Why is Nutritional Yeast Used in Vegan Recipes?

Why is nutritional yeast used in vegan recipes?

The secret ingredient in vegan kitchens all over the world is nutritional yeast. It is also referred to as “nutritional yeast” or savory yeast flakes. Vegans have long cherished nutritional yeast flakes for their vitamin B12, protein levels, as well as their capacity to make cheese substitutes.

Yeah, I admit, I use it as a cheese substitute most of the time.

But why would you use yeast as a cheese substitute? Because it tastes a lot like cheese, especially Parmesan, nutritional yeast is used in a lot of vegan dishes. It has a powerful, deep, nutty umami flavor to it that is quite alluring. These flavorful flakes may enhance everything from roasted veggies to popcorn.

You might be duped into thinking it includes MSG like in Nik-Naks, but it doesn’t! Actually, glutamic acid, an amino acid made during the drying process, is what gives nutritional yeast its umami flavor.

It is also worth mentioning, when following a vegan or vegetarian diet, fortified nutritional yeast is an excellent way to receive the vitamin B12 that isn’t found in plants unless you take a supplement. One tablespoon has six times the RDA of vitamin B12.

Now that I mentioned the main reason for using nutritional yeast in vegan recipes, I can list other reasons why you might use it in your kitchen. Nutritional yeast has some great benefits:

  • It has all nine of the essential amino acids, which our body can only obtain from the diet, are present in nutritional yeast, making it a complete protein.
  • It is abundant in B vitamins (especially rich in riboflavin, thiamine, B6, B12, and niacin).
  • Natural nutritional yeast is free of gluten, lactose, and synthetic flavors and colors.
  • It is a great source of high-quality protein for vegans because 2 grams of protein are found in one tablespoon of nutritional yeast.

What is Nutritional Yeast Used for in Vegan Cooking?

As its name implies, nutritional yeast is loaded with essential nutrients, including B-vitamins, selenium, folic acid, protein, and zinc.

Now that you know why vegans like to use it, answering the question: What is nutritional yeast used for in vegan cooking, might be quite obvious.

Vegans like to use it for dishes that need the cheesy flavor. Natural flavors that have been characterized as cheesy, nutty, savory, and “umami” can all be achieved by adding nutritional yeast flakes. It really works wonders whenever you want to give your food a cheesy flavor.

The greatest way to introduce yourself to nutritional yeast if you’ve never used it before, would be with popcorn. For a quick and simple savory snack, sprinkle a tbsp or more of yeast flakes plus a touch of salt on freshly popped popcorn. I bet you will love it.

Also, nutritional yeast can be substituted for Parmesan cheese in pasta, risotto, and soup. On top of savory oatmeal, baked beans, or roasted vegetables, it tastes great!

But feel free to experiment. Because of its strong flavor it goes great with basically anything and it’s almost like, you can’t go wrong with nutritional yeast.

Is All Nutritional Yeast Vegan?

Basically, there are two varieties of nutritious yeast: fortified and non-fortified. The following vitamins are included in the fortified nutritional yeast:

  • Thiamine
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Folic acid
  • Riboflavin
  • Niacin

Nutritional yeast that isn’t fortified doesn’t have any added vitamins. It only has the nutrients that nutritious yeast flakes naturally contain. Nutritional yeast that has not been fortified still has minor amounts of B vitamins and protein.

Right, so there are various types, but are they vegan?

Yes, both fortified and non-fortified nutritional yeast varieties are vegan. Yet, once, I came across a brand that had whey powder in it; thus, you should always check the label for a list of ingredients.

Can You Eat Nutritional Yeast on a Raw Vegan Diet?

Raw vegan food can sometimes taste very bland, mostly for those that aren’t used to it. It would be so refreshing to add some flavor to raw food and not just any flavor, but nutritional yeast.

Can you do this? Is nutritional yeast raw food and can raw vegans eat it?

Funny thing, although it is not raw food due to the pasteurizing process where yeast is killed, some raw vegans still like to include it in their dishes.

What is Vegan Nutritional Yeast Made From?

Nutritional yeast is a dried, inactive version of the yeast species Saccharomyces cerevisiae. This yeast can be grown from many sources, including sugar beets or blackstrap molasses. Although nutritional yeast is technically a different product than brewer’s and baker’s yeasts, they are both derived from the same kind of yeast.

The live yeast in nutritional yeast flakes goes through a second fermentation process in which nutrients (such as folic acid) are added. The harvested yeast is then dried and made into flakes. The drying procedure renders the yeast inactive; as a result, it will not cause your bread to rise or produce beer from water and hops.

How Much Nutritional Yeast Should a Vegan Eat?

Moderate nutrition yeast use is safe. Those who wish to get the health benefits of nutritional yeast can consume between 1 tablespoon and ¼ cup every day.

What is the Best Vegan Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast comes in three different forms: large flakes, small flakes, and fine powder. Although I like large flakes’ texture more, all three of the types have the same flavor.

Bob’s Red Mill, Braggs’, Anthony’s, and 138 Foods all produce vegan nutritional yeast.

Besides obtaining it from the already mentioned sources in bagged form, every reputable natural foods store also carries it in bulk. Additionally, Amazon.com and other internet retailers sell it.

Is There a Vegan Substitute for Nutritional Yeast?

Yes, there are some workarounds if for some reason you don’t want to use nutritional yeast.

Here are just some vegan substitutes for nutritional yeast:

Brewer’s Yeast

Brewer’s yeast might be present in your home if you often bake bread or brew beer. It also happens to be the best nutritional yeast alternative out there. They are similar in texture and consistency. Even their flavor is comparable. Even though it has a kind of bitter flavor character overall than nutritional yeast. It might also have a hint of beer. Use roughly ⅔ of the recipe’s recommended amount to avoid overpowering your dish’s flavor: For every tablespoon of nutritional yeast, use 2 tablespoons of brewer’s yeast.


If brewer’s yeast is among the better alternatives, then Vegemite must be mentioned as well. Vegemite is a paste made from leftover brewer’s yeast. It does, however, contain other spices.

This is a widespread food in Australia, but it may not be a pantry staple. Give it a shot if you happen to have a jar handy.

Vegemite is more flavorful than nutritional yeast. Instead of 1 tablespoon nutritional yeast, use 2 teaspoons of Vegemite.


Like Vegemite, Marmite contains yeast extract. It can replace nutritious yeast.

Vegemite is Australian, but marmite is British. Similar to Vegemite, but milder and sweeter. Syrup-like. Nutritional yeast is dry, whereas syrup is liquid. Soups and sauces are the best places to use it. Replace nutritional yeast with 2 tablespoons marmite.

Soy Sauce

Soy sauce and tamari have been used for a long time to add umami flavor to vegetarian foods. Unlike nutritional yeast, soy sauce contains a substantial amount of salty flavor. The problem can be easily remedied while cooking with it by reducing the total amount of salt used.

Coconut Aminos

Coconut aminos resemble soy sauce. It’s not as salty as ketchup and has a sweet finish. Its nutty and savory flavor makes it a good vegan substitute for nutritional yeast.

Coconut aminos are beneficial for people with limited diets or food allergies. Gluten-, soy-, and yeast-free. Its distinctive umami flavor comes from a high glutamate content and fermentation of the coconut tree sap, which is how it is manufactured.

Liquids are great for sauces and recipes. The flavor isn’t as strong as others on this list, but the extra sugar and salt imply you should use it sparingly at first.

Bragg Liquid Aminos resemble coconut aminos. This fermented soybean product tastes similar.

Chickpea Flour

Chickpea flour is loaded with B vitamins and protein, just like nutritious yeast. As a powder, it also perfectly resembles the feel of a powdered nutritional yeast.

Chickpea flour lacks the cheesy flavor and umami. Browning the flour prior to use can help bring out a hint of savoriness as well as numerous nutty and earthy notes. The browned powder can be combined with some onion powder, brewer’s yeast, and other seasonings to make a delicious topping for popcorn, pasta, and other delicious savory snacks and entrées.

Dried Mushroom

Mushrooms may seem like an unusual nutritional yeast alternative, but they’re a fungus-like yeast.

Porcini, shiitake, oyster, and chanterelle can replace nutritious yeast. Each has an earthy savoriness like nutritional yeast. The final product tastes more like broth or meat than cheese, which can be appealing in some contexts but less so in the vegan world.

You can buy or dry your own mushrooms. In either case, pulverize them in a coffee grinder before substituting them for nutritional yeast.


Nutritional yeast is a highly healthy vegan dietary product. However, nutritional yeast, like any other dietary supplement, is not a replacement for a well-balanced diet. It may be difficult to obtain certain vitamins through diet alone, particularly for vegans and vegetarians, but nutritional yeast may be able to help compensate for this deficiency.

It can also help in replacing flavors, ingredients, or condiments like cheese that are high in fat or sodium. It’s widely used to flavor vegan cheese sauces as well as soups and salads.

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Gregory Knox
Gregory Knox

A certified nutritionist, father, and animal lover combines 13 years of veganism with his expertise in food and nutrition, offering readers a wealth of knowledge on plant-based diets and cooking.