Nutritional Yeast: The Original “Vegan Cheese”


Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Cheese. The stuff food dreams are made of. But for those following a vegan diet, or are lactose intolerant, what else can satisfy a cheese tooth?

Hello, nutritional yeast!

Dedicated vegans have relied on it for decades, but more recently, nutritional yeast—nicknamed “nooch,” for short—has become widely accessible. Once an elusive ingredient found only in niche health food stores, this savory yellow powder is now available at most grocery stores (usually in the baking aisle, next to the regular yeast).

Renee Merchant, RD, is an LWell Registered Dietitian Nutritionist AND a vegan who uses nutritional yeast for its flavor and health perks. Merchant sprinkles it on popcorn, tacos and pasta, and uses it to make a breakfast tofu scramble and vegan mac and cheese. “Nutritional yeast was around long before cheese alternatives were common,” says Merchant. “It’s gluten-free, dairy-free and a great source of B vitamins.”

What are the health benefits of nutritional yeast?

According to Merchant, 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast contains about 60 calories, 8 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and B vitamins (B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6, and B-12). “Vegans should always look for nutritional yeast that is fortified with B-12,” says Merchant, as deficiency in B-12 is commonly seen among those excluding animal products from their diets.

“As we get older, our body’s B-12 needs increase significantly,” adds Merchant. She recommends consuming at least one teaspoon, two to three times per day, and increasing that amount if you’re over age 65 and not taking a B-12 supplement.

Will nutritional yeast taste like cheese?

Nutritional yeast has a nutty, savory, cheese-like flavor. It can be sprinkled as a topper in place of shredded cheese, used to create “cheesy” sauces, and much more. Merchant says it’s important to manage expectations—after all, it’s NOT cheese—but finds most people (including her husband) are happily surprised by how good it tastes. She even made this vegan mac and cheese recipe for Thanksgiving this year. She prefers Dr. Bragg’s and Trader Joe’s fortified brands of nutritional yeast.

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