Updated: Jan 4, 2020
I have 2 secret magical ingredients for my food, the first is love, the second: nutritional yeast. So I guess it’s not that big of a “secret” since I tell everyone about it.
Nutritional yeast takes my food to a whole other level. While in France working on a farm, I was first introduced to this magical ingredient. As I was eating my salad, my host suggested I sprinkle some on top of the veggies. I did, not knowing why she insisted on me trying it, but then asked her what it was because it completely changed the flavor. She said that it was yeas. Being a baker at the time I thought there may have been something lost in translation because it didn’t taste like yeast to me. When I came back to the States I searched everywhere for the specific brand of yeast I had in France and couldn’t find it. One day, 5 years later, while in the co-op I noticed something that looked similar to what I had had in France. I bought some and tried it at home. Success! Nutritional yeast. It was yeast after all.
What is it?
Nutritional yeast is a food additive made from a single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried with heat to kill or “deactivate” it. Because it’s inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does so it has no leavening ability. Don’t worry; no animals are harmed in this process because yeasts are members of the fungi family, like mushrooms, not animals.Nutritional yeast is dairy-free and gluten-free. As a result, it can be a useful supplement for people with food allergies or sensitivities, as well as those on restricted diets. It is also low in fat and contains no sugar or soy.Why is it called “Nutritional yeast”?As you can guess from its name, nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition, particularly B-vitamins, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and protein. Typically, one-quarter of a cup of nutritional yeast:• 60 calories• 8 grams (g) of protein• 3 g of fiber• 11.85 milligrams (mg) of thiamine, or vitamin B-1• 9.70 mg of riboflavin, or vitamin B-2• 5.90 mg of vitamin B-6• 17.60 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B-12It also contains vitamin B-3, potassium, calcium, and iron. Granted I’m not suggesting you add a quarter cup of yeast to your half cup of rice, but sprinkling in little doses here and there will boost your vitamin intake. Nutritional yeast can be particularly helpful for vegetarians and vegans because of B-12, as this vitamin mostly occurs in animal products. The umami flavor that the yeast creates enhances most dishes.
-Umami (/uːˈmɑːmi/, from Japanese: うま味 [ɯmami]) or savory taste is one of the five basic tastes (together with sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness).
I was first told about umami when I was working in New York in 2000. I had grown up believing that we had four basic tastes; sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. Being introduced to a different taste blew my mind. The co-worker that had told me about it asked me to think of soy sauce, she continued, “It’s not salty, sweet, sour, or bitter, it’s something else, it’s umami. It’s kind of earthy, salty, and sweet mixed together.”When explaining this magical dust to everyone I refer to is as a “natural MSG”. The savory, umami taste of nutritional yeast comes from glutamaic acid, an amino acid that is formed during the drying process. Glutamic acid is a naturally occurring amino acid found in many fruits and vegetables and is not the same as the commercial additive monosodium glutamate (MSG).I love adding it to rice, kale chips, roasted veggies, popcorn, soups, mashed potatoes, and all of my seasoning sauces. It will give you the sense of a cheesiness in a sauce without the presence of cheese, which is great for vegan dishes. Bottom line, I love the stuff.