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How to Use Nutritional Yeast, Plus a Spicy Mac and Cheese Recipe

I’m not going to lie. When I first heard of nutritional yeast, I turned up my nose.

I’m not vegan, but I like the idea of being one someday. While I’ve failed to make the lifestyle switch time and again, I still love cooking vegan meals and try to eat plant-based a majority of the time. Vegan recipes, however, have led me into uncharted culinary territory. Things like jackfruit, tempeh, and aquafaba (aka the slime water in a can of chickpeas) populate many vegan ingredients lists. Nutritional yeast was one of those products that made me squint.

At first, I steered clear. “Yeast” had an unappealing ring to it, and the smell didn’t help its cause. Apparently, I was majorly missing out.

“Nutritional yeast is packed with an array of vitamins, minerals, and protein,” says Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Erica Ingram. “It has a delicious, cheesy flavor, making it a great addition to soups, dips, and sauces.”

When I finally gave it a try, I found that it danced the line of funky and landed at pleasantly umami. It packed a flavorful punch that many of my recipes had been missing. If you also want to incorporate a little more zest and nutrition into your diet, here’s how to use nutritional yeast.

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a dietary supplement often found in the spice or bulk aisle in a yellow, flaky form. “It comes from the strain Saccharomyces cerevisiae,” says Ingram. “It’s a particular species of yeast that’s grown in molasses, then deactivated by killing off the yeast cells during processing.”

Though they’re from the same strain, baker’s and nutritional yeast serve different purposes. “Nutritional yeast is not at all like the yeast that you use for baking bread since it is inactive,” says Dr. Candice Seti, a clinical psychologist, personal trainer and nutrition coach. “This means it can’t cause bread or rolls to rise and it won’t be frothy if you mix it with warm water.”

Another product of the Saccharomyces cerevisiae species is brewer’s yeast. It’s actually a by-product of the beer brewing process, derived from barley and grains. Brewer’s yeast is also used as a dietary supplement, and while it has a lot of the same vitamins and nutrients as nutritional yeast, it has a more bitter flavor and is often passed over for cooking purposes (1).

Nutritional Yeast Benefits

It’s crazy to think that something sitting in your spice cabinet can pack such a nutritional punch. A quarter-cup of fortified nutritional yeast contains 8 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and is incredibly rich in B vitamins, calcium, and trace minerals such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin and folic acid (2).

“When you add a scoop of nutritional yeast, think of it as a mini protein and fiber booster to the recipe you’re adding it to,” says Amanda Kostro Miller, a registered dietitian nutritionist who serves on the advisory board for Smart Healthy Living. While most brands fortify their products with extra nutrients, Miller advises people to compare labels before purchasing. “The fiber and protein content varies depending on the brand,” she explains.

In addition to fiber and protein, the biggest reason nutritional yeast is hailed by herbivores is its B12 content.

“Vitamin B12 is often found in milk, eggs, and meat, so it can be difficult for vegetarians and vegans to get this vitamin since it’s not made by the body,” says Seti. For vegans especially, nutritional yeast also provides a great source of calcium.

B12 is vital for a healthy nervous system, and lacking it can lead to low energy and other health issues. “Many people are actually deficient in B12, and adding a bit of nutritional yeast into your diet can help boost your levels.”

How to Use Nutritional Yeast

If you’re looking to boost your protein, fiber, and B12 levels, there are many delicious ways to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet.

USE IT AS A TOPPING

Need to spice up your veggies or add more “oomph” to your salads and soups? Seti suggests using nutritional yeast. “Try sprinkling it on tomatoes or beans or using it in place of cheese in a salad.”

Rest assured, snack-food enthusiasts, you can benefit from these golden flakes as well. “If you love popcorn, try adding a bit of nutritional yeast to your popped snack,” says Seti. “Instead of adding actual cheese, this topping can give your popcorn a cheesy taste, but will also boost the nutrition content of the snack. You can also try doing this with potato chips or dried vegetables, such as kale or spinach.”

My favorite place to sprinkle nutritional yeast is on avocado toast. Add Trader Joe’s Everything But the Bagel Seasoning if you want to get fancy, and prepare to have your life changed.

ADD SOME NUTRITION TO PIZZA

If you’re trying to get the whole family on board the nutritional yeast train, Seti has a great suggestion: “Try adding it to your pizza! It can provide flavor and nutrients, and replace the sprinkling of parmesan cheese.”

Personally, I love adding nutritional yeast to gluten-free pizza crust. Removing the gluten sometimes takes the excitement along with it, but nutritional yeast can help add in some zest.

REPLACE CHEESY FLAVORS IN PASTA DISHES

Pasta is another food group that is typically paired with cheese, which makes it another great place to try using nutritional yeast. “Since many people believe that nutritional yeast has a nutty, cheesy flavor, adding it to pasta can give you a nutritional boost without changing the taste of many sauces,” Seti says.

“If you are serving homemade macaroni and cheese, it might be a great way to add a little extra nutrition to the dish,” she continues. Luckily, we have a great recipe!

Spicy Vegan Mac and Cheese with Nutritional Yeast Recipe

This vegan cheese sauce goes great over any pasta! Macadamia nuts give this sauce a really smooth, buttery consistency, but you can also sub cashews if you prefer.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup raw macadamias
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 tsp Lucky Vitamin apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup almond milk (or whatever plant-based milk you like)
  • 1 cup of water (for soaking)
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 chili powder (omit if you don’t like spice!)
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper (Also omit if you don’t like spice)
  • Salt to taste
  • Pasta of your choice

INSTRUCTIONS:

Soak nuts in water for 2 hours or refrigerate overnight. Drain completely. Combine all ingredients in a blender, adding in the half cup of almond milk a little bit at a time (you don’t want your sauce to be too runny!). Blend until smooth. Serve over cooked pasta of your choice!

Nutritional Yeast: What to Consider

As mentioned, nutritional yeast is a great source of fiber, but you should be careful about increasing fiber too quickly, especially if you have IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) or are prone to indigestion. It’s best to increase slowly, and keep levels at the recommended 25 grams a day (3, 4).

While nutritional yeast is generally regarded as safe, there are some potential side effects to keep in mind. As with most foods that undergo the fermentation process, nutritional yeast is a natural source of tyramine (5). While most people are generally unaffected by this compound and more research is needed on the topic, some studies have shown it to be a trigger for those who suffer from migraines (6, 7).

When buying nutritional yeast, “Make sure it has been stored and kept in a dark, dry place,” advises Dr. Hardik Soni, founder and medical director of Ethos Spa in Summit, New Jersey.

“Nutritional yeast does not contain any added sugars, salt, or gluten,” he adds, “so you should always read the label to make sure that these ingredients are not found in the product you choose.”

What are some of your favorite ways to use nutritional yeast? While I understand why it’s compared heavily to cheese, I think I love it much more as its own thing, devoid of a category. Also, can we maybe think about giving it a better name?

 

What’s your take on nutritional yeast? Let us know in the comments!

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