If an Oscar existed for terrible brand marketing, the person
who invented the name “nutritional yeast” would get one.
When newbies first encounter this product, they never think,
“OMG, this sounds fabulous! I’m gonna add this stuff to everything now! Can I
get it in 50-pound sacks?”
Yet you’ll probably find nutritional yeast — often
called “nooch” for short — in the fridge or pantry of most plant-based
eaters. I even know people who carry a jar or shaker in their purse or car.
So what is nutritional yeast? How is it made? Why
are some people fanatical about this ingredient? And also: Can you
overdose on it? And who should consume it, and who shouldn’t?
Wonder no more. Here’s a deep dive into the topic to bring
you everything you ever wanted to know about nutritional yeast.
What Is Nutritional Yeast?
Plant-based eaters use nutritional yeast as a
condiment and as an ingredient to add a savory,
cheesy, nutty taste to a myriad of dishes.
It’s often used to make bland dishes flavorful and delicious
and to add a burst of umami to almost anything. And it adds an appealing,
yellow-orange color to recipes.
Nutritional yeast is also a rich source of important
vitamins and minerals, protein, and fiber.
Plus most nutritional yeasts don’t contain any
animal-derived ingredients. This makes nooch a useful alternative
to dairy cheese in
How Is It Made?
Nutritional yeast is the same species of yeast (Saccharomyces
cerevisiae) used to make beer, bread, or kombucha. But
it’s a different end product.
One major difference is that, for the most part, people use
baker’s and brewer’s yeast in their active form. Nutritional yeast is
inactive, so it has no leavening ability. In other words, it won’t make
dough rise — and it won’t reproduce inside you, even if you eat it raw.
Nutritional yeast is made by growing S. cerevisiae on
a sugar-rich molasses medium. Then, it is deactivated with heat, washed,
pasteurized, dried, and crumbled.
It’s almost always fortified with nutrients, particularly
B vitamins, before ending up on store shelves. Unfortified versions are
In the lingo of yeast professionals, nutritional
yeast is a primary-grown yeast. That means it’s cultivated
specifically for its nutritional value and not as a by-product or a
means to another recipe.
Which pretty much answers the next question.
Does Nutritional Yeast Offer Health Benefits?
Not only does nutritional yeast taste good, but it can also
be good for you!
Nooch has an unassuming appearance you might associate with
fish food. But it’s packed with several nutrients that are in short
supply in the modern Western diet.
Mini-disclaimer: Though exact nutrients and their amounts
can vary between brands, most nutritional yeasts have a similar makeup. Take a
peek at the ingredient label to be sure a particular brand contains what you’re
Fortified nutritional yeast is a B vitamin
One tablespoon contains 30
to 180% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for various B vitamins. Some of
these form naturally as yeast grows, and others — especially vitamins B6 and
B12 — are added through fortification.
B vitamins are involved in important bodily processes, such as
metabolism, energy production, DNA synthesis, brain function, hormone
regulation, and making blood cells.
People who eat a plant-based diet might be looking to
nutritional yeast as a source of vitamin B12.Though fortified
versions will contain B12, it’s usually not enough to rely upon for all your
needs, so other sources are still important. (For more about how to how to
get the B12 you need, read
this article about key supplements we recommend.)
Nutritional yeast is over 50% protein by weight.
In fact, it contains more protein per calorie than
any meat product out there! In only a ¼ cup, you’ll find eight grams
of protein, three grams of fiber, very little sodium, and no sugar.
Nutritional yeast is particularly rich in lysine and
tryptophan. These amino acids have received particularly good press.
Lysine may prevent cold sores. And tryptophan gets
converted into the “good mood and sleep” hormone, serotonin.
Nutritional yeast contains a
wealth of trace minerals.
Some of these include zinc, selenium, magnesium, molybdenum,
phosphorus, and potassium. These are all essential for good health. They also support a strong
immune system and active metabolism.
Yeast is also a rich source of chromium, which your body
needs to regulate blood sugar. For this reason,
it can be beneficial for people with prediabetes, diabetes, or anyone concerned
about balancing their blood sugar levels.
Nutritional yeast contains potent antioxidants,
which help to prevent cell damage that can lead to many chronic diseases.
One potent antioxidant, in particular, is glutathione. It can help protect your cells
and eliminate toxins from your body.
Glutathione plays an important role in cellular defense
mechanisms. Nutritional yeast contains around 2.5 mg of glutathione per gram —
which is a very concentrated amount.
Science Says Nutritional Yeast Has Other Benefits, Too