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Skipping Dairy? Try Nutritional Yeast for Delicious Cheese Flavor

A bowl of dry nutritional yeast, ready to be added to food.
myboys.me/Shutterstock

If you miss one thing on a dairy-free diet, we bet it’s the cheese. But don’t worry. You need not be deprived of the sweet taste of cheddar. Packed with B vitamins, and loaded with fiber, nutritional yeast isn’t cheese, but it sure tastes like it.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a deactivated strain of bacterial yeast, saccharomyces cerevisiae, to be exact. That doesn’t sound very safe, but variations of the same strand are used for brewing beer and baking bread. So we’re in excellent company here.

It’s sold in flake or powdered form, and its color falls somewhere between burnt orange and bronzy yellow. It has a robust cheese flavor, with a bit of nuttiness. And, it’s loaded with B vitamins and fiber, making it a sought-after supplement for those following a purely plant-based diet.

If you’re unfamiliar with it as nutritional yeast, you might know it by its street name, “hippie dust” or “nooch.” Others call it brewer’s yeast, but that’s a misnomer. Actual brewer’s yeast is a by-product of brewing beer that grows on hops. It’s not exactly something you want to sprinkle on your popcorn.

Nutritional yeast, though, grows on sugars, like blackstrap molasses. That doesn’t mean it contains sugars, though. Nope, this cheesy, flakey condiment is sugar-free, typically gluten-free, and entirely vegan! So, even those with food allergies or sensitivities can usually enjoy it.

How to Use Nutritional Yeast in Food

vegan mac and cheese sauce with nutritional yeast
Mac and cheese sauce made with nutritional yeast Minimalist Baker

Now that we’ve sung the praise of this hippie-endorsed bacterial by-product, let’s look at how to eat it. Opening the bag, you’ll notice the yeast bears close proximity to fish food in terms of appearance and texture. You’ll also recognize the strong, perhaps somewhat repugnant odor of aged cheese. Don’t be alarmed. Although nutritional yeast packs a big punch, it’s used in small amounts.

Sprinkle it anywhere you would put grated parmesan, like over popcorn, a bed of pasta, or your tacos. It’s also great over salads, soups, and scrambled eggs. There are even recipes using nutritional yeast to make vegan queso and vegan mac n’ cheese.

Just remember a little tends to go a long way. Add too much, and your food will take on all the strange and odorous characteristics of aged cheese. Start sparingly, and you can always go back for more!

So, if you’re skipping dairy at the moment, or forever, give nutritional yeast a try. It will help satisfy those cheddar cravings, and the extra B vitamins aren’t hurting anybody. You can find it at your local health food store, and of course, it’s available online.

Lauren Sakiyama Lauren Sakiyama
Lauren Sakiyama is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. She has managed restaurants, country clubs, and large-scale event operations, but her passion has always been about the food. Read Full Bio »

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