I was beginning to bore myself with my weekly reports from the market, so I have decided to change things up a bit today with a visit to my pantry. Once a month or so we’ll take a look at one of those strange vegan staples that I thoughtlessly mention here and there with no explanation. Well, that changes today. For today we will take a look at that veganest of vegan staples - nutritional yeast.
This is the food of the FUTURE....future....(future). If this isn't space food, it certainly should be. Seriously, go put some in your earthquake kit. This food (and I know that I am not selling it here like a bouquet of fresh asparagus spears) is a powdered protein source rich in vitamins and minerals. Plus! It tastes like cheese (a little bit, if you use your imagination).
Nutritional yeast is an inactive form of our old friend, Saccharomyces cerevisiae. I say old friend because this is one beloved one-celled organism. It is a strain of that same yeast that leaves behind air pockets in your bread and puts the oomph in your ale. So say it with me now, “sack or uh my sees - sarah vees see ay,” or “sugar fungus of beer” if you prefer. Back in the day, German brewers would scoop out the yeast left over at the end of the beer-making process to sell as a health tonic, and rightfully so; this inactive yeast was 50% protein and high in vitamins and minerals. Only problem was it didn’t taste very good.
Despite the bitter flavor, brewers yeast is still a commonly used nutritional supplement (and the foundation of a couple of popular spreads), however it is not the same as the nutritional yeast that you see called for in so many vegan recipes. This "primary grown inactive dry yeast" is now cultivated on molasses rather than scooped out of a beer keg. It is specifically raised for its nutritive properties as well as its pleasant taste. It is also frequently fortified with other vitamins, namely B12. You will find it in the form of dry yellow flakes sold in many a health food store bulk bin or canister.
Oh, and find it you will, because this stuff packs a nutritional wollop. In a 3 tablespoon serving of my KAL brand nutritional yeast flakes there are 9 grams of protein and 150% of the RDA of B12 in addition to high concentrations of many other vitamins and minerals. But, as I mentioned before, that is not the only reason for its essential vegan status.
It is the crucial ingredient in the elusive vegan cheese. But don't you go expecting the boldness of a stilton or even a compté; its flavor is mild. I prefer to think of it as an umami element. It gives that certain savory je ne sais quoi to scrambles and cream sauces and seitan.
And you, how do you use the nooch?