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Nutritional yeast flakes are a useful and versatile ingredient – and we think it has a place in everyone’s kitchen cupboard.
But you’d be forgiven for not knowing exactly what nutritional yeast is. After all, it’s a relative newcomer to our supermarket shelves and can’t always be found outside of specialist shops.
So, what is nutritional yeast used for? And what are the benefits of nutritional yeast? Read on to find out more.
Nutritional yeast flakes are made from ‘non-live’ powdered yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which when ‘alive’ is used to make beer and bread.
We know it sounds pretty unappealing at the moment, but stick with us!
You can choose from unfortified and fortified nutritional yeast:
It is commonly used in vegetarian and vegan cooking to provide a rare non-animal form of vitamin B12.1
From sprinkling it on your beans on toast and dusting it on fresh popcorn, to cooking up a vegan ‘cheesy’ sauce for pasta, nutritional yeast is super versatile as well as good for you.
Keep reading for even more reasons to keep a tub in your kitchen cupboard.
Yeast, part of the funghi family, is produced from molasses, a natural sugar syrup. When molasses and oxygen meet and are left to ferment, yeast is produced.
Nutritional yeast comes from the same organism - saccharomyces cerevisiae - as brewer’s yeast (the stuff which turns plants into alcohol and gives bread its rise).
Unlike brewer’s yeast, thought, nutritional yeast has been ‘deactivated’ using heat and has no fermentation powers.2
Nutritional yeast is available in flakes, granules or powder.
Nutritional yeast uses are many – it also comes with a host of health benefits.
Nutritional yeast is a rich source of B vitamins and minerals, including folic acid.
These are things that vegetarians and vegans can be deficient in, which makes nutritional yeast especially good for those following a meat and dairy-free diet.3
Nutritional yeast has gained in popularity over the years alongside the rise of vegetarianism and veganism in the UK.
According to researchers, the global nutritional yeast market is expected to expand further over the next decade.4
In the process, nutritional yeast has earned itself a trendy new name among foodies and culinary bloggers – ‘nooch’.
The overriding flavour of nutritional yeast is a cheese-like taste.
This cheesy, umami (one of the core five tastes) flavour makes it perfect for adding to dishes where you’d normally grate on some cheese or parmesan.
But that’s not all. It can also be added to sauces and gravy to deepen the flavour, especially as it has a slightly nutty taste too.
Nutritional yeast is low in fat and calories – with only 17kcal and 0.2g fat per 5g serving.5
When compared to a slice of cheddar cheese, which has around 110 calories and 9g fat, nutritional yeast is healthier and lighter.6
Per average 5g serving, fortified nutritional yeast provides:
Is nutritional yeast healthy? It is indeed! Here are some of the best nutritional yeast benefits.
Unfortified nutritional yeast products contain a modest amount of B vitamins, as they form naturally while the yeast grows, and the fortified varieties contain even more.
One tablespoon of the fortified flakes contains 600-1000% of the recommended daily intake of B vitamins – pretty impressive, eh!8
B vitamins are important for our overall health.
They can help us feel more focussed, less tired and fatigued, support the formation of red blood cells and even help our hair and nails grow strong and healthy.9,10,11,12
When you follow a vegan diet, you are naturally more prone to vitamin B12 deficiency.
This is because animal products like meat and dairy are the main source of vitamin B12 for many, due to the animals being supplemented with it while they are alive.13
No need to worry too much if you’re shunning meat and dairy though, sprinkling just 5g of fortified nutritional yeast into your daily life provides you with the daily recommended amount for adults. Easy!14
Surprisingly, nutritional yeast is an excellent source of plant-based protein.
Not only that, but it is also a complete protein, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot create, and we usually have to source from food, just like meat, fish, dairy and soy.15
Just 16g contains 8g of protein, so it’s a great vegan-friendly way to boost the protein content of any meal – all with a healthy serving of vitamins and minerals, it’s a no-brainer!16
Nooch contains selenium, zinc, manganese and molybdenum.
These trace minerals are involved in all sorts of bodily processes, like immunity, metabolism, growth and regulating our genes.17
Nutritional yeast contains several potent antioxidants, including glutathione and selenomethionine, which can help protect the cells in your body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals.18,19,20
Beta-glucan has been proven to lower cholesterol levels, and you can find it in nutritional yeast.21
Research has found that in pigs, adding the two main sources of carbohydrates in found nutritional yeast to their feed, reduced the number of infections from bacteria.22
These two types of carbohydrates are alpha-mannan and beta-glucan, and they help to prevent infections by stopping bacteria from lining the intestines, stimulating immune cells and attaching themselves to toxins that yeast can produce.23
Last up in our list of nutritional yeast health benefits, is its fibre contents.
Just 16g of nooch contains approximately 3g of fibre, which equates to 12% of the recommended daily intake.24
Nutritional yeast uses know no limits!
Here are few of our favourite ways how to use nutritional yeast.
Sprinkle it over pasta, toast, popcorn, salads, or any other food you would usually grate cheese over
Stir it into soups, sauces, scrambles and stews for a unique umami, cheesy and nutty flavour, vegan white sauce anyone?
Sub it for your usual parmesan in pesto, pizza and ‘cheesy’ broccoli and cauliflower dishes
What else is nutritional yeast used for? We’ve listed the basics, but for more detail on how exactly to use it, read on for some ideas.
Far lower in calories and fat than real cheese, nutritional yeast is a solid stand-in when you crave something cheesy but want to keep it healthy and light.
Sprinkle nutritional yeast over jacket potatoes, stews, casseroles, roasted vegetables, rice or even porridge. Just a pinch or two is enough as it’s quite strong tasting.
You just need a little nutritional yeast to make a warming soup packed with B-vitamins.
To add a savoury flavour and extra nutrition to an existing soup, simply sprinkle a serving (around a tablespoon) of nutritional yeast on top.
Alternatively, adding nutritional yeast to home-made soup gives an indulgent creamy taste.
Add the nutritional yeast at the very end of the recipe, when the soup has been taken off the heat and is about to be blended.
It’s worth remembering that nutritional yeast shouldn’t be heated above 100 degrees centigrade as this destroys the health benefits.
Make a vegan ‘cheese’ pasta sauce by simmering a little olive oil, a tablespoon of flour and a dash of soya milk.
Add nutritional yeast flakes and stir continuously until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
This sauce can be used in place of bechamel in lasagne, as well as to make a vegan version of traditionally cheesy dishes like alfredo or carbonara.
Nutritional yeast is salt-free and makes a great general seasoning for simple dishes such as spaghetti with olive oil and garlic.
Switching up the layer of cheese on a home-made pizza with nutritional yeast is a great idea for vegans or those looking for a healthy version of their favourite snack.
Once your pizza base is cooked, sprinkle a layer of nutritional yeast in place of the cheese before adding fresh tomato sauce, basil and cheese.
This hack works best on thin base pizzas, where high-quality toppings take centre stage.
Shaking freshly popped corn with nutritional yeast and a pinch of salt makes a low-calorie, low-fat and altogether delicious snack.
‘Nooch’ popcorn is becoming a favourite among foodie bloggers for this reason.
This is easy to make at home in a pan.
Simply drop corn kernels in a little hot oil in a large pan and wait for the popping sound! Then shake in a lidded container to distribute the savoury goodness.
Inspired and want to start experimenting with nutritional yeast flakes, here are a few recipes to get you started...
Nutritional yeast is a versatile food product, ideal for vegans who want to add a cheesy tang to their dishes.
But it also has a range of health benefits too, from being a great source of B vitamins to potentially supporting your immune system.
The advice in this article is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP or healthcare professional before trying any supplements, treatments or remedies. Food supplements must not be used as a substitute for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle.
Last updated: 20 January 2022
Joined Holland & Barrett: Aug 2005
Amy originally started her career with Holland & Barrett in August 2005 with the Labelling Regulatory team for Vitamins, Minerals and Supplements.
Amy moved over to support the Food Regulatory Team in October 2020 and was promoted to her role of Regulatory Affairs Associate (Food) in February 2021.
In her spare time, Amy likes to go to the gym, listen to a variety of podcasts, read and socialise with friends.