Nutritional yeast, similar to brewer’s yeast, is a deactivated yeast, usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae. It is popular with vegans and vegetarians and may be used as an ingredient in recipes or as a condiment. Nutritional yeast is produced by culturing the yeast with a mixture of sugarcane and beet molasses, then harvesting, washing, drying and packaging the yeast. It is commercially available in the form of flakes, or as a yellow powder similar in texture to cornmeal, and can be found in the bulk aisle of most natural food stores.
It is a source of protein and vitamins, especially the B-complex vitamins and is a complete protein. It is also naturally low in fat and sodium. Some brands of nutritional yeast, though not all, are fortified with vitamin B12. The vitamin B12 is produced separately from bacteria and then added to the yeast.
Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that is described as nutty, cheesy, or creamy, which makes it popular as an ingredient in cheese substitutes. It is often used by vegans in place of parmesan cheese. Another popular use is as a topping for popcorn. It can also be used in mashed and fried potatoes, as well as putting it into scrambled tofu or eggs. Some movie theaters offer it along with salt or cayenne pepper as a popcorn condiment.
In Australia it is sometimes sold as “savoury yeast flakes.” In New Zealand, it has long been known as Brufax. In the United States it is sometimes referred to as “yeshi,” an Ethiopian name meaning “for a thousand.” Though “nutritional yeast” usually refers to commercial products, inadequately fed prisoners of war have used “home-grown” yeast to prevent vitamin deficiency. Nutritional yeast is different from yeast extract, which has a very strong flavour and comes in the form of a dark brown paste. Other strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae are commonly used for making beer, wine, and bread.