Nutritional yeast, or nooch, as it’s more affectionately known, is a household staple for many a vegan, but this B12-packed condiment isn’t just for the meat-averse, with the stuff offering a simple way to up your B vitamin intake. But what exactly is it? We’ll be diving into what it’s made of, the pros and cons – ever heard of a niacin flush? – along with busting a few bizarre myths.
Nutritional yeast has gained significant popularity in recent years as a versatile ingredient in vegan and vegetarian cooking. Known for its cheesy, nutty flavour, this inactive form of yeast offers a variety of health benefits and has become a pantry staple for many. For those who are missing the burst of flavour that comes with cheese, nooch provides the perfect alternative, with a little umami goodness to boot.
What is Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast, scientifically known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is a species of yeast that has been deactivated and dried to create a yellowish, flaky product. Yep, that’s right – this is inactive yeast, not the live, thriving stuff that makes your skin itch and your gut groan. It is commonly used as a flavour enhancer and nutritional supplement due to its rich nutritional profile.
One of the most significant advantages of nutritional yeast is its high nutritional content. It is a complete protein source, providing all nine essential amino acids required by the body. Moreover, it is an excellent source of B vitamins, including vitamin B12, which is vital for vegans and vegetarians who may struggle to obtain sufficient amounts from plant-based sources alone.
For instance, fortified nutritional yeast contains the following:
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamin)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (niacin)
- Vitamin B9 (Folic acid)
- Vitamin B12
Flavour and Culinary Uses: Nutritional yeast is prized for its unique flavour, often described as cheesy or nutty. It adds depth and umami to various dishes, making it an ideal ingredient for vegan cheese alternatives, sauces, dressings, and savoury baked goods. Sprinkling it on popcorn, roasted vegetables, or pasta dishes is a popular way to enjoy its distinctive taste.
Boosting Immunity: Due to its high content of beta-glucans, a type of fibre, nutritional yeast can help support a healthy immune system. Beta-glucans have been shown to stimulate immune cells, enhancing their ability to fight off pathogens and potentially reducing the risk of certain infections.
Source of Antioxidants: Nutritional yeast contains a range of antioxidants, including selenium and glutathione, which help protect cells from oxidative damage. These antioxidants can contribute to overall health and may have anti-aging effects.
Myth #1: Nutritional Yeast Causes Candida Overgrowth
One prevailing myth is that consuming nutritional yeast can contribute to Candida overgrowth, a condition caused by an overgrowth of the Candida fungus in the body. However, there is no scientific evidence linking nutritional yeast consumption to Candida overgrowth. In fact, nutritional yeast is inactive, and the strain used is different from the type that causes Candida infections.
Myth #2: Nutritional Yeast has MSG
Another common misconception is that nutritional yeast contains monosodium glutamate (MSG) or produces MSG during digestion. However, nutritional yeast is a natural source of glutamic acid, which is different from MSG. Glutamic acid is a naturally occurring amino acid found in various foods and plays a role in enhancing the savoury taste known as umami – and despite the nationwide panic that rocked Australia in the 60s and culminated in phase-out of the stuff in the 90s, we’re now seeing a resurgence of MSG. In fact, the research doesn’t indicate that it’s harmful, but rather it may have been a case of racism that left Chinese restaurant patrons feeling under the weather. MasterChef alum Adam Liaw has been a strong proponent against the demonisation of this umami-packed ingredient, stating that the scare campaign was unfounded.
So, there you have it – two myths busted for the price of one! As with most foods, it’s important to enjoy them in moderation – Food Standards Australia New Zealand has stated that excess consumption can lead to short-term discomfort.
“A small number of people may experience a mild hypersensitivity-type reaction to large amounts of MSG when eaten in a single meal”, FSANZ wrote. “It should pass quickly and do not produce any long-lasting effects."
But, all that aside, nutritional yeast technically doesn’t have MSG in its ingredient list, making it’s a moot point.
But that doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and rainbows – there are a few things to keep in mind before trying nutritional yeast.
Allergies: Nutritional yeast is derived from yeast, so individuals with yeast allergies should avoid consuming it. It's essential to read labels carefully and check for any potential cross-contamination with other allergens.
Fortified Versions: Many commercially available nutritional yeast products are fortified with additional vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12. While this can be beneficial, it's important to be aware of the overall intake of fortified nutrients, as excessive amounts may have adverse effects. This includes the well-documented niacin flush – too much of this nutrient can leave you feeling hot, headachy and flushed, and some brands of nooch happen to pack over 200% of the RDI in just one serve. So, don’t go spooning the stuff onto your meals! Also keep in mind that non-fortified versions will be lacking the impressive B vitamin content that nooch is known for.
Purine Content: Nutritional yeast contains purines, which are substances that can be metabolised into uric acid in the body. Individuals with gout or kidney-related issues may want to moderate their intake of purine-rich foods, including nutritional yeast. We know we don’t have to warn the gout sufferers out there twice about purine! Ouch.
Sodium Content: Some brands of nutritional yeast may have varying sodium levels. If you are following a low-sodium diet, it's advisable to check the nutritional information and choose low-sodium options if available.
The verdict? Nutritional yeast is a versatile ingredient that adds a delightful flavour and a range of health benefits to a variety of dishes. It is an excellent source of essential nutrients, including B vitamins and complete protein – but, as with all foods, moderation is key. No one likes a niacin flush! But that’s no reason not to embrace the cheesy, nutty goodness of nutritional yeast in your cooking. Without further ado, we present to you one of our favourite nooch recipes – with oven-baked broccoli and zesty lemon, what’s not to love?
Cheesy Garlic Roasted Broccoli with Nutritional Yeast
- 1 head of broccoli, cut into florets
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Lemon wedges, for serving (optional)
- Preheat your oven to 220°C or 425°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the olive oil, minced garlic, nutritional yeast, salt, and pepper. Stir well to create a paste-like consistency.
- Add the broccoli florets to the bowl and toss them in the nutritional yeast mixture until they are evenly coated.
- Transfer the coated broccoli florets to the prepared baking sheet and spread them out in a single layer.
- Roast the broccoli in the preheated oven for about 15-20 minutes, or until the florets are tender and slightly crispy on the edges.
- Remove the roasted broccoli from the oven and allow it to cool for a few minutes.
- Serve the Cheesy Garlic Roasted Broccoli with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice (if desired) to brighten the flavours.
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