Nutritional yeast is a flaky or otherwise powdery yellow seasoning often sold in bulk amounts. With a taste akin to that of cheese or similar dairy products, nutritional yeast has had its active fungal cultures killed or either deactivated so as to extend its shelf-life for as long as possible1.
Owing to the difficulty in purchasing nutritional yeast because of its infrequent availability or the fact that it is often sold in large amounts, many people search for a substitute that can replicate its cheese-like flavor and flaky texture.
Depending on your particular purpose for substituting nutritional yeast, there are a multitude of food products that can act as a viable replacement. If simply wishing to replace the flavor of nutritional yeast with something similar, soy sauce and broth cubes are an excellent candidate.
How is Nutritional Yeast Different from Active Yeast?
Active yeast or otherwise referred to by the name of baker’s yeast is, among other things, a collection of fungal lifeforms that produce gas as a byproduct of their consumption of sugars. It is because of this particular by-product that baker’s yeast is utilized in baking to cause bread and similar products to rise, increasing their volume and creating a fluffy texture2.
While nutritional yeast contains much the same fungal cultures that active yeast does, it has been deactivated or otherwise killed, and as such these microbes are no longer capable of consuming any sugar near them, essentially “deactivating” the yeast.
Nutritional yeast is both safe to keep in storage for long periods of time as well as capable of being placed in foodstuffs without triggering a microbial reaction.
What Does Nutritional Yeast Taste like?
Though many vegan recipes and nutritional yeast production companies claim that nutritional yeast has a taste akin to cheddar or American cheese, this is not entirely accurate.
Nutritional yeast presents, primarily, an umami-like flavor, otherwise known as a savory taste. This particular flavor profile can be found in tomatoes, meat, and of course cheese.
While nutritional yeast is a close alternative to this particular dairy product, it is still best to utilize it as a salty additive instead of an actual dairy product replacement. Because of this, substitutes to nutritional yeasts’ particular flavor can be widely differing in source, so long as they present a similar umami or savory flavor.
What can Replace the Taste of Nutritional Yeast?
As previously mentioned in the last section, nutritional yeast possesses a taste not unlike cheese itself, though with a more savory twist to it and somewhat lighter notes of dairy3. Because of this, there are a multitude of different ingredients that can act as a flavor replacement for nutritional yeast depending on the exact dish it is being added to.
If the dish calls for a liquid seasoning or can otherwise incorporate a fluid, there are few substitutes as close in savoriness as soy sauce. A large portion of soy sauce is mono-sodium glutamate, otherwise known as MSG, and as such soy sauce presents a deep umami flavor to the palette, perfect for substituting nutritional yeast.
On the other hand, should the dish require its seasoning to remain dry or powdery, one may use ground or diced sunflower seeds. Though sunflower seeds are nowhere near as salty as soy sauce or nutritional yeast, all one needs to do is add some salt of their own in order to adjust the flavor to their liking.
In the event that sunflower seeds and soy sauce are unavailable, certain diced or chopped nuts may be used instead, though the flavor profile may be somewhat distant from the more subtle notes of taste in nutritional yeast.
What can Replace the Texture of Nutritional Yeast?
Nutritional yeast, apart from its cheesy taste, is also incorporated into various dishes for its crunchy texture as well as its ability to thicken liquids when mixed in the appropriate amounts. Depending on your particular goals, a substitute for the textural experience provided by nutritional yeast can be found as easily as in your cupboard.
If you require a replacement for nutritional yeast because your soup or sauce requires a thickening agent, cornstarch may be utilized. Keep in mind that cornstarch’s thickening factor is far more effective than that of nutritional yeast, and as such one must account for this difference in required concentration.
In the event that you do not have any cornstarch in your pantry, it is possible to use chickpea flour or any other similar nutty-flavored flour instead, such as semolina. Keep in mind that certain brands and types of flour will present a slightly chalky taste which must be cooked off at high heat.
On the other hand, if you require a substitute for the particular crunchiness of nutritional yeast, all that is required is simple potato crisps or similar products.
If instead a vegan alternative is required, toasted and diced nuts may act as a crunchy substitute, though it is important to use freshly toasted nuts that have not gone stale yet. Walnuts and almonds toasted in your pan are the ideal candidate for this.
Reasons to Substitute Nutritional Yeast
Though nutritional yeast is extremely low calorie, has no transient fats in its base form and is for the most part quite a safe food to eat for the health-conscious, there are several reasons why one may choose to substitute their nutritional yeast for another ingredient.
The first of which is the particular price of nutritional yeast. As the yeast is often sold in large batches in order to avoid overhead costs, it is not uncommon for people to simply purchase too much of the nutritional yeast only to find that they must dispose of it as it was never used in its entirety.
There is also the case of the environmentally-conscious consumer, wherein the production of nutritional yeast creates a certain chemical known to act as a hazardous air pollutant. If you are the sort of person to make a change in the world by the nature of their purchases, nutritional yeast is quite high on the list of foodstuffs to avoid.
Vegan Substitutes for Nutritional Yeast
As the primary market nutritional yeast is targeted towards is that of the vegan and vegetarian consumer-base, it is likely that those reading this article will require a similar substitute that aligns with their particular dietary requirements.
In this case, the use of soy or tofu as well as nuts can act as excellent replacements for nutritional yeast. Cashew flour in particular is also an ideal candidate for replacing nutritional yeast as a thickening agent.
1. Brown, Elizabeth (25 April 2009). “Singing the praises of nutritional yeast”. Santa Monica Daily Press.
2. Kurtzman CP, Piškur J (2006). “Taxonomy and phylogenetic diversity among the yeasts”. In Sunnerhagen P, Piskur J (eds.). Comparative Genomics: Using Fungi as Models. Topics in Current Genetics. 15. Berlin: Springer
3. Stepaniak, Joanne (2003). “The Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook (10th ed.).” Summertown, Tenn.: Book Pub. Co.