As a vegan, you have two choices when a cheese craving hits: overindulge in high-fat, under-whelming commercial vegan cheese, or grab the nutritional yeast and create something truly delicious.
For those familiar with nutritional yeast, or “nooch,” who have mastered vegan cashew cheese and almond parmesan, there is no question in which option to choose.
But if you have yet to dive into the nutritious and tantalizing world of nooch, we are here to help you get started with our top five picks of the best nutritional yeast brands and everything you need to know about this strange but awesome vegan delicacy.
What to Look For
Nutritional yeast is a great complement to a plant-based diet. It contains all nine essential amino acids, and most versions provide 2-3 grams of protein per tablespoon.
We asked Registered Dietician, Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD, what to look for in a nutritional yeast product and she recommends choosing a fortified version that contains things like folic acid and vitamin B12. According to Panoff, “unfortified yeast will only contain vitamins and minerals naturally produced as it grows. Fortified nutritional yeast is also rich in minerals, like iron, which may be especially beneficial for pregnant women with increased needs of this nutrient.”
And while you may have heard that some brands carry a Prop 65 warning, Panoff also points out that independent testing has not found any that contain enough detectable lead levels to be of concern.
The Top 5 Nutritional Yeast Brands
If you’re having trouble finding nutritional yeast in the grocery aisle, you might want to buy it online. Here are our top five picks of the best nooch brands available.
1. Bragg Nutritional Yeast Seasoning
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Bragg is widely considered the king of nutritional yeast, and there’s a reason for it. This product is packed with the cheesy, umami flavor that others just can’t touch. The slightly smaller flakes put the consistency somewhere between most flaked types and the finer powder nooches, which means you can use it for a wider variety of recipes, too.
Aside from a great flavor, there is one other thing about Bragg’s nutritional yeast that makes it stand out: it contains an impressive 2,252% of your daily B12 needs per quarter cup. So, if your number one goal for eating more nooch is to up your B12 intake, this is the brand for you.
Beyond B12, this brand also boasts GMO-free certification (a rarity among nutritional yeast producers) as well as the typical gluten-free, low-sodium, low-carb designations.
2. Bob’s Red Mill Large Flake Nutritional Yeast
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At 730% of your daily value of B12 per quarter cup, Bob’s Red Mill is no slouch in the nutrition department, either. But the reason we love this nooch has more to do with the reputation of a company that produces a long list of quality grain and baking mix products. Plus, this large flake nooch tastes pretty great.
3. Anthony’s Premium Nutritional Yeast Flakes
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If you are in the market for a non-fortified nutritional yeast, we would highly recommend this all-natural product from Anthony’s. The only ingredient you’ll find in this bag is yeast, which means it lacks those extra B vitamins, but it is still packed with protein and an impressive 40% of your daily value of iron in every 2 tablespoons.
4. Kate Naturals Nutritional Yeast Flakes
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This tasty nooch combines quality nutritional yeast with extra nutrients, but at lower amounts than the other fortified products on this list. This makes it the perfect choice for anyone who needs that extra B12 but hates the idea of filling up on synthetic vitamins. Like everything else on this list, this nooch has a deep, cheesy flavor with nutty undertones that make it perfect for a stand-alone topping or the base for your favorite vegan cheese sauce.
5. Revly Vegan Nutritional Yeast Non-Fortified
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This yeast-only nooch has less iron than our other non-fortified brand but packs a mean dose of naturally occurring B vitamins, including 462% of your daily riboflavin need per 2 tablespoons. And, unlike others on this list, this one comes in powder form, making it easier to add into recipes or homemade spice mixes.
Whether you choose your nooch based on its B12 content or the simplicity of its ingredients, you can’t go wrong with any of these great choices.
Everything You Need to Know About Nutritional Yeast
Does the idea of eating yeast sound unappealing to you? Trust us, you’re not alone. But once you know a little more about nutritional yeast (not to be confused with brewer’s yeast), we think you may come around.
What Is It?
In short, nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast (species Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that is cultured in a high-sugar medium such as beet molasses or sugarcane. After several days, a thick layer of yeast cells forms on the top of the medium. This gelatinous layer is removed and deactivated using heat. Once the product is washed and dried, it is ready for use.
Nutritional yeast is not the same as the yeast used to brew beer or make bread. Because it is deactivated (“killed”), it can’t be used for further fermentation and can’t replicate inside your body the way candida or other funguses can.
This unique process yields a food product that is high in many valuable micronutrients, low in fat and carbohydrates, and high in protein. But, more importantly, it has a unique taste that few things in the vegan world can emulate.
Fortified vs Unfortified
Nutritional yeast is naturally high in riboflavin and folate, though the content of these B vitamins differs with the strain and processing method used. These “un-fortified” varieties also contain a decent amount of iron (about 5% of your daily need) and plenty of protein. Unlike most plant-sourced proteins, yeast provides a complete protein with all nine essential amino acids.
Nooch is plenty nutritious on its own, but many varieties are “fortified” with additional synthetic nutrients to help better round out the vegan diet.
The most notable added vitamin is B12. This essential nutrient only occurs naturally in living organisms. Herbivores like cows and horses get their B12 by ingesting insects and clumps of soil containing B12 producing bacteria while they graze. As a vegan, if you don’t want to eat dirt and bugs, your best option for getting enough B12 is to take a B12 supplement or consume foods fortified with synthetic vitamins.
In addition to B12, most fortified nutritional yeast contains extra B vitamins and more iron.
Some see the addition of synthetic nutrients as a negative in a food that is already so awesome on its own. But others appreciate the addition of a hard-to-get nutrient in a food that already has naturally occurring vitamins and enzymes that can help with the absorption of B12.
How Is It Used?
Now that you know how nutritious this food is, you are going to want to learn how to use it.
The natural cheesy flavor of nooch lends itself perfectly to use in traditional savory dishes. It can add a blast of umami flavor when used as a topper on steamed veggies, pasta, and grains. It perfectly emulates parmesan when used alone on top of Italian dishes or, better yet, when mixed with garlic powder and crushed almonds and then sprinkled on top.
Nutritional yeast also makes the best base for most vegan cheese sauces. By mixing a hefty scoop with cashews and garlic in the blender, you can create a quick and decadent sauce for noodles and veggies. Adding a touch of chili powder will give your dish even more character.
If you search the internet for nooch recipes, you will find an endless list of uses for this versatile and healthy food. Here are some of our favorites: