seasoning for vegan or dairy-free diets: It’s fantastic sprinkled on popcorn or nachos, or over roasted vegetables or salads. You can use it to make vegan pastas taste cheesy. But it’s good in non-vegan dishes too—as a flavoring in breadcrumbs for crispy chicken or fish, for instance.