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What Exactly Is Nutritional Yeast—And How Do You Eat It?

If we suggested you sprinkle yeast into your soup or pasta, you’d probably be pretty perplexed. After all, isn’t yeast something used to bake bread or make beer?

Well, yes. Yeasts, which are technically fungi, are live organisms. The types of yeast you’re thinking of are called ‘baker’s yeast’ and ‘brewer’s yeast.’ These live yeasts make bread rise and beer ferment by feeding on their sugars—but there’s another type of yeast out there that may claim a spot on your plate.

Nutritional yeast, a type of deactivated yeast used as a seasoning, has become a staple for vegans and vegetarians looking to add savory flavor and nutrients to their food. Unlike the yeasts used to make bread and beer, this yeast is pasteurized (heated) so it no longer grows and packaged into seasoning-style bottles. The yellow, crumbly yeast tastes nutty, cheesy, and creamy, and is easy to shake or spoon onto your grub like you would with Parmesan cheese.

Yeast Is Good For You!

Aside from adding flavor to food, nutritional yeast offers a number of nutritional benefits. A one-tablespoon serving contains 18 amino acids, beta-glucan (a type of fiber that supports cholesterol and heart health), and glutathione (an antioxidant made of amino acids), along with two grams of protein and a gram of fiber. Win!

While the exact nutritional profile of nutritional yeast varies by brand, many are fortified with B vitamins. This is great for vegetarians and vegans, explains Boston-based dietitian Kate Scarlata, R.D. That’s because most people get their B vitamins from animal-based foods like meat and poultry. Vitamin B12 is key for our nervous system, energy production, and food digestion and absorption—and people who fall short on the nutrient may experience fatigue, mood changes, and sleep issues.

Related: 7 Tips For Doing A Plant-Based Diet Right

For example, Bragg nutritional yeast seasoning provides a powerful dose of three key B vitamins: thiamine (B1), vitamin B6, and vitamin B12. In one tablespoon, you’ll get two milligrams of thiamine (180 percent of the daily value), 1.8 milligrams of B6 (140 percent of the daily value), and just shy of one microgram of B12 (40 percent of the daily value).

Yeast Up Your Grub

You can find nutritional yeast in the seasoning or health foods aisle of most supermarkets, and can keep it stashed in your pantry for a couple of years.

Just check the ingredient label before dropping the yeast into your cart. If you have any issues tolerating synthetic ingredients, look for a brand that doesn’t contain added B vitamins. From there, just make sure ‘inactive dry yeast’ and any added vitamins are the only ingredients listed.

Some people worry about nutritional yeast containing the controversial food additive MSG (monosodium glutamate) because it contains an amino acid called glutamic acid. Fear not, though: While the two sound similar, they’re not the same thing. As long as MSG isn’t listed on the ingredient list, you’re good to go.

Nutritional yeast’s cheesy flavor makes it a popular dairy-free option for sprinkling and seasoning on whatever snacks and meals you’d typically add cheese to. Walsh suggests sprinkling it on popcorn and kale chips and adding it to soups, salads, and pasta dishes (mac and cheese, included).

Related: 11 Meat-Free Meals That Still Pack Plenty Of Protein

Have to taste it to believe it? Try the following vegan mac and cheese recipe from vegan dietitian Andy Bellati, R.D.

While your favorite mac pasta cooks, you’ll make a vegan cheese sauce using the following ingredients:

1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ tsp onion powder
½ tsp garlic powder
1/3 tsp salt
¾ – 1 cup unsweetened soy milk
2 Tbsp oat flour
4 – 6 Tbsp nutritional yeast
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

Heat olive oil in a sauce pan, add garlic, and cook until golden. Add onion powder, garlic powder, salt, cayenne pepper, oat flour, soy milk, and nutritional yeast. Cook at high heat until sauce thickens to desired consistency. Combine with cooked pasta in a large pot and stir over medium heat until well combined.

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