I hate saying the words "nutritional yeast" out loud. It sounds like the most unappetizing product ever cultured. And truthfully, it can be. Try putting a straight spoonful of the powder in your mouth. If you don't suffocate on accidentally inhaled yeast flakes, you'll have a thick yellow putty-like coating spanning every surface of your mouth. It's like having your teeth encased in a wall of spit-heavy, pulverized Cheetos. Rinsing will do nothing to diminish it; you're gonna have to use a toothbrush, and then you might have to throw out that toothbrush, too. The stuff binds!
Let me back up. Why would one deliberately eat yeast in the first place? Well, this particular type of yeast is a unique and powerful food, particularly useful for vegans because of its high protein, folic acid, and vitamin B-1, B-2, B-3, B-6 and B-12 content. (B-12 is an essential nutrient almost exclusively found in animal products.) It's low in fat, high in fiber, and relatively inexpensive, especially considering the nutrients it packs.
So you don't have to learn the hard way, as I did, that this superfood must at the very least be mixed with water before ingestion. Of course, had I bothered to read the label, I would have known that. Now that I have a little more experience with the stuff, though, I almost always choose to cook with it rather than choke down the yeasty swill.
Nutritional yeast, with its cheesy/nutty flavor, is pretty versatile in the kitchen. Its utility ranges from garnish (it makes a great vegan parmesan cheese substitute on pasta or topping to sprinkle on hot popcorn), to center stage (it's the anchor ingredient in most successful vegan "mac-un-cheese" recipes). If you're just looking to reap the health benefits without really "experiencing" the yeasty flavor, the powder disappears subtly into savory soups or vegetable juices. When I first got into nutritional yeast, I found myself sprinkling it on almost everything: oatmeal (Cheesy-nutty oatmeal? I should have known better.), vegan chili, hummus, tofu and vegetable stir fry, and the other three foods vegans can eat as well. (Just kidding!) On the other hand, when I'm rushing to get out the door, and I don't have time for anything close to a real vegan meal, a few heaping tablespoons of nutritional yeast mixed into a tall glass of water is a surefire way to get the protein and B vitamins I need to get moving. It might be a psychosomatic effect, but right after I drink said glass of yeast, I feel a burst of energy and a general sensation of well-being. No joke.
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The product is a singular one in that it crosses the line between supplement (like hemp protein for body building, or psyllium seed husks for gut cleansing) and "real food." I mean, you never hear of someone making a pasta sauce with a hemp protein powder base. Nutritional yeast, though, is useful both purely to fortify and supplement the diet, and to enhance the flavor and texture of certain vegan foods, particularly where a cheese substitute is needed.
If you want to jump on the yeasty bandwagon, you can go online and have some shipped directly to your door. Or, support local health food merchants by buying at Apple A Day (1534 Alton Road, Miami Beach), Vita-Life (744 6th St., Miami Beach), or one of Miami's many other health food emporiums. Of course, any Whole Foods will have it in stock as well.