Nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast intended for human consumption. It has a distinct flavor that is often identified as nutty or cheesy. The product is a yellow shade and is usually found packages as either flakes or powder. Most consumers use nutritional yeast as either an ingredient in recipes or as a condiment.
The species of yeast most commonly used is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is also often used to make many beers and breads, though these are cultivated and prepared differently. Unlike these other products, nutritional yeast has been deactivated, which means that it is no longer living and will not produce the effects that live yeast does, such as leavening bread. This deactivation is the result of pasteurizing and drying the yeast. While brewer's yeast often looks similar to this product, it tastes different, so consumers must be cautious when purchasing yeast that they are getting the correct yeast for their uses.
As a nutritional supplement, nutritional yeast is considered a good source of protein and B-complex vitamins, as well as other vitamins. It is a complete protein, containing 18 amino acids. Some brands are fortified with vitamin B12, which is added to the yeast. These benefits make deactivated yeast a popular ingredient and condiment in vegan dishes, which may lack these qualities. Being low in both fat and sodium, the product is often used as a condiment in the place of cheese, salt, or butter for vegans and non-vegans alike.
While nutritional yeast is popular with vegans and vegetarians for its health benefits, it is also a standard condiment in some areas. Even people without diet restrictions enjoy it for flavor alone. The product is available packaged under many brand names in different countries all over the world, though it is often available generically in bulk at these same stores where it is popular. While the product gained a surge in popularity in the late 20th century, it is commonly said that ancient Egyptians used nutritional yeast as early as 1550 BC, so it has a long history of dietary use.
The unique flavor of nutritional yeast makes it a popular ingredient in vegan cheeses, both manufactured and homemade. It is also used as an ingredient when cooking casseroles, sauces, and other savory foods. As a condiment, it is often sprinkled on potatoes, salads, or popcorn. The possible uses of nutritional yeast are as broad as the cook who uses it desires, and new uses for the product continue to surface as usage becomes more common.