There’s something that just doesn’t sit right about “nutritional yeast.” Vegans have attempted to reclaim the words by giving it a nickname—nooch—but somehow that sounds off-center as well.
At VegNews, we call it magic dust (so do three-year-olds, but sometimes kids know what they’re talking about). If you’re new to nooch, don’t be put off by the name. Its powers and uses are infinite—you can turn boring veggies into cheesy snacks, make a velvety cheese sauce for pasta, and make a thick creamy cheesy soup, all with a can of nooch in hand. Here are 16 ways to use nutritional yeast—the most wonderful food with the worst-sounding name.
What is nutritional yeast?
For the sake of all your future baked goods, do not confuse nutritional yeast with baker’s yeast. Nutritional yeast is not a leavening agent, and it cannot be used as a substitute for baker’s yeast.
Nooch and traditional yeast are derived from the same source, however. Each starts with living saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast which is fed a carbohydrate in order to ferment in a vat. Nutritional yeast undergoes further processing. It is heated, pasteurized, and dried, effectively killing any active ingredient. It’s then pressed into flakes and packaged, ready for use.
When searching for nutritional yeast at the store, look for a bag or jar containing yellow flakes. Excuse the comparison, but these flakes look very similar to fish food. Thankfully, the similarities stop there. Nooch has a mild, slightly parmesan-esque smell and a pleasing, umami taste. But please, don’t feed it to your fish.
What are the benefits of nutritional yeast?
Nooch may not be an exotic berry sourced from the Amazon, but its nutritional profile undeniably qualifies it as a superfood. It’s one of the very few vegan sources of vitamin B12, though technically, it’s fortified and does not naturally contain this nutrient. Nutritional yeast is also considered a complete protein, just like animal-based protein.
A single two-tablespoon serving contains 30 calories, a negligible quarter gram of fat, 2.5 grams of fiber, four grams of protein, and over 100 percent of the daily recommended thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folate, and vitamins B 6 and B12.
Nooch is a nutritional powerhouse—Bob’s Red Mill even describes it as a “vegetarian dietary supplement”—though we just think of it as a delicious and affordable condiment. If you’re looking to get more protein in your diet without increasing fat or calories, adding a few tablespoons of nooch to your meals is an effective way to do so.
What does nutritional yeast taste like?
Nutritional yeast has a cheesy, slightly nutty, and overall savory umami taste. It’s not overpowering like some umami flavor bombs; think of it like parmesan. The flavor is very distinct and you know it’s there, but you don’t necessarily have to go light with it as you would with, let’s say, truffle oil or vegan fish sauce.
Nutritional yeast is a powerful complementary ingredient that plays well in a number of applications. It can impart a cheesy but not overwhelmingly cheddar flavor to tofu ricotta, or it can add subtle depth and complexity to a vegan cheesecake. When used in a multi-component recipe, nooch adds that je ne sais quoi element that keeps your taste buds engaged and thoroughly delighted.
16 vegan ways to use nutritional yeast
1 Cheese sauce
There are literally thousands of vegan mac and cheese recipes online and in cookbooks, but the one unifying ingredient is nutritional yeast. It adds both color and cheesy flavor to this staple sauce, and while you can mix it up with other ingredients such as cashews, tofu, potatoes, and spices, the nooch is non-negotiable.
Try it in a recipe: Spicy Vegan Buffalo Cauliflower Mac and Cheese
2 Vegan omelets and frittatas
What is a frittata if not an open-faced omelet? No matter what you call it, it needs some nooch. Typically made with tofu or chickpea flour, nutritional yeast adds a more prominent yellow color as well as an umami flavor to this vegan egg batter. Once cooked to a perfectly fluffy consistency with just the right amount of browned edges, top your omelet with more nooch.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Fresh Herb and Fennel Chickpea Frittata
Egg-based hollandaise sauce can be tricky to master—one has to get the emulsification just right or the sauce will “break” and become an unsalvageable curdled mess. Fortunately, this isn’t an issue with the vegan version. Even an inexperienced home cook can blend up a few ingredients and whisk over a stove until the mixture thickens. Serve it over a tofu-topped English muffin for a scrumptious vegan benny or go basic and dip toast into this silky smooth sauce.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Tofu Benedict With Hollandaise
4 Queso dip and nacho cheese
If you can make a decent mac and cheese sauce, you can make queso. The nooch is necessary for that cheesy flavor. You can even use it to make queso blanco—the right amount won’t turn the whole dip orange.
Try it in a recipe: Easy Vegan Veggie Fakeout Queso
Similar to omelets and frittatas, you need nooch to make a quality quiche. Rule of thumb: if you’re replicating eggs, nooch is necessary.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Sausage Quiche With Spinach and Asparagus
For finger-licking-good popcorn at home, sprinkle your popped kernels with a generous helping of nutritional yeast. Pro tip: adding melted vegan butter to popcorn before sprinkling on the nooch will help it adhere better. No recipe needed here, just add nooch to taste.
7 Broccoli or potato cheddar soup
On the right night, there are few foods more comforting than a silky smooth potato cheddar soup. Yes, melting in vegan cheese shreds definitely provides a cheesy element, but nutritional yeast disperses more evenly and brings all the flavors together. This also works for broccoli soup or any other cheddar-based soup varietal.
Try it in a recipe: Copycat Panera Broccoli Cheddar Soup
8 Tofu or chickpea scramble
As well as kala namak (aka black salt), which gives tofu scramble that signature eggy taste, vegan egg dishes are not complete without a generous helping of cheesy nooch. We’ve made our point.
Try it in a recipe: Simple Vegan Breakfast Scramble Sandwiches
9 Caesar dressing
Nutritional yeast plays two roles in vegan caesar dressing—it stands in for the egg and the umami notes typically created with anchovies. We prefer our salad without blended fish, thank you very much.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Tahini Caesar Salad With Smoked Chickpeas
10 Alfredo sauce
Just a pinch is all you need for a luxurious vegan alfredo. The nooch won’t mess up the color, but it will impart a depth of flavor in this decadent sauce. In lieu of pasta, try gently simmering collard greens or chard in this sauce for a decadent vegetable side dish.
Try it in a recipe: Mushroom Fettuccine With Cashew Alfredo
11 Cream cheese
Sure, it’s easy to buy vegan cream cheese these days, but it’s arguably more rewarding if you make it yourself from scratch. While the texture can come from ingredients like tofu or blended cashews, to get that signature cheesy taste, of course, you need nutritional yeast.
Try it in a recipe: Vegan Lox and Cream Cheese
12 Savory muffins
Nutritional yeast may not be the same as baker’s yeast, but it can still be included in the baking process, especially if you’re making savory baked goods. Cheesy scones, cookies, or muffins calling your name? Just break out the nooch and you can get all of the same nostalgic flavor without any of the animal ingredients.
Try it in a recipe: Savory Vegan Cheesy Zucchini and Carrot Muffins
13 Cheese wheels
Ever thought about making your own cheese? Let this be your sign that it needs to happen. It’s not as complicated as you might imagine, and the results are delicious and nutritious. Especially when nooch is involved.
Try it in a recipe: Herbed Vegan Almond Cheese Wheels
This Italian cheese usually involves whey from other cheeses, like mozzarella and provolone, but it is actually possible to get the same taste and texture using only plant-based ingredients, like tofu, nooch (of course), miso, and fresh herbs.
Try it in a recipe: Herbed Vegan Tofu Ricotta
Another popular Italian staple, polenta is thick, creamy, and usually made with cornmeal. Often, it contains a heck of a lot of dairy, too, but that’s absolutely not necessary for a great-tasting dish. Instead, mix it with vegan butter and nutritional yeast (and we mean a lot of nutritional yeast) for an ultra-satisfying cheesy dish.
Try it in a recipe: Italian Soft Polenta With Tomato Sugo Sauce
16 Straight up sprinkled on everything
No recipe is required for this one. While we draw the line at spooning it straight from the container, we liberally sprinkle nutritional yeast on just about everything. Some may argue it’s better than salt. A few of our favorite foods that always receive a dusting of nooch include steamed kale, salad, pizza, pasta, baked potatoes, steamed broccoli and cauliflower, tomato soup, and chili. That’s a very abbreviated list, but we’ll spare you the encyclopedia. Go forth, and nooch it up!