‘Definite parmesan cheese vibes’: how to cook with nutritional yeast | Food

New to nutritional yeast? You could be forgiven for giving him the cold shoulder. First off, it’s flaky and — let’s admit it — it’s boring-looking. That yellowish-brown color doesn’t help either. But there’s more to this time-honored vegan staple than meets the eye.

Author and recipe developer Harriet Birrell doesn’t need to be won over by the allures of nutritional yeast. She’s been a fan since spotting it at her local health food store in 2012. Nutritional yeast (affectionately known as Nooch) has become a pantry must-have and features regularly in their plant-based recipes. Birrell’s books Whole and Natural Harry brought many notes to this industrious flavor enhancer.

Green salad with avocado and nutritional yeast
Green salad with avocado and nutritional yeast. Photo: Mila Naumova/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Apparently others are starting to sit up and take notice. In July, the Cambridge Dictionary saw fit to add the word nooch to its lists; US financial news outlet Bloomberg issued a press release tip that the global value of the nutritional yeast market would more than double to $999.5 million by 2032; and on Etsy you can buy handmade ceramic jars built specifically to hold Nooch.

Jack Stuart, chef and owner of neo-bistro Blume in Boonah, Queensland, first encountered nutritional yeast at acclaimed Brunswick Heads Restaurant Fleet, which was using toasted flakes in a kale coleslaw dressing.

“It’s still an ingredient that not many people are aware of — some see it as an underground thing in healthy eating — but a lot of cooks use it,” says Stuart.

Nutritional yeast flakes feature on Blume’s current menu, adorning a Sebago hash, a dish Stuart describes as pure comfort food.

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“Nutritional yeast has an almost umami-like parmesan flavor to me. It is very flavorful and makes a dish very rich and flavorful.”

But what is it exactly and how is it created? Nutritional yeast is grown specifically as a food product. It is a processed, dried and inactive form of yeast that is usually extracted from Saccharomyces cerevisiae, a yeast traditionally used in brewing. Grown on glucose, sometimes molasses or sugar cane, it is dehydrated and pasteurized. Unlike baker’s yeast, it cannot be used as a leavening agent and also differs from the dietary supplement – dried brewer’s yeast – which has a bitter taste.

Birrell’s approach to Nooch is constantly evolving. At first, she thought of it as a ready-made parmesan substitute for dishes like her tomato and zucchini casserole. Now she’s more adventurous, using the savory flakes in everything from plant-based parmesan to dairy-free cream cheese.

Pancakes: just one of the ways Harriet Birrell uses her nutritional yeast for umami balance
Pancakes: just one of the ways Harriet Birrell uses her nutritional yeast for umami balance. Photo: Branislav Bokun/Alamy

She even uses Nooch to add umami balance to sweet treats — like in pancakes and the icing she squirts on a plant-based carrot cake. It has become something that she now uses almost every day.

Nicole Dynan, an accredited practicing nutritionist, recently joined nooch. A flexitarian for most of her life, Dynan had heard about this misunderstood ingredient from vegan customers for years. But she didn’t get around to trying it until 2020, when she spotted it at a grocery store.

“I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t expect it to be that good,” says Dynan. “I’m a big lover of parmesan cheese and it definitely gave me parmesan vibes. It has quite a rich flavor.”

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Now she sprinkles Nooch Flakes over lentil Bolognese as a cheese substitute, uses them in salads and as a flavor enhancer in soups and mashed potatoes.

And despite what you may read on some corners of the wellness internet, Dynan says that nutritional yeast is dormant, so it can’t increase yeast overgrowth. However, she warns that there is some evidence to suggest people with Crohn’s disease should avoid baker’s, brewer’s and nutritional yeast, as they sometimes trigger abnormal immune responses in the gut of susceptible individuals.

For most of us, however, Nooch is a worthwhile addition, says Dynan. It’s low in calories, gluten and lactose free, a source of fiber, fat free and a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids.

The most common brands of nutritional yeast are fortified with “vitamins and minerals that are added during the manufacturing process,” according to Dynan. These include B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6 and B12) and trace elements such as selenium, zinc, iron and manganese.”

And while the cost of Nooch varies widely by brand and place of purchase, the cost per gram can be comparable to or lower than Parmesan.

“We’re trying to encourage Australians to limit red meat and processed meat because we eat too much of it,” says Dynan. “Nutritional yeast is a good alternative.”

Here are some tasty ways to use it:

  • Try a lighter version of a layered potato casserole with hearty yeast flakes and vegetable stock instead of cheese and cream. Cover the bottom of a deep ovenproof dish with a drizzle of olive oil and a shake nooch flake. Then add thinly sliced ​​potatoes (preferably with a mandolin) and continue layering the potatoes, nutritional yeast, and oil until your dish is about half full. Using a good quality vegetable stock cube, make double strength vegetable stock and pour over until it is just below the last layer of potatoes. Sprinkle more nooch and plenty of crushed black pepper on top. Cook in an oven preheated to 200°C until the potatoes are tender and golden brown.

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A potato casserole can easily get the plant-based treatment with vegetable broth and layers of trusty nooch
A potato casserole can easily get the plant-based treatment with vegetable broth and layers of trusty nooch
  • Make a delicious fried egg topper for a rice bowl or as a sandwich filling by gently sprinkling a mixture of curry powder, chilli flakes, salt and nooch onto an egg while it’s frying. Flip it over and let the heat toast the spices and nooch for another minute or so.

  • Make a vegan cheese sauce by using plant-based margarine and flour to make a roux, allow the roux to simmer, then stir in your favorite plant-based milk until all lumps are gone, and add Nooch Flakes to taste to taste like cheese.

  • Create a cheesy, nutty dressing for salads. Simply stir nooch flakes into tahini, then add water to thin to desired consistency. Add lemon juice and salt to taste. This also works well on a burger instead of processed cheese.

Harriet Birrell’s Plant-Based Parmesan

Plant-Based Parmesan: Made with a dash of nutritional yeast and nuts
Plant-Based Parmesan: Made with a dash of nutritional yeast and nuts

This recipe is an edited excerpt from Whole published by Hardie Grant.

Makes 1 cup

140 g raw cashew nuts or nut/seed of your choice
35 grams of nutritional yeast
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp salt

Put all the ingredients in your food processor. Pulse until you get a texture like almond flour. Enjoy it on pizza, pasta, salads and wraps – or as a delicious accompaniment to avocado toast and nutritional bowls.

Store in a glass jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or freeze for longer.

Jack Stuart’s Confit Kipfler Potato with Roasted Yeast and Garlic Mayo

Cooking the potatoes confit style intensifies the potato flavor. Toasting the yeast flakes brings out their nuttiness. If you’re buying mayo, instead of making it with the confit oil, simply use a fork to mash in the confit garlic before the blotting.

serves 4

For the confit potatoes
500 g Kipfler potatoesfree from all dirt
1 head of garlic
, cut in half
Sprig of thyme and rosemary
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1L grapeseed oil

For the garlic mayo
4 egg yolks
1 tbsp mustard
½ liter of confit oil
(from the potatoes)
confit garlic
(from the potatoes)
(good quality and bought, optional)

For the nutritional yeast crumb
200 g yeast flakes, gently roasted in a pan until lightly browned

To cook, place potatoes in a deep sturdy pot, cover with oil and add all other ingredients. Cook gently on stovetop until potatoes and garlic are tender – about an hour. Carefully remove with a slotted spoon, then slice the confit potatoes. Season with flake salt, pepper and sherry vinegar.

Smear a good dollop of mayonnaise over the sliced ​​potatoes, then top with cooled, toasted yeast flakes.

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