What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast is a mainstay of any vegan pantry. It’s versatile, tasty and nutritious.
You can use it for thickening soups and stews, as a cheesy alternative to top pasta and even sprinkle it on top of your popcorn instead of Parmesan cheese for a really tasty snack. It has a nutty, creamy, cheesy flavour that is high in umami.
Most manufacturers fortify their nutritional yeast to make it even healthier (check the label). Fortified nutritional yeast contains thiamine, selenium, zinc, manganese, iron, riboflavin, niacin and vitamins B12 and B6.
On top of that, it is packed with protein and is a powerful antioxidant. With the range health benefits you get from nutritional yeast, it’s no wonder that it is so widely used in vegan cooking.
So what do you do if you have a yeast intolerance or you have run out?
Here are a range of substitutes you can use in place of nutritional yeast (also known as nooch). And lucky for you, you’ll already have most of these ingredients in your food cupboard.
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Both Parmesan cheese and nutritional yeast share the same nutty, creamy taste and thickening properties. So if you don’t mind using a non-vegan alternative, you can use Parmesan cheese. The only other factor to consider is Parmesan cheese is high in saturated fat and doesn’t have the health benefits of nutritional yeast.
Nutritional yeast is packed with essential protein and vitamins that can be lacking from a vegan diet. So if you are happy to use a less healthy alternative, Parmesan cheese is an option.
Soy Sauce and Liquid Aminos
Soy sauce, made from fermented soy beans, is a great substitute for nutritional yeast, especially for making sauces. Soy sauce is usually quite high in salt so it’s best to opt for a low-sodium soy sauce. It is quite thick, tangy and it adds the umami to your dish that nutritional yeast does.
It is hard to replicate the distinct flavour and texture that nutritional yeast offers, yet soy sauce goes pretty close. However, soy sauce does not have the same health benefits that you get from nutritional yeast.
When using soy sauce as a replacement for nutritional yeast, it is important to use about 1/3 of the amount that the recipe calls for.
Liquid aminos, a light soy-like sauce, made from fermenting salt, water and coconut sap can also be used as an alternative. They are very similar in taste and texture to soy sauce and can be used in the same way.
You can use chickpea flour in the same way you would use nutritional yeast to thicken sauces, stews and soups. Chickpea flour is also packed with protein and vitamins like nutritional yeast as well as having the same flavour and a very similar texture. It is the ideal substitute.
You can use it to sprinkle on top of your popcorn or for a cheesy topping on pasta. Just make sure that you toast the flour in the oven first. Spread it out on a baking tray and bake at 300°F (150°C) for 5 minutes which will enhance the nutty flavour.
You can easily make your own flour if you have chickpeas in your pantry. If you are using dried chickpeas, you just need to process them in batches until you get a fine flour-like powder. Just sift the flour through a fine sieve, process them again to make it even finer, and then you are good to go.
With sprouting chickpeas, you need to make sure you dry them out thoroughly by baking them in the oven first or using a dehydrator, and then follow the process above.
Ground cashews are a great substitute for nutritional yeast and while they don’t pack the same punch they are really versatile. Ground down into a powder, sweet and creamy cashews make a great foundation for sauces or they can even form the basis of a dip.
Most vegan Parmesan cheese alternatives are made using ground cashews, nutritional yeast and salt so it stands to reason that you could use them in other dishes. They have a nutty and slightly sweet flavour which offers something different to any recipe.
You can also use them to sprinkle on top of pasta like you would Parmesan. If you soak them, you can them use them to make a vegan cheese sauce as well, making cashews a really useful alternative for a range of vegan culinary uses.
White Miso Paste
White Miso Paste, when eaten alone, has a slightly sweet and tangy flavour. It is made from fermenting soya beans and rice. When you want to make a creamy, cheesy vegan sauce, miso paste, it is an ideal substitute for nutritional yeast
When replacing nutritional yeast with miso paste, make sure you only use a 1/3 of what the recipe requires because it is so concentrated.
Dried Porcini Mushrooms
You can use a variety of dried and chopped mushrooms to replace nutritional yeast in your cooking. Mushrooms are vegan, of course, and they have a similar nutty flavour. Plus, they are also full of protein, vitamins and minerals.
All types of mushroom work: chanterelle, oyster or shitake but the best variety and the closest to the flavour of nutritional yeast is porcini. Porcini mushrooms have the same punchy, earthy, nutty flavour and meaty texture that you get from nutritional yeast.
You can finely chop dried mushrooms when you use them as a substitute or, even better, grind them into a powder before adding them to your dishes. The perfect alternative.
A vegetable bouillon is made by pureeing a variety of vegetables down into a rich, concentrated paste. You can use potatoes, onions, celery, carrots, garlic, herbs and spices.
You just pop them in your food processor and whizz them up until you have a really fine paste. You can customise it to your own taste and use the paste to make a bouillon broth. Put the paste in a container and you can then keep it in the fridge or freeze it for use later on.
If you are pressed for time, there are some excellent bouillon cubes available in shops which you just add to hot water to make a savoury broth, just like a normal stock cube.
Bouillon can be substituted for nutritional yeast in dishes such as soups and sauces but use it sparingly as it is concentrated and usually quite salty.
Dried Onion Flakes
Dried onion flakes are great for sprinkling on top of your pasta or popcorn as an alternative to nutritional yeast. You can also add them to soups, sauces and stews as a thickening agent.
They are more salty so you need to use them sparingly and even though they won’t give your dish the same flavour and texture, they will improve your dish. For optimum flavour, you need to fry the onion flakes a little but that does diminish the nutritional value of the onions.
Yeast extracts are used in the food processing industry as additives to frozen meals, tinned soups, snacks and sauces. They are made by adding sugar to yeast in a warm environment and spinning them until the cells break down. They are the main ingredient in spreads like Marmite, giving anything they are added to a tangy, salty and savoury flavour.
With similar heath benefits as nutritional yeast, yeast extracts are an excellent alternative for use in sauces, stews and soups. Packed with vitamins and minerals, yeast extracts are very powerful so use them sparingly in your dishes.
Dried seaweed, which is a type of algae that grows in the sea, can be a good substitute for nutritional yeast. It also has health benefits as it is packed with vitamins, minerals and omega fats so you don’t lose out nutritionally.
It also has a similar salty, umami flavour to nutritional yeast and it can be used as a alternative ingredient for stews, soups and salads. Finely chopped, you can also sprinkle dried seaweed on pasta making it a great substitute, adding a salty, tangy flavour.
Can I use flour instead of nutritional yeast?
You can use flour as a thickening agent in the same way that you use nutritional yeast. Add it to sauces or stews to make them thicker. However, you won’t get the same flavour benefits that you get with nutritional yeast. For soups, stews or roasted vegetables, it is best to use chickpea flour as it has far greater nutritional content than normal flour.
Can I use regular yeast instead of nutritional yeast?
It is not recommended to use regular yeast because, although they share the same name, they have completely different properties and functions. Regular yeast is the active ingredient used to make breads and doughs whereas nutritional yeast, which has been deactivated, is mainly used as a vegan alternative to cheese and it used for its flavour and thickening properties.
Can I just leave nutritional yeast out of a recipe?
If you don’t want to use any of the alternatives above or you just don’t have the ingredients, you can leave nutritional yeast out of a recipe. However, you may compromise the taste or texture of your dish a little. Sauces won’t be as thick and you will not only lose out on the nutty, creamy flavour but you will be also missing out on the health benefits from all the vitamins, minerals and protein that you get from nutritional yeast.
What can I substitute for nutritional yeast in pesto?
There are a couple of alternatives you can turn to when you have that pesto craving. Probably the best alternative is miso paste because it has the similar savoury flavour and the umami that makes pesto so delicious. It is also packet with nutrients and enzymes so you still get all the health benefits. Failing that, you can use vegan parmesan cheese which is made from cashews.
Can I make my own nutritional yeast substitute?
With a few simple ingredients that you may already have in your food cupboard, you can easily make your own nutritional yeast substitute. You also have the added benefit of adjusting the recipe to your own taste.
You can prepare a large batch of vegetable bouillon which you can then freeze so you always have some on hand when you are cooking. Similarly, you can make a large batch of your own chickpea flour which you can keep for whenever you need it.
Both these alternatives are really easy to make and pack the same nutritional punch that nutritional yeast does.
It’s no wonder that nutritional yeast is used so widely in vegan cooking. You can use it to thicken sauces, stews and soups and add it to any dish, even sprinkling on pasta and popcorn to add that unmistakeable flavour: nutty, creamy and savoury. It also has that lip smacking umami taste that makes vegan cooking so irresistible.
And the health benefits are amazing. It is packed with vitamins, minerals and protein, making any dish both tasty and heathy.
So if you do run out, you can still enjoy a similarly tasty and healthy meal by substituting nutritional yeast with a range of alternatives that pack the same flavour kick while offering similar health benefits.