Nutritional yeast is one of the most polarizing ingredients I know of. For every vegan who’s obsessed with it, you can also find someone who tried it once and hated it. Personally, I fall on the “love it” side of things.
In this post, I’ll answer a bunch of the most common questions about what nutritional yeast tastes like—and how to make it taste better. This is my way of hopefully extending a bridge to some of you to join #TeamNooch!
Oh, I forgot to mention: “Nooch” is short for “nutritional yeast”… Cute nickname, right? Anyway, enough jabbering—let’s get to your questions!
1. What Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Like?
The taste of nutritional yeast is usually described with the following words:
It is certainly a distinct taste. It’s safe to say that not everyone likes nutritional yeast at first! That said, it can be an acquired taste—so you may want to give it a few tries, in different recipes and contexts, to see if it “clicks” for you at some point.
2. Does Nutritional Yeast Really Taste Like Cheese?
Nutritional yeast doesn’t really “taste like cheese,” but it tastes “cheesy.” It has some of the same flavor profile as cheese: Umami, salty, savory, fermented, funky, tangy. But it will not taste quite the same or have the same texture as cheese.
The two most common words used to describe the taste of nutritional yeast are “cheesy” and “nutty.” But that doesn’t mean nutritional yeast actually “tastes like” cheese—or like nuts. (That said, some people do think nutritional yeast tastes like ground up hazelnuts.)
“Cheesy” and “nutty” are just two words that help describe some of these flavors in nutritional yeast.
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3. What Specific Cheese Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Like?
When people say that nutritional yeast tastes “nothing like cheese,” they will usually mention specifically that it tastes nothing like cheddar or mozzarella cheese.
But there are some other types of cheese that nooch arguably mimics a bit closer.
If you ask around, you may hear that nutritional yeast tastes like:
- Powdered cheese from boxed mac and cheese.
- Parmesan cheese
- Powdered Cheez-It crackers
Now, you should take these all with a grain of salt. Does nutritional yeast really taste like parmesan cheese? Not exactly—of course not.
Keep an open mind, and allow nutritional yeast to be its own thing. Just know that many vegans do rely on it for a similarly funky, umami goodness found in parmesan cheese.
4. How to Make Nutritional Yeast Taste More Like Cheese?
If you don’t think nutritional yeast tastes anything like cheese, you might just not be preparing it quite right to bring out the cheesy flavor.
Here are three ways to make nutritional yeast taste more like cheese:
- Add it to a cheesy sauce with miso and lemon juice.
- Use it together with garlic and salt.
- Try it on many dishes—broccoli, popcorn, pizza, etc.
I would also recommend adding some healthy fat to the sauce or the dish. Personally, I combine smashed avocado with nutritional yeast, salt, and garlic in many dishes. I love that combination.
Many nutritional yeast cheese sauces include cashews or other nuts to help provide that fatty goodness. Nutritional yeast can seem kind of “thin” without the creaminess of healthy fats paired up with it.
Adding one of the healthier oils—like avocado oil or extra virgin olive oil—can also help nutritional yeast fill a similar role as cheese in your recipes.
5. What Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Good On?
If you ask a vegan who is addicted to nutritional yeast, they’ll tell you that nooch tastes great on everything. But not everyone would agree. If you’re just getting into nooch, what are some good first dishes and ways to try it?
Nutritional yeast tastes good on popcorn, pasta dishes, chili and soup, roasted or steamed veggies, pizza, salad, mashed potatoes, and more. Most people prefer nutritional yeast in the context of a “cheesy sauce” that also includes fat, garlic, salt, and potentially miso paste.
Personally, if I was introducing someone to nutritional yeast for the first time, I would start with popcorn. I would drizzle some olive oil on the popcorn, then sprinkle on plenty of nutritional yeast (and salt, if the popcorn is not already salted).
6. What’s the Best Tasting Nutritional Yeast Brand?
Honestly, there isn’t a big differences in taste between brands of nutritional yeast. They all taste roughly the same. However, there are a few things to consider when looking at nutritional yeast brands.
First: Do you want flakes or powder? Flakes are more common, but some nutritional yeast products out there come as powders. This obviously affects the texture, especially when it’s sprinkled on top of a dish (and not mixed into a sauce).
Personally, I have a strong preference for nutritional yeast flakes over powder. The texture is actually one of the best parts of nutritional yeast flakes when you’re eating it as a sprinkled topping. So I would avoid brands that are “powder,” and go for the flakes.
There are two other factors I would consider looking at when choosing a brand of nutritional yeast—but neither of them have to do with the taste or culinary side of things. They have to do with the product safety and the nutritional fortification.
For a full discussion of the 3 best nutritional yeast brands based on these factors, check out my blog post all about it.
7. Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Salty?
Nutritional yeast contains no salt or sodium—but personally, I would describe it as having a salty taste. I suppose you could call it “tangy,” “fermented,” or “umami” instead. But to me, it does seem a bit salty, and many others agree.
If you really want to get a salty taste from your nutritional yeast, it obviously doesn’t hurt to add a little actual salt, or mix it in with a product like Liquid Aminos, soy sauce, or miso paste that comes with salt added.
8. Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Like Marmite?
Marmite and nutritional yeast taste similar in that they both have a salty, “umami” taste. In fact, marmite is made from brewer’s yeast, which is a close relative of nutritional yeast and often confused for nutritional yeast. (Here’s a post all about the differences between them.)
When I wrote my blog post about vegan substitutes for anchovies, I included both nutritional yeast and marmite (and Vegemite!) for this reason.
That said, they don’t have exactly the same flavor profile. Whether you can swap them in for each other will depend on the specific dish and what taste you’re going for.
9. How Can I Make Nutritional Yeast Taste Better?
I gave some tips above to make nutritional yeast taste more like cheese. But what about some other great flavor combinations you can achieve with nooch?
Here are some flavor and spice combinations to make nutritional yeast taste better:
- Combine it with chili powder and salt.
- Combine it with coconut oil or olive oil.
- Combine it with blended up nuts (cashews, walnuts)
- Combine it with oregano, ginger, and turmeric.
- Combine it with garlic powder and onion powder.
- Combine it with lemon juice and/or miso paste.
- Combine it with smashed avocado and salt.
Try a few of these combinations—then try mixing and matching a few that sound good together. Really, any savory flavors that you work with could be combined with nutritional yeast. Just keep an open mind and see what you like!
10. What Does Bad (Spoiled) Nutritional Yeast Taste Like?
When nutritional yeast goes bad, it often develops more of a bitter taste. However, if you’re new to nutritional yeast, you likely won’t be able to taste this distinction.
Therefore, I would rely more on visual cues to judge whether your nutritional yeast has gone bad: Is it turning more brown than yellow? Is it clumping together?
Read more about how to tell if your nutritional yeast has gone bad—and how to store your nutritional yeast—in this convenient guide.
11. Does Nutritional Yeast Taste Bad?
This is obviously a subjective question, but I wanted to address it quickly before we finish up. The unfortunate truth is that—yes—nutritional yeast tastes bad to some people!
What makes matters worse is that many people have heard that nutritional yeast “tastes like cheese”… and then, when they taste it, they’re like… “Um, what? This tastes absolutely nothing like cheese.”
If you have a friend who likes nutritional yeast, I would recommend having them show you the ropes with a few good recipes. Give it multiple attempts, as it can be an acquired taste. You may just come to love it.
12. Why Does Nutritional Yeast Taste So Good?
And here’s the opposite question for us to end with. Personally, I love nutritional yeast and probably use it way too much, so I can relate to this question.
Nutritional yeast tastes so good to many people because its umami taste is rare in vegan cuisine. Umami is commonly found in meat and cheese, but it’s more rare in vegan food. Therefore, nutritional yeast satisfies this craving and becomes addictive for many.
Nutritional yeast is also commonly paired with other great flavors, depending on the recipe—garlic, salt, tomato sauce, onions, and so on. It’s often used to top carb-heavy comfort foods like pasta and pizza. This builds positive associations for most people who try it.
If you’re looking to find nutritional yeast in the grocery store, be sure to check out my full guide with pictures!
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