The Nooch is Loose: Nutritional Yeast Isn’t Just for Hippies Anymore
What was once the purview of vegans and bohemians is the hot new umami bomb of choice.
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Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
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In the past, nutritional yeast had a bit of an image problem: It was mostly seen as a fringe food supplement for hippies and vegans. Your goofy vegetarian aunt might put a shaker of it on the dinner table instead of Parmesan cheese. Or it would appear at the indie movie theater’s concession stand in San Francisco next to the shaker of salt and a random bottle of Bragg’s amino acids. Really? Where’s the bright orange cheese powder? And liquid neon “butter”? But try a tentative shake of nutritional yeast, take a crunchy bite, and suddenly there’s a not-so-subtle message: This isn’t your average popcorn. Welcome to the cult of “nooch.” You are now a member.
So what does this rediscovered nooch taste like? It’s got that satisfying umami punch, and while it is vegan, if you close your eyes it tastes as though a woodland fairy made unsalted cheese flakes out of very mild mushrooms and gently toasted nuts. It’s not about the nutrition anymore — it just tastes good. So check it out! Learn a little more below, or skip ahead to the delicious recipes. If you don’t know, now you nooch … err, know.
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Intro to nutritional yeast
Photograph by Rachael Nusbaum
This versatile ingredient, sometimes referred to as vegan Parmesan, adds complex umami flavor to all sorts of dishes. Read below to get answers to common questions and then choose a recipe to experience the nutritional yeast thrill for yourself.
But what IS nutritional yeast? Isn’t it the same as brewer’s yeast?
Both forms of yeast come from Saccharomyces cerevisiae cells, which are harvested after they ferment, but brewer’s yeast is sold alive for beer-making — and if eaten afterwards tastes quite bitter. Nutritional yeast is deactivated (or killed) when it is dried and pasteurized, so it loses its leavening powers. But then when the dark yellow yeast is flaked, ground into a powder, or sold as granules, it becomes something more: delicious.
How nutritional is it, really?
There are many health benefits the internet claims nooch will deliver, but here is the proven truth: On its own, it is a complete protein with the necessary nine amino acids. Each tablespoon generally has between 2 and 3 grams of protein. While there are naturally occurring B vitamins in yeast, the amount can vary dramatically so most commercially produced nutritional yeast has been fortified with several B vitamins. It also has trace minerals like selenium, manganese, zinc, and others.
Animal products are the only natural source of vitamin B12, so fortified nutritional yeast has been popular amongst vegans and others on a plant-based, dairy-free diet for many decades. But today chefs and adventurous home cooks are in it for the flavor; it’s nooch time now.
Ok, I’m in. But how do you use nutritional yeast?
There is naturally occurring glutamic acid in nooch — and that is the OG source of umami! So anywhere you’d like a more savory depth of flavor feel free to add a spoonful, especially if the dish doesn’t need more salt or you’re craving a cheesy echo. Season some popcorn with it to start (check out the excellent recipes below), sprinkle some on a salad, or try a dash on your next pasta dish when it needs a little something extra. Add a spoonful to gravy to give the flavor some oomph, or to a pot of chili for a protein bump.
Popcorn gets lit
Popcorn is an easy way in for the nooch newbie. While I [heart] my Whirley Pop on the stovetop, you can prepare the popcorn however you like, mix it with some spices and oil, toss, and voila! Movie night never tasted so good.
The inimitable Andrea Nguyen tweaked this recipe to create the perfect umami explosion, a “spicy, numbing Sichuan version of Doritos done up with popcorn.” This flavor tour of Asia includes Korean gochugaru powder (it has a mellow heat and is available in many grocery stores), ground Sichuan peppercorns, MSG (which you are free to skip if you like), paprika for color and grounding nooch, all tempered with a little sugar for the ultimate popcorn magic.
Coconut oil, brown sugar, vanilla, and maple syrup come together in a quick stovetop syrup and flavor half the popcorn to make a sweetly satisfying treat. Then nooch, powdered turmeric, onion, and garlic get tossed with the other half for a hint of savory — mix the two popcorns together for an eye-opening surprise in every bite.
Aleppo pepper is similar to crushed red pepper flakes but with a more ancho chile vibe and a note of tartness. Combined with nutritional yeast’s earthiness and crunchy kosher salt, this popcorn makes an elegant treat for your movie night, especially if you’ve got a Bollywood marathon planned.
Nooch gives this festive snack satisfying cheesy flavor notes, but with none of the dairy. Chili powder, cumin, paprika, salt, and a little sugar whisked into some olive oil delivers fiesta flavor with a satisfying crunch.
The nooch adds cheesy umami notes to snacks, making them all the more tempting
You can pay $5 for a tiny bag at the store, or you can buy a fresh bunch of kale and spend about 20 minutes making a gigantic bowl of these surprisingly satisfying crisps. Olive oil, nutritional yeast, and salt magically transform this bitter green into a snack you’ll find yourself reaching for again. And again. And — you get it.
Panko breadcrumbs provide excellent crunch in these tasty summer fries, while onion and garlic powder offer Italian flavor. Nooch adds a note of cheesiness — feel free to elevate these with a tablespoon of Parmesan and pinch of oregano too, if you’d like.
This dough comes together quickly and easily, and the crackers are easy to shape: Roll out the ball of dough on parchment paper or a silicone mat that fits inside your baking sheet, cut the crackers using a decorative pasta cutter or even a rolling pizza cutter, and top as you see fit! Homemade crackers in about a half-hour, with a satisfying nuttiness from the nooch.
The combination of chickpea flour, curry powder, and nutritional yeast delivers an earthy, toasty quality to the batter that makes these crunchy cauliflower “wings” even more piquant. Your favorite buffalo sauce can be thinned with vegan butter or plain almond milk and tossed with the crispy nuggets just before serving.
What’s for dinner?
This collection of main courses all count on nutritional yeast for an umami bump. Some dishes satisfy a vegan diet, but fish and chicken also make an appearance.
This is a flexible recipe that calls for barramundi, though any firm-fleshed fish could be swapped in. A creamy Paleo sauce gets its suppleness from soaked cashews and its cheesy notes (and extra protein) from the nutritional yeast. Riced cauliflower fills the bowl and then is topped with lettuces, avocado, cherry tomato, and a squeeze of lime, but feel free to swap in other vegetables you have on hand.
Adding nutritional yeast to the spinach, black bean, bell pepper, and tofu filling gives these enchiladas an umami boost that’ll leave everyone satisfied. Feel free to use purchased enchilada sauce, and don’t skip the avocado on top — it truly gilds the yucca flower.
Freezing tofu first gives it a pleasantly chewy texture. The flour, cornmeal, nutritional yeast, and savory seasonings make a batter that is satisfying to tear your teeth into. The tofu is briefly sautéed and then finished in the oven, for an elevated textural and flavor experience. Pop them as-is, dress them buffalo-style, or serve them in a tasty vegan po-boy sandwich.
This interesting dairy- and gluten-free take on chicken alfredo delivers a creamy, luscious pasta dish using coconut milk and brown rice pasta. Nutritional yeast steps in for the cheese, and the whole meal can be made in one pot in about 20 minutes.
This recipe is an excellent opportunity to practice making your own vegan “meat” for an upcoming BBQ. Nutritional yeast, tomato paste, and soy sauce provide a savory hit of umami that makes the kabobs more gratifying to gnaw on, and a homemade BBQ sauce and lemony vegan aioli complete this backyard centerpiece.
Nutritional yeast easily delivers depth of flavor and mediates any bitter notes in greens
This super simple side dish tastes great with broccoli or acorn squash (or a combination of both). With only four ingredients, nutritional yeast gets its moment to shine.
This creamy gluten-free dressing has echoes of a Caesar, and is full of protein and vitamins. A raw clove of garlic ups the health and wow factor; drizzle this dressing over mixed greens, steamed or grilled veggies, or a bowl of hot grains.
Cheesy nutritional yeast, Dijon mustard, and garlic join forces with bright green steamed broccoli in these fritters that taste a little like a crispy version of broccoli-cheddar soup. Eggs help bind the mixture as well as provide some heft in the form of protein; if you don’t have almond flour, wheat flour will work as well. A squeeze of lemon before eating cuts the richness and offers a bright citrus note.
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