When it came to going dairy-free, giving up milk was no problem for me at all. Growing up, I dreaded the glass of milk I was forced to drink at dinner. Because when I was a child, it was ‘common knowledge’ that drinking milk made you taller and stronger and was good for your bones. So my mom made me drink it. Then came along the plant-based milk revolution, and almond milk was everywhere. After my first taste of vanilla almond milk, I never looked back, even before I gave up the cheese.
Yogurt was not something I missed, but lately I’ve tried almond, coconut, and even cashew yogurt, and they’re all pretty fab in my opinion.
But cheese. Cheese I had a much harder time letting go of. Daiya serves its purposes reasonably well, but it is certainly no replacement for a proper block of cheese: cheese and crackers, cheese with jam, cheese with pretty much everything. Plus, the texture, flavor and melting capacity of many of the dairy-free products I found left much to be desired. And, if you check the ingredients on many of the dairy-free cheese replacements, they often still contain casein, which for my purposes was a clear no-no. One check of the ingredients and I didn’t even both trying them. So I kind of gave up, and accepted the fact that cheese would no longer be a part of my life.
What is Nutritional yeast?
Then I found nutritional yeast. Stuck with a horrible name and not at all like the yeasts we are familiar with as it’s deactivated and cultured from sugarcane and beet molasses, I was skeptical, but these little flakes are actually full of nutritional benefits and a key feature of many dairy-free recipes attempting to achieve the cheesy flavor I so dearly missed.
So I tried it, and it was a total game-changer. It’s still no block of cheese, but incorporated into sauces and savory dishes and sprinkled on top of eggs, the flavor comes SO close to that nutty, cheesy, creamy flavor I love. Bonus? It happens to be incredibly healthy.
Nutritional benefits of nutritional yeast
Nutritional yeast is packed with B vitamins, which makes it a particularly great supplement for vegans and vegetarians whose diets are often deficient in these key vitamins. It is also high in folate, riboflavin, thiamine, selenium, zinc, and niacin, all essential components to keep the body functioning.
Nutritional yeast is also gluten, soy, and lactose-free, so it is safe for individuals with these common food sensitivities, plus it contains a substantial amount of protein per serving: 3-4 grams per tablespoon (depending on the brand)! For some dishes, I’ll add up to three tablespoons per serving (about a quarter cup) and I wind up with an extra 9 grams of protein minimum, plus that delicious cheesy flavor.
Even better – nutritional yeast is a complete protein, meaning it provides the full set of essential amino acids that our bodies need to produce proteins, which can’t be said for most other plant-based protein sources, like beans and legumes.
Nutritional yeast also contains compounds that are associated with improved immunity, improved cholesterol levels, and even cancer-risk reduction. And on top of the system-boosting benefits associated with the vitamins and compounds listed above, nutritional yeast contains antiviral and antibacterial properties, according to yeast expert Dr. Seymour Pomper.
Furthermore, Pomper explains that nutritional yeast actually unlocks vitamins and minerals at a more accelerated rate than our body can on its own, meaning it increases the bioavailability of the nutrients themselves. It’s not just important that we eat the right foods, but that our bodies can actually absorb the nutrients contained in those foods. Anyone healing or suffering from impaired digestion would greatly benefit from nutritional yeast as it helps our bodies access these dietary essentials more quickly.
Pomper also notes that nutritional yeast has shown to be effective against chronic candida symptoms, which is a specific yeast infection that can cause system-wide symptoms. So it’s a good yeast that combats a not-as-great yeast overgrowth.
How to incorporate nutritional yeast into your diet
These days I add this stuff to nearly savory dish I make. I sprinkle it on top of salads – it blends extremely well with the creaminess of avocado – on top of my eggs, simple sautéed dishes. I’ll blend it into tomato sauce or even salsa, use it to make dairy-free pesto, and I got completely hooked on one sauce in particular: vegan creamy squash sauce (will post the recipe soon!). I’ve also added it to soups. A lot of people sprinkle it on their popcorn – I’ve never tried this myself, but it’s popular enough that it must be good!
And here for your gustatory pleasure today: vegan parmesan cheese. It’s so delicious and with just 3 ingredients, it’s so easy to make, so after you’ve tested it by sprinkling on a couple savory dishes, this is a great place to start your nutritional yeast culinary adventures. It keeps really well in the fridge so this recipe makes enough for the week!
Vegan Parmesan Cheese: Dairy-free cheese recipe
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 4 tbsp nutritional yeast
- 1 tsp garlic salt (or 1/4 tsp garlic powder + 3/4 tsp fine sea salt)
- Soak the cashews in filtered water for 2-3 hours.
- Drain the cashews and add all the ingredients to your food processor and process on low until the ingredients are just combined – it should only take like 5-10 seconds; if you process for too long it will become a creamy paste, similar to cream cheese. Which would still taste amazing if that’s what you’re going for, but won’t be as ‘parmesan-like.’
- Store in the refrigerator.