You know how a sprinkling of cheese can make almost any savory dish better? Well, step aside, Parm, there’s a new flavor king in town. Meet nutritional yeast (nicknamed “nooch”), a flaky, deactivated yeast that’s incredibly good for you. But we like to think of it as a magical yellow dust that imparts a cheesy, nutty flavor to anything you sprinkle it on. Packed full of protein and vitamin B12, nutritional yeast is also dairy-free, vegan-friendly and often gluten-free. Here’s what you need to know about this vegan superfood—plus how to cook with it.

RELATED: 35 High-Protein Vegan Recipes That Are Satisfying and Totally Plant-Based

Cauliflower Rice Bowl With Carrots Lentils And Yogurt Recipe
PHOTO: LIZ ANDREW/STYLING: ERIN MCDOWELL

What Are Some More Sources of Vegan Protein?

Think you can’t get your daily recommended dose of protein without eating chicken? Think again. In addition to nutritional yeast, here are seven meatless protein sources to try.

1. Lentils

Part of the legume family, lentils have an impressive 18 grams of protein per cup. While they’re often used in soups and stews, they’re also great in hearty warm salad.

2. Chickpeas

We adore them ground into hummus, love their ability to take on pretty much any flavor and respect their 14 grams of protein per cup. As long as we can eat a bunch of these little guys, we’ll never have to worry about meeting our daily protein needs.

3. Quinoa

Clocking in at eight grams of protein per cooked cup, this powerful grain might be the most versatile non-meat source of protein. Eat it for breakfast instead of oatmeal, form it into veggie burgers or bake it into healthier cookies.

4. Kidney Beans

In addition to lowering cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar, kidney beans are a terrific source of protein with 13 grams per cup. They’re hearty enough for soups but not too overpowering in lighter dishes.

5. Black Beans

Well, look at that, another member of the bean family coming up big in the protein department. The darker variety has 16 grams per cup, as well as 15 grams of fiber (that’s more than 50 percent of the daily recommended amount). On top of that, they’re often served alongside avocados, which we’re never going to complain about.

6. Tempeh

Made by combining fermented soy beans, tempeh is typically sold in cake form and has a fairly neutral (if subtly nutty) flavor. That means it can take on a variety of tastes depending on how you season it. It also contains an impressive 16 grams of protein per three-ounce serving.

7. Tahini

Tahini is a condiment and baking ingredient made from toasted and ground sesame seeds. With a consistency that’s a touch thinner than peanut butter, it’s an awesome substitute for those with nut allergies. It’s also got a commendable amount of protein with eight grams in every two tablespoons.

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The Roasted Root

What Is Nutritional Yeast?

Nutritional yeast is a type of yeast (like baker’s yeast or brewer’s yeast) that’s grown specifically to be used as a food product. The yeast cells are killed during manufacturing and not alive in the final product. It has a cheesy, nutty and savory flavor. Vegan, dairy-free and usually gluten-free, nutritional yeast is low in fat and contains no sugar or soy.

There are two types of nutritional yeast that should be on your radar. The first kind is fortified nutritional yeast, which contains synthetic vitamins and minerals added during manufacturing in order to bolster nutritional content. The second type is unfortified nutritional yeast which has no added vitamins or minerals, just the nutrients that are naturally produced as the yeast grows. The former is more commonly available to buy.

What’s the Nutritional Information?

A two tablespoon serving of nutritional yeast:

  • Calories: 40
  • Fat: 0 grams
  • Protein: 10 grams
  • Sodium: 50 milligrams
  • Carbohydrates: 6 grams
  • Fiber: 4 grams
  • Sugar: 0 grams

What Are the Health Benefits of Nutritional Yeast?

1. It’s a Complete Protein

Many sources of plant protein are considered “incomplete” proteins. What does that mean? They don’t contain all nine essential amino acids that animal proteins do. Nutritional yeast, on the other hand, is one of the few vegan options that does qualify as a complete protein.

2. It’s a Good Source of Fiber

With four grams per serving, nutritional yeast is a solid source of fiber, which, in addition to helping you feel full, also promotes digestive health—which we know is paramount.

3. It’s a Great Meatless Source of Vitamin B12

B12 is crucial to maintaining a healthy nervous system and producing adequate red blood cells. The issue for some people who eschew animal products is that the best sources of this vitamin are things like eggs, meat, fish and dairy. Enter nutritional yeast, which can help plant-based eaters get their fair share. This 2000 study included 49 vegans and found that consuming one tablespoon of fortified nutritional yeast daily restored vitamin B12 levels in those who were deficient.

4. It Can Keep Blood Sugar Levels in Check

As a low-glycemic food, nutritional yeast can help you regulate your blood sugar levels, in turn limiting cravings and promoting energy levels and more restful sleep.

5. It Might Help Your Body Fight Chronic Diseases

Nutritional yeast contains the antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine. We won’t try to pronounce those, but we know they’re good for us. A Finnish study found that consuming antioxidant-rich foods—nutritional yeast, fruits, vegetables and whole grains—can help boost antioxidant levels and defend against chronic diseases like heart disease, some types of cancer and macular degeneration.

6. It Can Promote Healthier Hair, Skin and Nails

Because it’s rich in those B vitamins, nutritional yeast can also help keep your skin glowing. It contains vitamins such as biotin, which is widely known to support healthy hair, skin and nail, as well as niacin, which has been known to combat acne.

7. It Can Support a Healthy Pregnancy

They don’t call it a superfood for nothing. Among the B vitamins also found in nutritional yeast are thiamine, riboflavin, vitamin B6 and folate, which are all essential in maintaining cell metabolism, mood regulation and nerve function. Folate—according to Dr. Axe a natural health website founded by Dr. Josh Axe, DC, DNM, CNS—is especially vital for minimizing the risk of birth defects and boosting fetal growth and development.

18 TASTY RECIPES THAT INCORPORATE NUTRITIONAL YEAST

1. Vegan Pasta Alfredo

So creamy and delicious, yet totally dairy-free.

Get the recipe

2. Nacho Cheese Kale Chips

These are nacho typical kind of snack. (Sorry.)

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3. The Best Butter-Free Popcorn (Nooch Popcorn)

You may never go back to regular popped kernels again.

Get the recipe

4. Vegan Shepherd’s Pie

A luxurious vegetable stew made even more delicious with the addition of nutritional yeast.

Get the recipe

5. Vegan Peanut Butter Cups

Nooch is perfect for giving your sweet dishes a savory kick too.

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6. Cauliflower Risotto

All the richness, minus any cream, milk or cheese.

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7. Spicy Buffalo Cauliflower Popcorn

Cauliflower. Tahini. Nutritional yeast. Sold.

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8. The Best Shredded Kale Salad

The secret to this tasty dish is coating the leaves in a garlicky dressing and topping them with roasted pecans and nutritional yeast.

Get the recipe

9. Vegan French Toast

This brunch favorite gets its “eggy” taste courtesy of, you guessed it, nooch.

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10. Vegan Green Chili Mac and Cheese

Believe it or not, this pot of deliciousness is ready in 30 minutes.

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11. Creamy Ranch Roasted Chickpeas

These will transform your snacking.

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12. Silverbeet Ricotta and Pumpkin Quiche

Almost too pretty to eat.

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Minimalist Baker

13. Vegan Scalloped Potatoes

The perfect dish to bring to Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner.

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Jessica in the Kitchen

14. Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

As yummy as your childhood favorite, just healthier.

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Simple Veganista

15. Simple Tofu Scramble

Because breakfast is the most important meal of the day, start it off healthy with this tofu scramble that incorporates nutritional yeast for an added cheesy taste and some savoriness.

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It's Raining Flour

16. Gluten Free Chicken Nuggets with Plantain Chips

A quick, 30-minute, ultra-healthy snack for the kiddos.

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Oh My Veggies

17. Vegan Queso

For those Sunday Night Football gatherings.

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The Defined Dish

18. Gluten-free Sausage Balls

These yummy sausage balls—which also have thyme, ghee and Dijon mustard—would make for a mouth-watering hors d’oeuvre.

Get the recipe

RELATED: What Is Seitan? Here’s What You Should Know About the Popular Plant-Based Protein

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