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In The Family
What Is Nutritional Yeast?

There’s a lot to love about “vegan parmesan.”

“Nutritional yeast” is about as depressing a name you could give an ingredient, but once you get past that, and its definition of “deactivated yeast cultures,” there’s a lot to love about this yellow flaky stuff. To make nutritional yeast, manufacturers feed yeast cultures on sugar, then kill the microbes with heat, which turns the crystals mustard yellow and produces glutamic acids, the savory compounds that give animal protein, tomatoes, and parmesan their meaty qualities.

This natural umami, coupled with a rich cheesy and sourdough-like fermented twang, has made nutritional yeast a hit with vegetarians and vegans; it’s brilliant stuff in vegetable soups and on popcorn. Fortified versions of nutritional yeast are rich in vitamin B12, iron, and complete proteins, which are all handy supplements to a diet free of animal products. It’s also full of fiber, so even if you’re an omnivorous eater with plenty of iron in your diet, a sprinkle of vegan parmesan will help keep you regular—and do great things for your popcorn.

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Max Falkowitz

Max Falkowitz is a food and travel writer for The New York Times, Saveur, GQ, New York magazine’s Grub Street, and other outlets. He’s also the coauthor of The Dumpling Galaxy Cookbook with Helen You.