Nutritional yeast is a marketer’s nightmare. The name is unappetizing. Its flaky yellow form does not invite consumption. And as someone that eats anything and everything, its strong vegan following made me think that, like Tofurky and Vegenaise, its purpose was to replace an animal product that I have no moral qualms about eating. For these reasons, I figured the vegans could keep nutritional yeast for themselves. That was until one hunger-fueled impulse visit to a health food store. I picked up a pack of cheese crackers, only realizing they were vegan after the first few bites. I was impressed and confused in equal measure as to how cheesy they tasted without containing any dairy. Upon discovering that nutritional yeast was the key to this deliciousness, I scooped up my first bulk serving of this weird, flaky stuff and haven’t looked back.
I can still remember that first meal, when I sprinkled it on a kale salad that I've made a million times before. It was like black and white transformed into Technicolour. Nutritional yeast brought out an addictive umami flavor that I only then realized was missing from everything I’ve ever eaten.
I’ve since been finding excuses to sprinkle nutritional yeast on every dish and meal that comes out of my kitchen. I’d already been experimenting with savory yogurt to start the morning and nutritional yeast was the perfect addition. Salad dressings need a pick-me-up? Mix some “nooch” into that vinaigrette for a cheesy, Caesar-like kick. You can even use this flaky goodness in desserts, giving chocolate chip cookies an extra buttery quality and homemade peanut butter cups that elusive sweet-meets-salty character.
A bit of googling convinced me that this yellow-hued topper is flaked gold. Nutritional yeast is low in fat, high in protein, contains zero sodium and is packed with vitamins and minerals. It gets a green light for the most restrictive of diets, as it’s vegetarian and vegan-friendly, and gluten- and dairy-free. It’s shelf-stable which is great for buying in bulk (which, trust me, you’ll want to do). And unlike the precious metal, to my wallet’s delight, it’s cheap as chips.
Nutritional yeast only gets weirder the more you learn about it. Yeast is part of the fungi family and the strain used to make this transformative topping—Saccharomyces cerevisiae—is found naturally on grape skin. After the yeast is cultured, it’s fermented on molasses then harvested, washed and dried on roller drums.
This bizarre backstory might make some of you queasy, but I am unfazed. If anything, I’m even more compelled to spread my discovery to the masses. I’ve slipped my friends and family Ziploc baggies of the good stuff, hoping that they'll join me in preaching the merits of this simple, savory sprinkler. But my addictive relationship with these magical flakes was most appropriately revealed when one day, after a nooch-heavy salad, I looked in the mirror to discover a dusting of yellow powder on the corner of my nose.
Sorry, vegans. You’ll have to share this one with the rest of us.