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If you’re a cheese lover, going vegan is the worst. Sure, you have all of those bonus health benefits, but usually it also means no more grilled cheese. No more girls nights with cheese and wine. No more melty nachos or cheesy pasta bakes. The sacrifices are very real, people.

Thankfully, there’s a secret tool out there — one that helps deliver that cheesy taste we crave, but doesn’t pack on the pounds. It’s called nutritional yeast.

Nutritional Yeast

We know, it’s not the most appealing of names, but trust us on this. Nutritional yeast has a nutty but cheesy flavour and packs a mean punch of Vitamin B12 — something many vegans lack in their diets since it’s not naturally found in plant-based foods.

So what the heck is nutritional yeast?

Nutritional Yeast

Well it’s not the same as brewer’s yeast, aka what you taste in a cup of beer, or baking yeast, which is frothy and active and typically used to bake bread. This stuff is a single-celled organism that grows on sugary foods like sugar cane or beet molasses, and is then harvested, washed and dried. Because of its unappealing name you can sometimes find it being sold as “nooch.”

It sounds gross. Why is it good for me?

Tina Fey

Fair question. Aside from containing the aforementioned vitamin B12, nutritional yeast also contains loads of other B vitamins, folic acid, zinc and protein. Still not convinced? It’s low in fat (a quarter-cup contains 45 calories and 0.5 grams of fat), is gluten-free, sodium-free and has no added chemicals or preservatives. Plus it’s got a good dose of fibre (that same quarter-cup contains three grams, or 12 per cent of your daily recommended intake), and is rich in amino acids, which promote muscle-building and repair.

What’s the catch?!

Amy Poehler

Yes, the catch. Some naysayers rightly point out nutritional yeast contains phosphorous, a mineral that can cause your body to create a pH imbalance. When that happens your body uses up its calcium stores in order to set things right. The result? Your body could become calcium deficient. (This is one of the many arguments against drinking pop.) However, it would take an awful lot of nutritional yeast to have this affect. Pairing consumption with calcium-rich foods also helps avoid this problem.

OK, I’m going to try it. Um… where do I get it?

Nutritional Yeast

It’s available in many grocery stores across Canada, including Whole Foods, Adonis, Superstore and Loblaws. Look for the Bob’s Red Mill or Red Star brands, or some places even sell it in bulk.

Got it! Now what do I do with it?

Nutritional Yeast

Start. Slow. One of the simplest ways to enjoy it is on popcorn:

  1. Pop some fresh kernels in your machine or on the stove top with some oil.
  2. Drizzle some melted coconut or olive oil over top
  3. Mix together a teaspoon each of: thyme, oregano, garlic powder, cayenne, pepper and nutritional yeast. Sprinkle over warm popcorn and mix.
  4. Voila! Cheesy popcorn.

Ready to get crazy? Sprinkle nutritional yeast flakes over pasta, baked veggies or potatoes for an extra cheesy flavour.

Oh, and if you really need something to replicate that amazing nacho taste? We highly recommend Oh She Glows Life Affirming Vegan Nacho Dip. It really is life affirming.