Golden-yellow wonder flakes

OlgaMiltsova/iStock/GettyImages

As its name implies, nutritional yeast is related to the living, microscopic yeast organism that helps breads rise and beer ferment. While baker's yeast, fresh yeast and active dry yeasts are living foods, nutritional yeast is not. Manufacturers heat and dry living yeast, killing the microbes and creating deactivated nutritional yeast. While the healthful properties of yeasts have been touted since the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, dried nutritional yeast became popular in the U.S. in the 1970s.

A Vegan Diet Mainstay

You'll find mustard-colored nutritional yeast in the cupboards in most vegan households because it is not made from animals. Used by fitness and natural food enthusiasts as well, nutritional yeast, which is sometimes called "nooch," appears in vegan recipes for "cheezy" sauce, an alternative to cheese sauce in vegan macaroni and cheese and in potatoes au gratin; in egg-free tofu scrambles; and as a flavor and nutritional booster in lots of other vegan dishes.

Tip

Since nutritional yeast is not a living food, you don't need to store it in the refrigerator. It keeps for up to two years stored in a container with a tight lid to keep out moisture.

A Nutritional Additive

Available as either flakes or powder, nutritional yeast provides vegans and vegetarians with a good source of B vitamins, protein and fiber. One tablespoon of nutritional yeast packs a whopping 180 percent of vitamin B-1, 160 percent of B-2, 40 percent of the daily recommended value for both folic acid and B-12 and 3 grams of protein.

A Flavor Enhancer

Nutritional yeast adds a savory, umami flavor to whatever foods you sprinkle it on. A little salty and a little cheesy, with a subtle rich flavor, nutritional yeast works well in soups, sauces, stews and salads. Vegans and nonvegans alike sprinkle it over popcorn for a healthy and tasty add-on.

Tip

Use nutritional yeast to make a savory gravy for your vegan friends and family members. Add it to crackers and bread recipes for a subtle cheeselike flavor.