Nutritional yeast, also called “nooch,” is a popular food product often used in vegan cooking.

This powdered yeast gets its name from the nutrients it contains, including protein and a wide array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

Studies show that nutritional yeast offers several potential health benefits, ranging from lower cholesterol to protection from cellular damage that leads to disease.

This article explains what nutritional yeast is, reviews its health benefits, and suggests creative ways to use it.

Nutritional yeast (sometimes referred to as “nooch”) is a species of yeast known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is the same type of yeast that’s used to bake bread and brew beer (1).

However, nutritional yeast is an inactivated version, which means that, if you tried to use it to make bread or beer, it wouldn’t work well and would likely be too bitter to enjoy.

Comparison with other types of yeast

The three main types of yeast that come from S. cerevisiae are:

  • Baker’s yeast. Baker’s yeast is used to leaven bread. The yeast is killed during cooking but imparts an earthy, yeasty flavor.
  • Brewer’s yeast. Brewer’s yeast is used to brew beer. The dead yeast cells left over from the brewing process can be taken as a nutritional supplement, but they taste very bitter.
  • Nutritional yeast. This version is grown specifically for use as a food product. The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing, which makes this yeast inactive. It’s used in cooking or as a seasoning, offering a savory or umami flavor.

Types of nutritional yeast

To produce nutritional yeast, S. cerevisiae cells are grown for several days on a sugar-rich medium, like molasses. The yeast is then deactivated with heat, harvested, washed, dried, crumbled, and packaged for distribution.

There are two types of nutritional yeast — unfortified and fortified:

  • Unfortified. This type doesn’t provide any added vitamins or minerals. It only contains the vitamins and minerals that are naturally produced by the yeast cells as they grow.
  • Fortified. This type contains synthetic vitamins added during the manufacturing process to boost nutrient content. Any additional vitamins are included in the ingredient list.

Fortified nutritional yeast is the most common type and offers the most benefits.

Nutritional yeast is sold as thin flakes, granules, or powder. You can find it in the spice or condiment section at most grocery stores or in bulk bins of health food stores. It has a pale yellow color and may come packaged in a bag, shaker, or plastic container.

This ingredient fits nearly any diet or eating style. It’s naturally low in sodium and calories, and it’s fat-free, sugar-free, gluten-free, and vegan.

Summary

Nutritional yeast is a vegan food product with a savory, umami flavor. It comes in both fortified and unfortified varieties.

Nutritional yeast is a great source of plant-based protein, B vitamins, and trace minerals.

Fortified nutritional yeast contains more B vitamins than unfortified varieties, as extra amounts are added during manufacturing.

Just 2 teaspoons (5 grams) of fortified nutritional yeast contain (2):

  • Calories: 20
  • Protein: 3 grams
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Carbs: 2 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams
  • Fiber: 4% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Riboflavin (vitamin B2): 246% of the DV
  • Niacin (vitamin B3): 109% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 212% of the DV
  • Folate (vitamin B9): 59% of the DV
  • Vitamin B12: 313% of the DV
  • Iron: 2% of the DV
  • Potassium: 2% of the DV

Nutrients of note

Some main nutritional benefits of nutritional yeast include:

  • Protein. Nutritional yeast contains all nine essential amino acids that you must obtain from food. It’s also a source of high quality plant protein (2).
  • B vitamins. Fortified nutritional yeast is especially rich in B vitamins, including thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), and B6 and B12 (2).
  • Trace minerals. These include zinc, selenium, manganese, and molybdenum, which are involved in gene regulation, metabolism, growth, and immunity (2, 3, 4).

Exact nutritional values vary between brands, so always read labels to find the variety that meets your needs.

Buy fortified versions to get the most health benefits, particularly if you’re using nooch to add extra vitamins and minerals to your diet. If you’re using nutritional yeast simply for its flavor, you may be less concerned about whether it’s fortified.

Summary

Fortified nutritional yeast is a vegan-friendly source of protein, B vitamins, and trace minerals that support optimal health.

One of the biggest nutritional concerns for people following a vegan diet, which excludes all animal products, is getting enough vitamin B12 (5, 6).

This vitamin is essential for keeping your blood and nerve cells healthy. It also helps make DNA and prevent megaloblastic anemia, a blood condition that makes you feel weak and fatigued (5, 6).

The most reliable and consistent source of vitamin B12 on a vegan diet is a supplement. However, eating foods fortified with this vitamin, such as nutritional yeast, may also help.

Notably, a mere 2 teaspoons of nutritional yeast packs a whopping 313% of the DV for vitamin B12 (2).

Summary

Fortified nutritional yeast is a very rich source of vitamin B12 — an essential nutrient that you should try to get enough of, especially if you follow a vegan diet.

Antioxidants are compounds which, when consumed, fight unstable molecules called free radicals that may increase your risk of disease (7, 8).

Studies reveal that nutritional yeast contains the powerful antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine (9, 10).

These compounds may help protect your cells from damage caused by free radicals and heavy metals and help your body eliminate environmental toxins (11, 12).

Eating antioxidant-rich foods, like nutritional yeast, may also reduce your risk of chronic ailments, including (13):

  • heart disease
  • cancer
  • macular degeneration
Summary

Nutritional yeast contains the antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine, which may protect your body from chronic diseases.

Nutritional yeast contains two main carbs: alpha mannan and beta glucan.

Animal studies suggest these carbs offer antibacterial and antifungal benefits, which may safeguard your body from infections (14, 15, 16, 17).

In particular, beta glucan may work by activating immune cells and targeting the gut microbiome to support immunity and overall health (18, 19).

Still, human research is necessary.

Summary

Nutritional yeast contains the carbs alpha mannan and beta glucan, which studies suggest may boost immunity.

The beta glucan in nutritional yeast may also help lower cholesterol.

In an 8-week study, men with high cholesterol who took 15 grams of yeast derived beta glucan daily lowered their total cholesterol levels by 6% (20).

Beta glucan is found in other foods, such as oats and barley.

Extensive research shows that the beta glucan from oats can significantly lower cholesterol levels, high levels of which are a risk factor for heart disease (21, 22, 23, 24).

Although the chemical structure of beta glucan in oats differs slightly from that of this carb in yeast, older research suggests they have similar cholesterol-lowering effects (25).

However, particular studies on nutritional yeast are lacking.

Summary

The beta glucan in nutritional yeast may help lower cholesterol levels, which may benefit heart health.

You should keep nutritional yeast in a cool, dark place to preserve its vitamin content. Furthermore, seal the container tightly to keep moisture out. When properly stored, it can last up to 2 years.

Here are a few uses for nooch:

  • as a seasoning for popcorn, pasta, salad, or casserole dishes
  • as an umami flavor in soups, stews, or chili
  • as a savory, cheesy flavor in vegan sauces
  • as a thickener for soups and sauces
  • as an ingredient in smoothies
  • as a pet food additive

Serving sizes for nutritional yeast depend on the recipe, but you typically use 2–4 teaspoons (5–10 grams).

Summary

Nutritional yeast is shelf-stable for up to 2 years when stored properly. You can add it to many foods for a nutty, cheesy, or savory flavor, as well as extra vitamin and mineral content.

It’s safe to use nutritional yeast in moderation, typically up to several tablespoons (10–30 grams) per day.

It would require relatively large amounts of nutritional yeast to exceed the tolerable upper intake levels (UL) for the various vitamins and minerals it contains.

Still, studies suggest anyone who is allergic to yeast should avoid it (26, 27).

Those who have trouble metabolizing folic acid, such as people who have an MTHFR gene mutation, should read labels carefully and may want to choose unfortified nutritional yeast (28).

Summary

Nutritional yeast is largely considered safe, though some people may be allergic. Those with a particular gene mutation may need to buy unfortified versions.

Nutritional yeast is a highly nutritious vegan food product with many potential health benefits.

With it, you can easily add extra protein, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to meals. It’s commonly used as a vegan cheese sauce flavoring, as well as a topping for soups and salads.

Studies suggest nutritional yeast may help lower cholesterol and support immunity, though more research is needed.

Just one thing

Try this today: Take advantage of nutritional yeast’s flavor and benefits by using it as a seasoning. Sprinkle it on top of mixed green salads, soups, or warm pasta dishes, like pesto noodles or spaghetti with marinara sauce.