"I could never go vegan because I love cheese to much!" Sound familiar? If it does, you're not alone. Cheese is delicious and although research is still being conducted, some studies suggest that a cheese addiction is a real thing. If you've been brave enough to look into cheese swaps, chances are you've come across the magical cheesy alternative known as nutritional yeast. But what is nutritional yeast? I can promise it's not as scary as it sounds. 

I add nutritional yeast to literally everything. Popcorn? Nutritional yeast and sea salt are my favourite combo. The warm popcorn melts the nutritional yeast just enough to make it stick. Pasta? Duh. Roasted veggies? My mouth is drooling just thinking about it. Skeptical that anything could ever replace the salty, savoury goodness that is cheese? Understandable. Just hear me out. 

What is Nutritional Yeast?

Ukie Ly

First off, we vegans like to call it nooch. Why? It sounds more appetizing. 

Nutritional yeast is a type of inactive yeast, meaning it no longer has the characteristic ability of baker's yeast to make baked goods rise. Originally, the naturally occurring fungi is a single celled organism grown on molasses. It is harvested, washed, and dried with heat to de-activate it. Finally, it is flaked and crumbled to produce the nutritional yeast that vegans are crazy for. 

As mentioned before, it's most well known for its similarity in taste to cheese. Some people also describe it as having a nutty and slightly salty flavour. You'll most likely find nooch in the health and wellness section of the grocery store, specialty stores, or in bulk stores. It can be purchased in a flake or powder form; I prefer flakes simply because I find their taste more pronounced. However, the flavour will ultimately be the same. 

Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast

Kat Manouchehri

Let's start with the macronutrient breakdown. A two tablespoon serving has 45 kcals, with 5g of carbohydrate, 4g or fibre, 0.5g total fat, and 8g of protein. In fact, nooch is a complete source of protein, which means it is a source of all 9 amino acids our body cannot produce on its own. 

Nutritional yeast is most notable for its high levels of the different B vitamins. A 1/4 cup serving contains 790% of your Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) needs, 570% of your daily Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), 230% of Vitamin B3 (Niacin), 300% of Vitamin B6, and 290% of your Vitamin B12! A vegan diet has the potential of being low in Vitamin B12 since it's only found in animal products. This means the only way vegans can get Vitamin B12 from their diet is to either eat fortified foods or take a supplement. Vitamin B12 is essential for proper nerve function and the prevention of a specific type of anemia called megaloblastic anemia. 

Aside from being hella tasty, nutritional yeast offers many health benefits. Firstly, it improves your immunity. The zinc and selenium assist in cell repair and thus aid in wound healing. Additionally, zinc acts as an antioxidant and combats the aging process. Selenium and niacin help maintain optimal blood cholesterol levels. Selenium reduces inflammation in blood vessels while niacin reduces LDL (i.e. the "bad cholesterol") levels. Nooch also improves digestion due to the presence of probiotics. The high levels of B vitamins contribute to healthy skin, hair, and nails. Clearly, both vegans and non-vegans alike would benefit from incorporating more nutritional yeast into their diet! 

Recipe Ideas

Eileen Wang

If you're looking to try nooch for the first time, I would recommend sprinkling that shiz on some fresh oil-popped popcorn.  Another easy way to experiment with nutritional yeast is to pair it with potatoes—stir it into mashed potatoes or make oven baked cheezy potato wedges. I've also heard positive things about the nooch/scrambled egg combo. 

If you're already a seasoned pro when it comes to incorporating nutritional yeast into your favourited dishes, don't be afraid to experiment.  Vegan "mac and cheese," featuring our new BFF, nutritional yeast, is an excellent comfort food. Another good option? Pizza. 

I'll admit that nothing will ever fully replace cheese. But, if all that's holding you back from going vegan is cheese, then I strongly encourage you to give nutritional yeast a try. What it lacks in appearance it makes up for in taste, nutrition, and health benefits. And saying "nooch" is pretty fun too.