What Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Like? Cheese, Fish, or Umami?

Nutritional yeast is easily one of my top five favorite vegan seasonings. A small sprinkle of nutritional yeast is all it takes to turn an otherwise bland meal into a savory sensation!

Given its popularity in the vegan community, one of the most common questions I’ve gotten from my readers is, “What does nutritional yeast taste like?”

Nutritional yeast is great for adding a savory, umami flavoring to your vegan dishes. It’s known for having a slightly cheesy, salty, fishy flavor that’s common in non-vegan foods like cheddar cheese, cooked fish, or meat.

Simply put, nutritional yeast is a great way to make your vegan food taste not-so-vegan. Whether you’re using it as a seasoning or a cooking ingredient, it will add a savory, cheesy flavor to your food that’s quite similar to grated parmesan cheese (in my opinion).

Today, I’m going to break down everything that you need to know about nutritional yeast! I’ll explain exactly what it is, where it comes from, and how healthy it is. Lastly, I’ll show you some of my favorite meals to eat nutritional yeast with. Are you ready to add some flavor to your lifestyle?

Nutritional Yeast: The Savory Seasoning That All Vegans Should Have

When I first started my vegan diet, I was convinced that I was going to have to give up most of my favorite foods, toppings, seasonings, and ingredients.

Although I certainly had to give up some of them, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I thought it was going to be. Thankfully, there are tons of vegan-friendly sauces on the market (like BBQ sauce, for example).

Still, certain dishes just didn’t taste the same…

Before going vegan, I loved cheese. While vegan cheese is a decent substitute, it’s a bit expensive and it’s hard to find. That’s when a friend of mine told me about nutritional yeast.

At first, I was a bit suspicious. I thought to myself, “Isn’t yeast what they put in bread? Why would anyone sprinkle it on their food?”

Nevertheless, I gave it a try.

To my absolute surprise, it was the closest thing I’ve ever had to real cheese that was still 100% vegan!

Nutritional yeast is a flaky golden-brown powder that can be sprinkled on top of food as a seasoning or used as a cooking ingredient to produce a savory taste that’s best described as umami.

Understanding The Umami Taste

Understanding The Umami Taste

Let me pause here because there are a lot of people who’ve never heard the word umami before, and have absolutely no idea what it tastes like.

When most people think of taste, they tend to think of:

  • Sweet
  • Salty
  • Bitter
  • Sour

However, umami is the fifth basic taste that our tongues can pick up on and is best described as “savory.” Some of the best examples of umami flavor include:

Whenever your taste buds pick on the umami flavor profile, they tell your brain that you’ve just eaten something savory. Going back to the early hunter-gatherer days of humanity, meat was difficult to come by and was a hard-earned reward.

Therefore, savory flavors create a sense of excitement and reward when consumed.

Of course, as vegans, we’ve all given up meat and animal-derived products. However, there’s no reason why we can’t enjoy a bit of delicious savory flavoring by substituting nutritional yeast for common non-vegan ingredients!

Why Is Nutritional Yeast Called “Nooch”?

If you hang out around fellow vegans for long enough (or just take a casual stroll through your local health food store), you’ll no doubt hear nutritional yeast referred to as “nooch” periodically.

The first time I heard the word, I had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. To me, it sounded like a code name for something not-so-legal. Curious, I decided to ask.

As it turns out, there’s no “real” reason why people call it nooch. Somewhere along the way (presumably through online forums and popular slang), people started calling it “nooch” and the name stuck. Let’s be honest, though, nutritional yeast is a bit of a mouthful…

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Now that you know a little bit more about how nutritional yeast is used and what it tastes like, you’re probably wondering, “What exactly is nutritional yeast, in the first place?”

Nutritional yeast is saccharomyces cerevisiae, a eukaryotic cell that feeds on glucose found in sugar substances like sugarcane, beet sugar, and blackstrap molasses.

The main difference between nutritional yeast and the yeast used to make bread and beer is that nutritional yeast is deactivated. Consuming raw, live yeast can cause indigestion (which is why you’re not supposed to eat raw dough).

Before being packaged, nutritional yeast is pasteurized and completely dried. This process breaks down the yeast’s cell walls and makes it easy for humans to digest.

For those who want to learn more, here’s a simple break down of how nutritional yeast is made:

Where Does Nutritional Yeast Come From?

Nutritional yeast is “farmed” from a naturally occurring process. To create nutritional yeast, a small sample of live yeast is added to a glucose source (sugar) in an airtight vat. As the yeast feeds on the sugar source, the single-celled organisms begin to replicate.

Once the sugar source has been consumed and there is enough yeast, the live yeast is then deactivated through pasteurization and dried into the golden flakes you buy at the store.

Although the whole process may sound a bit non-vegan, I assure you that nutritional yeast is still 100% vegan.

Yes, the yeast are live cells; however, they don’t have a central nervous system, which means that they’re no different than other natural cells that you consume from eating fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based foods.

Is Nutritional Yeast Healthy?

Unfortunately, not all vegan food is healthy. Some of the top-selling vegan items on the market are super-processed and contain loads of sugar, preservatives, and other unhealthy ingredients. That’s why I generally tend to eat a plant-dominant diet, with a few vegan treats here and there.

That being said, nutritional yeast is actually quite healthy!

Here are some of the top benefits of nutritional yeast:

Nutritional YeastBenefits
Contains B VitaminsBoosts energy, metabolism, and immune health.
Contains FiberPromotes a healthy digestive system.
Contains Beta-GlucanProven to reduce overall cholesterol levels.

So, not only does nutritional yeast taste great, but it’s also packed full of nutritious value!

How Do Vegans Cook With Nutritional Yeast?

How Do Vegans Cook With Nutritional Yeast?

Most vegans use nutritional yeast as a type of seasoning. It’s a great topping to add to a dish if you’re looking for that savory umami flavor. However, nutritional yeast can also be used as a cooking ingredient.

For example, you can make your own homemade vegan cheese sauce with nutritional yeast. It can also be used as a thickening agent in other homemade vegan sauces or soups. Some people even add it to their dog’s food as a healthy, natural flavor additive.

My Top 3 Favorite Dishes To Eat With Nooch

As promised, here are my top three favorite dishes to eat with a sprinkling of nooch…

1) Pasta

Pasta

Before going vegan, I was that girl who would go to Olive Garden and be obnoxious about the amount of parmesan cheese I’d put on my pasta. They tell me, “Say when,” and I’d have them there spinning the cheese wheel for ten to fifteen seconds.

Today, vegan pasta is one of my go-to dishes when I’m looking for something satisfactory. Instead of using parmesan cheese, though, I sprinkle a generous spoonful of yeast flakes on top of my pasta and freshly-made tomato and basil sauce.

2) Popcorn

Popcorn

Unfortunately, many of the popular microwave popcorn brands on the market are not vegan, as they contain butter and/or cheese. So, when I’m craving some “cheesy” popcorn, I simply sprinkle a bit of nooch in the popcorn bag and shake it up.

I promise it tastes just as good as non-vegan cheesy popcorn!

3) Soup

Soup

I’m all for a good old-fashioned vegetable and noodle soup on a cold winter day. However, I’ve often found that the vegetable broth I use is a bit lacking in flavor.

So, when I’m looking for a savory kick to turn my boring soup into a chef’s delight, I stir a small spoonful of yeast flakes into my soup!

Final Thoughts

As you can see, nutritional yeast has tons of uses in the kitchen and is a must-have in any vegan kitchen. It works as a simple seasoning or can be used to make delicious vegan sauces and vegan cheese substitutes.

Plus, it’s loaded with healthy B vitamins and natural fiber, meaning that it’s just as healthy as it tastes!

If you’re just starting out on your vegan journey and you want to learn more about vegan dieting, lifestyle, and why I chose this life, then Vegan Calm is the place for you. For more information on eating delicious vegan foods, be sure to check out my food and beverage blog on Vegan Calm!

Photo of author
Author Bio
Im Emma and I’m the creator of Vegan Calm. When I became a vegan seven years ago, I mainly did it for health and ethical reasons. To my surprise, it had another amazing benefit; I became a much calmer and peaceful person. This change inspired me to create Vegan Calm. Whether you’ve been a vegan for a long time or just want to learn more, this website will have something for you.

Check Out These Posts:

Little Caesars Vegan Options
The Habit Vegan Options
Are Ring Pops Vegan