What is Nutritional Yeast?

By Reed Mangels, PhD, RD

Nutritional yeast is, as its name suggests, a type of yeast. Don't try to get bread dough to rise using nutritional yeast, however. Nutritional yeast is no longer alive and isn't able to make dough rise. Yeasts, including the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae, commonly used to make nutritional yeast products, are single-celled fungi, in the same kingdom as mushrooms. Nutritional yeast is produced by allowing the live yeast to grow for several days in a medium that provides the nutrients the yeast needs to grow. This medium is usually glucose-based, with the glucose coming from cane sugar or molasses, which contains B vitamins that the yeast needs to grow. When the growing process is completed, the yeast is collected, cleaned, heated to inactivate the yeast, dried, and packaged. Vitamins and minerals may be added during the processing period. You can look at the ingredient list on nutritional yeast packages to see which vitamins and minerals have been added.

Generally speaking, a half ounce of nutritional yeast, or about 2 heaping tablespoons of most products, has 60 calories, little or no fat, 7-9 grams of protein, and 4-11 grams of carbohydrates.

That makes nutritional yeast a decent source of protein, with 2 heaping tablespoons containing about as much protein as ½ cup of beans. Nutritional yeast is naturally low in sodium and does not contain cholesterol. A 2-tablespoon serving of nutritional yeast supplies about as much potassium as a small banana; potassium is a nutrient that is often low in Americans' diets. A serving of nutritional yeast supplies about 4% of the iron and more than one-third of the zinc RDA for an adult woman.

Nutritional yeast's greatest claim to fame is its B-vitamin content. Even without adding vitamins after the yeast is inactivated, nutritional yeast is an excellent source of thiamin, niacin, and vitamin B6. Many manufacturers add more thiamin, niacin and vitamin B6, as well as adding in other B vitamins including riboflavin, folate, and vitamin B12. Manufacturers of nutritional yeast add different amounts of vitamins and sometimes minerals to their products. This makes it difficult to say with certainty which vitamins and minerals are in fortified nutritional yeast. The nutrition information label provides information about the vitamins and minerals in specific brands.

Nutritional Yeast Dishes

By Debra Wasserman

Nutritional yeast can be used to prepare a wide variety of dishes, including soups, gravy, dips, sides, and entrées. You can purchase it in natural foods stores and in some grocery stores. Many people enjoy the somewhat "cheesy" taste it can lend to dishes as well as its B-vitamin content. Below are six recipes taken from two books published by The Vegetarian Resource Group: Conveniently Vegan, by Debra Wasserman and Simply Vegan, by Debra Wasserman and Reed Mangels, PhD, RD. Both books can be purchased online from The VRG catalog at: www.vrg.org/catalog.

Lemon Rice Soup

(Serves 6-8)

  • 1 small onion or 3 scallions, chopped
  • ½ head small cabbage, shredded
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • ⅛ teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 Tablespoons oil
  • 3 cups pre-cooked rice
  • 8 cups water or vegetable broth
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 1 cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 Tablespoon tamari or soy sauce

Sauté onion or scallions, cabbage, and spices in oil for 5-8 minutes. Add rice, water or broth, lemon juice, yeast, and tamari or soy sauce. Simmer for another 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Variation: Instead of cabbage, try using 2 cups chopped fresh kale.

Total calories per serving: 273 Fat: 7 grams
Carbohydrates: 40 grams Protein: 18 grams
Sodium: 190 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Tempeh Mushroom Casserole

(Serves 4)

This is a hearty main dish! For variation, you can use cubed firm tofu instead of tempeh.

  • 1 cup hulled barley or brown rice
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • One 8-ounce package tempeh, cubed
  • Medium onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup chopped mushrooms (any variety)
  • ½ cup chopped celery
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 Tablespoon oil
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 2 Tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons unbleached white flour

Cook hulled barley or brown rice in water for about 1 hour until done.

Meanwhile, sauté tempeh, onion, mushrooms, celery, and seasonings in oil in a large non-stick pot over medium heat for 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Add cooked barley or rice to tempeh mixture and pour into a 2-quart round baking dish.

Mix water, yeast, tamari or soy sauce, and flour together in a jar by shaking well. Pour over the tempeh-rice mixture. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve warm.

Total calories per serving: 384 Fat: 11 grams
Carbohydrates: 52 grams Protein: 24 grams
Sodium: 528 milligrams Fiber: 12 grams

Mushroom Gravy

(Makes about 2 cups, 4 servings)

Serve this gravy over your favorite burgers, loaf, baked potatoes, or cooked grains.

  • One 6-ounce package mushrooms (portobello or shiitake, for example), finely chopped
  • Small onion, finely chopped
  • Pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • ¼ cup unbleached white flour
  • 2 teaspoons tamari or soy sauce
  • 1 ½ cups water

Sauté the mushrooms, onion, and pepper in the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue heating for 3 minutes, stirring until the gravy thickens. Serve warm.

Total calories per serving: 87 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 12 grams Protein: 5 grams
Sodium: 172 milligrams Fiber: 2 grams

Tofu Pimento Spread

(Makes about 1 ½ cups, 6 servings)

Serve this sandwich spread on a whole grain bread with lettuce and tomato. You can also spread on crackers or on cut up raw vegetables.

  • 1 pound tofu, drained and crumbled
  • One 2-ounce jar pimentos
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons prepared mustard

Place all the ingredients in a food processor bowl and blend until creamy. The spread can be served right away or chilled before serving.

Total calories per serving: 84 Fat: 4 grams
Carbohydrates: 5 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 56 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Spicy Nacho "Cheese" Dip

(Serves 8)

Serve with baked tortilla chips or raw veggie sticks.

  • 1 ½ cups nutritional yeast
  • ⅔ cup whole wheat pastry or unbleached white flour
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 3 Tablespoons vegan margarine
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon mustard
  • ⅓ cup hot cherry peppers, diced

Mix yeast, flour, and water together in a pot. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture boils. Add margarine. Allow to boil for one minute, then remove from heat.

Add garlic powder, mustard, and hot cherry peppers. Mix well. Serve hot or chilled with chips or veggies.

Total calories per serving: 189 Fat: 6 grams
Carbohydrates: 20 grams Protein: 17 grams
Sodium: 77 milligrams Fiber: 9 grams

Tofu Dip

(Serves 5)

This would be a crowd-pleasing addition to your next party or a great after-school snack.

  • 1 pound tofu, crumbled
  • ¼ cup vegan mayonnaise
  • ½ teaspoon garlic or onion powder
  • 1 Tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast
  • ¼ cup water

Place all the ingredients together in a food processor or blender and blend until creamy.

Serve with raw vegetables or crackers.

Total calories per serving: 136 Fat: 8 grams
Carbohydrates: 6 grams Protein: 13 grams
Sodium: 307 milligrams Fiber: 3 grams

Baked Lima Beans

(Serves 8)

  • One 6-ounce package vegan "bacon"
  • 2 teaspoons oil
  • One 24-ounce package frozen lima beans
  • ½ small onion, finely chopped
  • One 6-ounce can no-salt tomato sauce
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast

Fry vegan "bacon" in oil in a non-stick frying pan until crisp on both sides (about 10 minutes). Chop into very small pieces.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cook lima beans in boiling water for 10 minutes and drain.

Mix all the ingredients together and pour into a medium-size oven-proof covered baking dish. Bake 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Serve warm.

Total calories per serving: 318 Fat: 3 grams
Carbohydrates: 40 grams Protein: 10 grams
Sodium: 236 milligrams Fiber: 7 grams