Monthly Buy: Nutritional Yeast
Do you often pick an item from the grocery shelf, stare at it for a bit, realize you have no idea what to do with it and move on? We do that too, and these posts are here to help all of us be a little more adventurous. I pick a item that I’ve been interested in but haven’t purchased until now, and I give you all the info I have to help you decide whether or not to buy. This post is all about nutritional yeast or ‘nooch’.
The Basics: Searching through vegan recipes, this ingredient kept popping up. Vegans were raving about it, so I decided to give it a go. You may also see this product called ‘nooch’ because, well, that sounds more fun than nutritional yeast. I am not vegan myself, but I like to make dairy-free or vegan recipes. Nutritional yeast’s main ingredient is inactive yeast. Inactive yeast is just dead yeast, usually ‘killed’ by simply bringing it to a high temperature (pasteurization). If you bake, there’s a chance that at least once you accidentally turned your active yeast into inactive yeast by combining it with too hot of water. Unfortunately, there are a few more steps to turn your at-home killed yeast into the nice flaky mixture from the store. I’ll explain that later. The store-bought inactive yeast can’t give your bread the rise it may need, but there are a ton of tasty uses for it.
Flavor and Texture: Think of it as a healthier, dairy-free option to the shelf stable parmesan cheese. It has a mild cheesy, nutty flavor. There is a slight, artificial aftertaste, somewhat like the convenient store cracker sandwiches with ‘cheese’ in the middle. Nooch soaks up sauces nicely. It has the same absorbent properties as parmesan cheese, which is why so many people top their Italian-style dishes with it. The flaky texture holds up well as a coating and in baking (coat extra firm tofu and bake it, for example). I haven’t tried cooking it into a sauce yet, but there are several recipes (like here and here) using it to make a smooth cheese sauce, so I imagine the flakes dissolve nicely.
Uses: Sprinkle onto salads, popcorn, roasted veggies (like broccoli or tomatoes), or pasta. Mix with other spices and coat tofu with it and bake like normal. Coarsely blend with nuts and spices to create an even more flavorful topping. Cook with it to make a smooth faux cheese sauce good for chips and queso or mac and cheese.
I made a vegan mayo with it, which was really tasty, but I don’t know how much of the yeast flavor really shined through. I also put it on popcorn, which seems to be everyone’s favorite use for it. I added garlic powder as well and really liked it. I sprinkled nooch and other warm spices on extra firm tofu and baked it in the oven. This was my favorite way of eating it. Warming the nutritional yeast and letting to brown slightly gave the tofu a really nice, crisp coating. Finally, I made “fairy dust,” combining the nooch with sunflower seeds and other spices to create a more flavorful topping for my spaghetti and zoodle recipe. Although, it was pretty easy to make (just blending the ingredients together), I didn’t notice a huge difference in flavor and will opt for just straight nutritional yeast as a topper going forward.
Availability and Price: This item will be harder to find outside your more health-focused grocery stores, but most health food stores will carry it. Although I haven’t checked personally if a Wal-Mart has it in store, it is listed on their website. If you’re are looking in a normal grocery store, look in the health food section. If you are in a health food store, it is most likely in the spice section. I found mine in Whole Foods with the spices and active yeast you use for baking. There are a few popular brands, but I have tried Bragg (most common. Their apple cider vinegar is also very common.) and Frontier Co-Op.
The price of Bragg at Whole Foods (in Washington DC) was $5.99 for a 4.5 oz container (or $1.33 per ounce) and at Wal-Mart it is listed at $8.70 (or $1.74 per ounce). The Frontier Co-Op brand is priced at $7.49 for a 3.6 oz container (or $2.08 per ounce) at Whole Foods. And as a reference of the dairy alternative: an 8 oz container of shelf-stable parmesan is $2.99 (or $0.37 per ounce) at Target.
Comparing Bragg and Frontier Co-Op: Besides the pricing from above, let’s dive into other aspects of these two brands. They have different serving sizes. Frontier is by the ¼ cup and Bragg is by the tablespoon, so I will convert to compare. For the ingredients, Frontier Co-Op’s nooch only has inactive yeast listed. Bragg’s product has inactive dry yeast, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid (vitamin B9), and vitamin B12. Even with the Bragg’s product being fortified, it only has more vitamin B1 (2.6 times the amount of Frontier) and more vitamin B6 (almost double the amount of Frontier) per gram. Frontier Co-Op’s product has over six times as much B12 as Bragg’s. I am assuming whatever process Frontier Co-Op uses to make their product more naturally nutrient-dense is why it is more expensive than Bragg. Flavor-wise, I don’t see a huge difference. Both have similar textures, and both have slight aftertaste that takes a bit to get used to.
Why people are fans and which brand to choose based on that:
- Cheese alternative in cooking: Dryness and texture make it a great alternative for parmesan cheese to sprinkle on top of many Italian-style dishes. It also melts well and is the go-to ingredient for vegan cheese sauces. Many vegan cheeses are made with nuts. These cheeses tend to be dense and spreadable. If you are looking for a thinner dip (like a chips and queso setup), using nooch is a good alternative. Most of these cheese recipes call for about a half a cup. In these cases, I recommend Bragg because of the bigger container and cheaper price.
- Vitamin B12: If you are trying to get more B12 into your diet, whether you are vegan or for other reasons, I recommend Frontier Co-Op’s brand, as it is much more B12 dense than Bragg.
Homemade Nooch: After quite a bit of research, I didn’t find a trustworthy recipe for homemade nooch. Although nutritional yeast is made from the same yeast as beer and bread, saccharomyces cerevisiae, the steps taken are quite different and not so easy to turn your pouch of active yeast into nice, cheese-like flakes that is nutritional yeast. Nooch grows on something sweet, like sugarcane or beets, produces glucose then is pasteurized (high heat) to turn it into what we are snacking on. If you have any luck making your own though, please let us know! We would love it give it a go!
Price and availability: 7/10
Healthy alternative: 8/10