Many vegetarians and vegans depend on nutritional yeast flakes to help them meet their recommended daily allowances of protein, fiber and amino acids. One of the great things about the flakes is that they contain the complete set of B vitamins, many of which are difficult to find in products from non-animal sources, such as B12 and folate.
How Nutritional Yeast Flakes Are Made
Nutritional yeast is not so much made as grown. It is a one-celled fungus, just like the yeast found in yogurts and breads. What makes nutritional yeast different is that the fungus, usually saccharomyces cerevisiae, is deactivated very early in the production process. A basic description of this process is as follows:
- A producer grows the yeast, letting it feed on beet molasses, sometimes mixed with sugar cane.
- The yeast is pasteurized, or heated at very high temperatures, to kill the active cultures.
- Once inactive, it is dried and becomes small irregularly shaped flakes.
- Finally it is packaged and sold.
Some nutritional yeast is fortified with additional vitamins and minerals during step three of the production process.
Using Nutritional Yeast Flakes
Some people may think that because nutritional yeast is a fungus it will taste similar to a mushroom. However, this is not the case. Instead, its flavor is more like a cross between sourdough bread and Parmesan cheese. Because of its light texture and unique taste, many use it as a topping for the following foods:
- Air-popped popcorn
- Pasta salads or pasta marinara
- Soups, such as tomato or onion
- Breads, such as garlic bread
- Cereal or oatmeal
- Eggs or tofu scramble
Since its flavor is not overpowering, some also choose to eat the flakes straight or to stir them into their regular glass of orange juice or cup of morning coffee. It's an easy way to get the nutrients without having to make an elaborate dish or take a pill. A typical daily serving size is one to two tablespoons.
Buying Nutritional Yeast Flakes
It can be difficult to find nutritional yeast at a traditional grocery store. Most any natural foods store or health food shop will have it though. Some keep it in the sauces and spices section while others classify as a nutritional supplement, so it is important to check both areas.
Those that don't have such shops convenient to them can also purchase the flakes online. Three popular brands to look for are Kal, Red Star, and Now Foods. One or more can be found at each of these websites:
Commercial Products with Nutritional Yeast
Although it is definitely not yet a mainstream ingredient, there are some commercial products that use nutritional yeast flakes. A prime example is that Robert's American Gourmet adds the flakes to its Tings corn snacks to give them a slightly cheesy but not overpowering taste. It also keeps consumers from getting orange fingers when eating them. Additionally, many movie theaters provide the yeast in a shaker so that patrons can use it to season their popcorn. It is infinitely healthier than the usual soggy butter topping; and again, it is less messy.
Most stores that sell nutritional yeast flakes also sell a product called brewer's yeast. It's important to note that they are not the same thing, although they are very similar products. The main difference is not in appearance but in taste. Instead of being light and cheesy like nutritional yeast, brewer's yeast is more bitter and heavy. It's not something most would want on top of their soup or quesadilla. It's important to check the label and make sure to get the right product.