Nutritional yeast, or “nooch,” has long been a popular cheese substitute for vegans, but what exactly is it and how is it used? Nutritional yeast is, well, just as it sounds. It’s yeast that’s usually grown on molasses or sugarcane plants and then heated, harvested, and dried. It’s deactivated so it doesn’t foam like active baking yeast when combined with liquids. Since yeast is a fungus, nooch is ideal for vegans since it’s not an animal product. Best of all, as the name suggests, it’s also full of nutrients.
“It’s loaded with B vitamins” said Matt Priven, a registered dietitian based in Boston. “It has tons of protein in it, too. Two tablespoons of nutritional yeast has as much protein as an egg. It also has a good amount of fiber in it.”
Nutritional yeast comes in golden flake or powder form and has a nutty, savory, cheese-like flavor. From simple recipes like Vegan Parmesan Cheese, to more intricate dishes like Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Macaroni, the possibilities of plates starring nutritional yeast are endless. Want to make a more traditional cheesy dish? You can even use nooch to make classic mac and cheese.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of people who are thinking of transitioning to a vegan diet, and the one last bastion of animal products that they can’t let go of is always cheese,” said Priven. “I think that the important thing to realize is that nutritional yeast is not going to be a replacement for all of your favorite cheesy foods, but it’s one tool in the tool kit for specific dishes.”
Nutritional yeast can be found at most natural food stores and at online shops. If you’re new to nooch and the vegan lifestyle, be aware that some brands add ingredients not naturally found in yeast, including dairy byproducts like whey; carefully read the ingredient list before buying. Though it may not taste exactly like cheese, it’s popular amongst the dairy-free community for its taste and versatility. The only way to discover whether it’s worth the hype is to try it yourself, so go and get your nooch on.