Nutritional Yeast – the not-so-secret ingredient

When you decide to move toward a plant-based diet, sooner or later you’re going to discover Nutritional Yeast.  This denatured yeast will not enable your bread to rise, but will add a nutty, cheese-like flavor to meals and snacks, and packs a nutritional punch. 

It comes in the form of golden flakes or a yellow powder, and in just 5g (1 teaspoon) you get 3g protein, and 1g of fiber. It also includes iron, potassium and some antioxidants, plus it’s often fortified with B vitamins including B12. It’s available in packets, shaker jars, or from bulk bins in most grocery stores.

It’s easy to sprinkle on popcorn, oatmeal, cooked vegetables or any other food, with a flavor similar to Parmesan cheese. It can also be added as a thickener to soups and sauces, providing more nutrition than conventional white flour.

Here are some easy recipes to help you easily replace conventional cheese dishes at home:

Vegan Parmesan

  • ½ cup almonds
  • ½ cup nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Grind the almonds in a spice or nut grinder first until it’s granular but not a paste.  Remove any remaining large pieces of nut.  Add to a bowl and stir in the remaining ingredients.  Store in the fridge in a container suitable for shaking over food.  This gives a more substantial consistency than nutritional yeast by itself.

Vegan Cheese Sauce

  • 1 cup sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup carrots, peeled and diced
  • ¼ cup onions, chopped
  • 1 cup veggie broth from cooked vegetables
  • ½ cup raw cashews OR ½ cup cooked white beans such as northern or navy beans
  • ¼ cup nutritional yeast (flakes or powder)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • pinch paprika
  • ½ pinch cayenne pepper

Peel and dice the sweet potatoes, carrots and onion. Add them to a pot with just enough water to cover them. Bring the water to a boil and cook until they are tender – 10-15 mins depending on the size of the pieces.  Drain the veggies, reserving 1 cup of the water for the recipe.

Add all the ingredients, including the cooked veggies, reserved water, and the cashews or beans, along with spices to a high speed blender.  Blend until smooth. If you don’t have a high speed blender, beans may be easier than cashews to get a smooth consistency, or soaking the cashews for 30 mins first will also help.

Taste the sauce, and add more nutritional yeast and/or salt and other flavorings as needed.  This sauce will thicken as it cools, and can be kept in the fridge for up to 10 days.

Vegan Cashew Queso

  • 1 cup raw cashews
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup nutritional yeast (flakes or powder)
  • 1 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1 cup salsa

Using a high speed blender, add the cashews, water, nutritional yeast and onion powder and blend on high speed until creamy and smooth. Empty the contents into a mixing bowl and stir in your favorite salsa.  Use it as a dipping sauce, drizzle over tacos, or even use it as a salad dressing.

Recipes courtesy of