What Exactly Is Nutritional Yeast and How Do You Cook with It?

What Exactly Is Nutritional Yeast and How Do You Cook with It?

Recently, in the middle of the work day (and a major comfort-food craving), I searched the Internet for a healthy macaroni and cheese recipe. I wanted something warm and gooey, but also something that wouldn’t wreck my diet… and what I quickly found was something called “nutritional yeast.”

Yeast? In a pasta dish?

Many of the tastiest, healthiest recipes that I stumbled across called for nutritional yeast, which didn’t quite fit in with the low-fat cheeses and whole-wheat pastas that I expected to find. I assumed it wasn’t the same yeast that I associated with bread and beer, but I still didn’t know what it really was.

My original search for mac and cheese was quickly put on the back burner as I set out on a search to learn more about nutritional yeast.

So… What Is Nutritional Yeast?

While I was right in thinking that you can’t get nutritional yeast from cracking open a six pack, nutritional yeast actually does come from the same place as your favorite beer. Both nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast come from a type of yeast called S. cerevisiae, but nutritional yeast isn’t “active.”

When you purchase nutritional yeast at your local health food store, it comes in a powdered form. Years ago, it was used in blended protein drinks or used as a natural energy drink, but once health-savvy home chefs discovered its rich, cheese-like flavor, they started using it to recreate healthy versions of “cheat” meals.

The Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast

Nutritional yeast is a good source of protein, which is great news for vegetarians and vegans, as one tablespoon of a popular brand contains three grams of protein. It also provides a number of nutrients, including chromium, zinc, iron, B-complex vitamins, and other important vitamins and minerals.

Nutritional Yeast and Athletes

According to a recent study, athletes who consumed baker’s yeast post-workout had more circulating monocytes, which counteracted immune system suppression caused by hard exercise. Because a previous study showed that a person’s risk of contracting an illness normally increases after strenuous exercise, this may be a beneficial finding to athletes and anyone who frequently performs high-intensity physical activity.

Celebrity trainers such as Tracy Anderson even tout the benefits of nutritional yeast in their everyday eating routines, and Olympic marathon runner Kara Goucher frequently posts recipes using this flavorful superfood on her Facebook page. Her salads topped with nutritional yeast instead of high-fat cheeses are an easy way to add both flavor and nutrients to your diet.

How to Eat Nutritional Yeast

Now that you know about the health benefits of nutritional yeast, try testing it in your kitchen. Cheese lovers will be happy to know that this powdery, crumbly substance can be used just about anywhere that you would normally use grated cheese.

Here are just a few ways to eat nutritional yeast:

  • Sprinkle it on top of popcorn with a dash of salt and your other favorite seasonings
  • Add it to roasted or steamed vegetables
  • Stir it into soups or stews
  • Toss it into a salad in place of cheese
  • Use it to create a vegan macaroni and cheese
  • Mix it with rice for a flavor boost
  • Stir it into your favorite risotto

Try these recipes that contain nutritional yeast: