When you think about yeast, you probably think about bread dough, beer or one of the other foods where the single-celled organisms are used to produce rise and bubbles. Yeast is nearly always active – a.k.a. alive – when it is used in a recipe. Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast that is used as a dietary supplement and flavoring agent instead of as a rising one. The yeast gets its name from the fact that it is full of vitamins, and thus quite a healthy addition to a regular diet. It contains generous amounts of B1, B2, B3, B6, B12 and folic acid, as well as both protein and fiber. The exact nutritional content will vary from brand to brand so check your labels.
The yeast isn’t just good for you, it actually tastes good, too. After being harvested, the yeasted is dried and crumbled into flakes. It has a salty, umami flavor to it when eaten alone and is a popular addition to vegetarian and vegan soups, cheeses and other foods. One of the easiest ways to try it (aside from sampling a pinch straight from the container) is to sprinkle it on plain popcorn, but you can add a pinch to any dish that you think might benefit from a hint of extra cheesy/umami flavor. You cannot substitute brewer’s yeast or active dry yeast (or other bread yeasts) for nutritional yeast in a recipe, unfortunately, so if you want to give it a try, you’ll have to head to a natural foods store to pick some up.