What is Nutritional Yeast? Danielle Sikorski, registered dietitian
I’ve shared before that, in addition to having Celiac Disease, I a have a lot of other severe food allergies and sensitivities. Dairy unfortunately is one. I was extremely stubborn about giving up dairy when I found out that my body absolutely couldn’t tolerate it. Even though my throat would close up, I’d get headaches, my body would hurt and my stomach hurt intensely, I just couldn’t bare the thought of giving it up. It just wasn’t fair! I already couldn’t have gluten…now this?
When my food options began to dwindle, I became an avid reader of Allergen-Specific Food and Nutrition Blogs. Some of my favorites are ohsheglows.com, which features vegan dishes and elanaspantry.com, which provides a host of gluten-free and dairy free options. Reading about others who had the same sensitivities as I did while still enjoying flavorful food was extremely encouraging.
It was through these blogs that I discovered I could experience the joys of cheese again! Well, kind of. I couldn’t suddenly eat cheese made from cow’s milk but there was a food source that would allow me to add some flavor to my dishes and made a dent in my cheese craving.
What is this magical food I am speaking of?
Nutritional Yeast! Yeast?!
You must be wondering how on earth something with a name like that could possibly be a food source that I would voluntarily add to my meals. I’ll admit, the name freaked me out a bit when I first heard about it, but if it meant that I could have the essence of cheese again, I was willing to try anything and I’m very glad I did.
Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast derived from the strain, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is produced by culturing yeast for several days in a nutrient growth medium (often glucose from beet molasses or sugarcane) and then deactivating it with heat. Nutritional yeast differs from yeast used in baking and brewing in that the strains exhibit a different look, feel and color, and are specifically chosen and cultured for this use.
It is sold as a food product, usually in the form of flakes or powder and has a strong, savory flavor that is commonly described as cheesy, nutty and tangy. Completely dairy free, it is often found in vegan dishes as a substitute for cheese. It is naturally gluten free as well.
So what gives nutritional yeast the right to have “Nutritional” in its name?
In addition to providing flavor to foods, it is packed with health benefits. To begin, it is a complete protein, providing all 18 amino acids. For vegans and vegetarians, this provides an excellent alternative to animal-based proteins. Two rounded tablespoons contains 60 calories and a whopping 9 grams of protein. That’s more than 1 cup of whole milk (8 g) or 1 large egg (6g)! It is also a good source of fiber, and contains B-complex vitamins. Another reason why it is an excellent option for vegans and vegetarians is that it is sometimes fortified with vitamin B12, which is naturally obtained through red meat, eggs, fish, shellfish and dairy. Additionally, it is low in sodium and provides iron, selenium, folic acid and potassium.
Nutritional Yeast can be found in most health food stores as well as on Amazon.com. Some of the most common manufacturers include Bragg’s, Now Foods, Bob’s Red Mill, Red Star, Frontier Naturals/Organics, and Kal brand.
So how should it be consumed? Here are some of my favorite ways
– Sprinkled on taco salad with salsa verde
– Sprinkled on avocado toast
– Added to broccoli soup
– Sprinkled on chili
– Another popular method (though not with me because I have a sensitivity to corn) is sprinkled on popcorn with a little sea salt and pepper! Add cayenne for additional spice!
Here’s a recipe for a Vegan Alfredo Sauce from OhSheGlows.com.
If you don’t want to serve it over pasta, try serving it over your favorite roasted vegetables or stirred into cooked rice.
YIELD4 SERVINGS (OR 3 CUPS SAUCE)
PREP TIME 20 MINUTES
COOK TIME 30 MINUTES
- 4 heaping cups cauliflower florets (1 small/medium cauliflower)
- 1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic (from 2 med/lg cloves)
- 1/2 cup unsweetened and unflavored almond milk (or non-dairy milk of choice)
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon onion powder
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, or to taste
- 1/4-1/2 teaspoon pepper, to taste
- Fettuccine pasta of choice (I used one (8-oz) box of Eden Organic Spelt Ribbons)
- Fresh parsley, for garnish
- Add cauliflower florets in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a low boil. Once boiling, cook for another 3-7 minutes until fork tender. Drain.
- Meanwhile, add the oil into a skillet and sauté the minced garlic over low heat for 4-5 minutes until softened and fragrant, but not browned.
- In a high speed blender, add the cooked and drained cauliflower, sautéed garlic, milk, nutritional yeast, lemon juice, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Blend until a super smooth sauce forms. If using a Vitamix use the tamper stick as needed. The key here is to get a really smooth sauce so don’t be afraid to let it run for a minute or so. Set aside.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add your desired amount of pasta and boil for the time instructed on the package. Drain pasta.
- Add cauliflower sauce into the pot (you can use the same pot!) and add the drained pasta. Heat over low-medium until heated enough to your liking. Salt again to taste (the pasta dilutes the flavor).
- Serve with fresh minced parsley and black pepper. Feel free to add in your favorite sautéed or roasted vegetables.
1) To make this pasta sauce extra decadent-tasting, add a tablespoon or two of vegan butter into the sauce. 2) To make this dish gluten-free, use gluten-free pasta. 3) To make this nut-free, use a nut-free non-dairy milk such as soy milk instead of almond milk. Be sure to use unsweetened and unflavored milk.
Even if you don’t have a dairy intolerance, give Nutritional Yeast a try! It’s yet another way to incorporate more nutrients into your diet.
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