Nutritional yeast is a species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast, which is sold commercially as a food product. It is sold in the form of flakes or as a yellow powder and can be found in the most natural food stores. It is a popular food product often used in vegan cooking and may be used as an ingredient in recipes or condiments.
Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that is described as nutty or cheesy,or savory flavor. It is often used by vegans in place of cheese. It is the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer. Where brewer’s, baker’s and nutritional yeasts are technically made from the same species of yeast, they are very different products.
- Baker’s yeast: Baker’s yeast is purchased alive and used to leaven bread. The yeast is killed during cooking but adds an earthy, yeasty flavor to bread.
- Brewer’s yeast: Brewer’s yeast can be purchased alive and is used to brew beer. The dead yeast cells leftover from the brewing process can be consumed as a nutritional supplement but have a very bitter taste.
- Nutritional yeast: This yeast is grown specifically to be used as a food product. The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing and not alive in the final product. It is used in cooking and has a cheesy, nutty or savory flavor.
Nutritional yeast is produced by culturing a yeast in a nutrient medium for several days. The primary ingredient in the growth medium is glucose, often from either sugarcane or beet molasses. When the yeast is ready, it is deactivated with heat and then harvested, washed, dried and packaged. The strains are cultured and selected for desirable characteristics and often exhibit a different phenotype from strains of S. cerevisiae used in baking and brewing.
There are two types of nutritional yeast — unfortified and fortified.
- Unfortified: This type does not contain any added vitamins or minerals. It only contains the vitamins and minerals that are naturally produced by the yeast cells as they grow.
- Fortified: This type contains synthetic vitamins added during the manufacturing process to boost nutrient content. If vitamins have been added to the yeast, they will be included in the ingredients list.
“Fortified nutritional yeast is the most common type available for purchase.”
Nutritional yeast is a versatile food that works with nearly any type of diet or eating style.
It is naturally low in sodium and calories, as well as fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free and vegan.
It contains protein, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and wide range of potential health benefits.
Lowers cholesterol to protect the body from free radical damage.
Nutritional yeast is a great source of protein, B vitamins and trace minerals.
Fortified nutritional yeast contains more B vitamins than unfortified varieties, as extra amounts are added during manufacturing. While fortified and unfortified nutritional yeast both provide iron, the fortified yeast provides 20 percent of the recommended daily value, while unfortified yeast provides only 5 percent. Unfortified nutritional yeast provides from 35 to 100 percent of vitamins B1 and B2.
However, unfortified varieties still contain a moderate amount of B vitamins, which form naturally as the yeast grows.
Some species of bacteria that can produce B12 could potentially grow along with S. cerevisiae in the wild, commercially produced nutritional yeast is grown in controlled conditions that would normally not allow those bacteria to grow. Therefore, nutritional yeast is not a reliable source of B12 unless it is fortified. Nutritional values for may vary from one manufacturer to another.
Some of the main nutritional benefits of nutritional yeast include:
- Protein: Nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids that humans must get from food. One tablespoon contains 2 grams of protein, making it an easy way for vegans to add high-quality protein to meals.
- B vitamins: One tablespoon of nutritional yeast contains 30–180% of the RDI for B vitamins. When fortified, it is especially rich in thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12.
- Trace minerals: One tablespoon contains 2–30% of the RDI for trace minerals, such as zinc, selenium, manganese and molybdenum. Trace minerals are involved in gene regulation, metabolism, growth and immunity.
If you are using nutritional yeast to add extra vitamins and minerals to your diet, look for fortified varieties with higher amounts of added nutrients.
If you are using nutritional yeast simply for its flavor, you may be less concerned about whether it is fortified or not. Fortified nutritional yeast is a vegan-friendly source of complete protein. B vitamins and trace minerals required for optimal health.