nEve for nutritional yeast? You could be forgiven for giving it the cold shoulder. For starters, it’s flaky and — let’s admit it — it looks dull. That yellow-brown color doesn’t help either. But this time-honored vegetarian staple has more to offer than meets the eye.
Writer and recipe developer Harriet Birrell doesn’t need to be convinced about the allure of nutritional yeast. She’s been a fan since discovering it at her local health food store in 2012. Nutritional yeast (affectionately known as nooch) has become a pantry, adding regularity to her plant-based recipes. Birrell’s books Whole and Natural Harry features scores of this hardworking flavor booster.
Obviously, other people are starting to sit down and take notice as well. In July, Cambridge Dictionary saw fit to add the word notch to its listing; US financial news service Bloomberg issued a release stating that the global value of the nutritional yeast market will more than double to US$999.5m by 2032; And on Etsy, you can buy purpose-built handmade ceramic jars to store nooch.
Chef-owner Jack Stuart of Neo-Bistro Bloom in Boona, Queensland first encountered nutritional yeast at the acclaimed Brunswick Heads restaurant Fleet, which used toasted flakes in dressings for Cabbage and Kale Slaw.
“It’s still an ingredient that many people don’t know about — some see it as an underground health food ingredient — but a lot of chefs are using it,” says Stuart.
Nutritional yeast flakes adorn an applego potato hash on Bloom’s current menu, a dish Stuart describes as pure comfort food.
“Nutritional yeast has an almost umami-like Parmesan flavor to me. It tastes great and makes a dish very rich and flavorful.”
But what exactly is it and how is it made? Nutritional yeast is grown exclusively as a food product. It is a processed, dried and inactivated form of yeast commonly obtained. Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast traditionally used in brewing. Glucose, sometimes grown on molasses or sugarcane, is dehydrated and pasteurized. Unlike baker’s yeast, it cannot be used as a raising agent, and it is also distinguished from a food supplement – dry brewer’s yeast – which has a bitter taste.
Birrell’s approach to Notch is something that is ever evolving. At first, she envisioned it as a readymade Parmesan substitute for dishes like her Tomato Zucchini Bake. Now she’s more daring, putting the delicious flakes to work in anything from plant-based Parmesan to no-dairy cream “cheese.”
She even uses nooch to lend umami balance to sweet treats—like in the pancakes and icings she slathers on plant-based carrot cake. It has become something that she uses almost every day now.
Nicole Dinan, an accredited practicing dietitian, recently came across Nooch. A flexitarian for most of her life, Diane had been hearing about this misunderstood ingredient from vegetarian customers for years. But she only agreed to try it in 2020, when she spotted it at a bulk food store.
“I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think it would be as good as it is,” says Dion. “I’m a big lover of Parmesan cheese and it gave me definite Parmesan vibes. It tastes quite rich.”
She now sprinkles nooch flakes on lentils Bolognese as a substitute for cheese, uses it on salads and as a flavor enhancer in soups and mashed potatoes.
And despite what you may read on some corners of the wellness-internet, Dinan says nutritional yeast is inactive so it can’t trigger yeast overgrowth. However, she cautions that there is some evidence to suggest people with Crohn’s disease avoid Baker, Brewer, and nutritional yeast, as they sometimes trigger an abnormal immune response in the guts of susceptible individuals.
However, for most of us, the notch is a worthwhile addition, Dinan says. It is low in calories, gluten free and lactose free, a source of fiber, with zero fat and it is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids.
The most common brands of nutritional yeast are fortified, says Dinan, “with vitamins and minerals added to it during the manufacturing process. These include the B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12) and Trace minerals such as selenium, zinc, iron and manganese.
And while the cost of nooch varies widely depending on the brand, and where you buy it, the cost can be as much as or less per gram than Parmesan.
“We are trying to encourage Australians to cut back on red meat and processed meats because we eat too many of them,” says Dinan. “Natural yeast is a great alternative product.”
Here are some delicious ways to use it:
Try a lighter version of the potato layer bake, using salted yeast flakes and vegetable stock in place of cheese and cream. Cover the base of a deep ovenproof dish with a glug of olive oil and a shake of Nooch Flakes. Then add thinly sliced potatoes (preferably using a mandoline), and continue to layer the potatoes, yeast flakes, and oil until your dish is about half full. Make a double strength vegetable stock using a good quality vegetable stock cube, then pour it in until it sits just below the last layer of potatoes. Sprinkle more nooch and lots of crushed black pepper over the top. Cook in a 200C oven until the potatoes are soft and golden.
Make a delicious fried-egg topper for rice bowls, or to use as a sandwich filling, by carefully sprinkling a mixture of curry powder, chili flakes, salt, and nooch while frying the eggs. Flip it over and toast the garam masala and nuke for a minute or two.
To make a roux, whip up a vegan cheese sauce using plant-based margarine and flour, let the roux cook, then whisk in your favorite plant-based milk until no lumps disappear, cheesy flavor Mix Nooch Flex for
Make a cheesy, nutritious dressing for salads. Simply mix the nooch flakes into the tahini and then add water to thin it to your desired consistency. Add lemon juice and salt as per taste. It also works well on burgers in place of processed cheese.
Harriet Birrell’s Plant-Based Parmesan
This recipe is an edited excerpt from Whole, published by Hardy Grant.
makes 1 cup
140 grams raw cashew nuts or nut/seed of choice
35 grams nutritional yeast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt
Put all ingredients in your food processor. Pulse until you get an almond-like texture. Enjoy on pizza, pasta, salads and wraps – or as a tasty addition to avo toast and nutrition bowls.
Store in a glass jar in the fridge for up to two weeks, or freeze to store longer.
Jack Stuart’s Confit Kiefler Potatoes with Toasted Yeast and Garlic Mayo
Cooking potatoes in a comfort style enhances the taste of potatoes. Roasting the yeast flakes brings out their nutritional value. If you’re buying mayo instead of using confit oil, simply use a fork to crush in the confit garlic before doping.
For comfort potatoes
500 g Kiefler potatoescleared of all dirt
1 head garlic, cut in half
thyme and sprig of rosemary
1 tbsp black pepper
1 liter grape seed oil
Garlic for Mayo
4 egg yolks
1 tablespoon mustard
liter confit oil (from potatoes)
comfort garlic (from potatoes)
mayonnaise (good quality and store-bought, optional)
nutritional yeast for the crumbs
200 g yeast flakes, Roast in a pan till lightly browned
To cook potatoes, place in a deep pan, cover with oil and add all other ingredients. Cook over low heat for about an hour – until the potatoes and garlic are soft. Remove carefully using a slotted spoon, then shred potatoes. Season with flaky salt, pepper and sherry vinegar.
Drizzle a nice dollop of mayo over diced potatoes, then cover with chilled, toasted yeast flakes.