I have heard about nutritional yeast off and on for the last few years, and I’ve even been served this ingredient as a part of a larger recipe I once tried. Still, I’ve never known exactly what it is. Now that it seems to be going through another wave of popularity, apparently under the nickname “nooch”, I’ve decided that it’s about time to inform myself. And if I’m going to go to all the effort to get this right, then I’m going to take a minute to share what I learn with you too.
What is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast (I just can’t get in to calling it nooch yet” has been around since the 1950s and was a hit in the next couple of decades among the hippies. Since that time, it has gone up and down in popularity, mainly sticking to plant-based trends. It’s usually chosen for the umami it brings to a dish’s flavors, on top of the helpful hit of essential nutrients it contains.
At its most basic form, nooch (nope, just tried it, but don’t like it) is a nutritional yeast species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It’s the same stuff that is used in making beer, wine and bread. That said, in this form, it’s inactive. This deactivation happens by heating and drying it, which is also what gives it its distinct toasty and nutty flavor. It’s sold in jars of small crumbled up flakes. Its appearance somewhat reminds me of what I once fed goldfish.
Packed with Umami
The umami flavor the nutritional yeast provides to your dishes is because of its glutamic acid (also known as glutamate) content. That substance is produced as a result of the heating and drying process. The yeast’s cellular protein starts to break down, releasing the amino acids they contain. Glutamic acid is one of those amino acids.
I’ve heard it described as somewhat like parmesan cheese. While I wouldn’t say that their flavors are identical, they are pretty close, but without any sharpness at all. It’s a much milder and rounder flavor. It doesn’t taste like egg yolk or roasted crispy chicken skin, but they have the same kind of mild and roundness, if that makes any sense at all. As you can see, I struggle intensely to be able to describe flavors.
Using Nutritional Yeast
You can pretty much use nutritional yeast in whatever recipe you want. To keep that parmesan cheese comparison going, you really can add it to most of the same dishes to add that hit of umami. So, this means that it’s great on salads, pasta, and roasted veggies. I’ve heard of some people putting it on their popcorn or as a flavor-enhancing soup thickener.
So that’s what I’ve learned about nutritional yeast – that, and I really like it – so I hope this encourages you to try it too!