Yeast has a few familiar forms in baking, brewing alcohol, and as a salty topping for pasta and other meals. But is yeast safe to eat for vegans? Read more below about this useful and nutritious food source.
In its unique forms, we know yeast as a useful tool to help ferment foods into alcohol, make bread and pizza dough rise, and as a salty substitute for parmesan cheese that tastes great on just about everything.
The crazy truth is that natural yeast is actually everywhere on our bodies, the foods we eat, in soil, and even floating through the air.
Do vegans eat yeast? Yeast are single-celled organisms, so some get a little confused about whether it's suitable for a vegan diet, but almost all vegans consume yeast in all its forms.
Read more below about the four main types of cooking yeast, eating active yeast, and how to use nutritional yeast to add some extra nutrients to any diet.
What is yeast?
All forms of yeast are single-celled eukaryotic microorganisms that are a part of the fungus kingdom, comprising molds, yeasts, and mushrooms. It can be found in the world all around us, but there are certain yeast varieties we’ve cultured for human use over the years.
They've been around on earth for hundreds of millions of years, like bacteria. And humans have been using yeast for a very, very long time. Archaeologists have found yeast-grinding tools in Egyptian ruins 4000 years old and evidence that ancient people brewed alcohol using yeast, too.
Today, we use yeast for modern alcohol brewing, baking, industrial ethanol production, kombucha brewing, probiotic supplements, and nutritional supplementation, too.
Active and inactive varieties: Nutritional yeast vs. brewer's yeast
Some types of yeast are active in that they can consume and convert certain compounds into different ones. Active yeast is required to cause bread dough to rise and alcohol to ferment. Active yeast is unsuitable for direct consumption.
Inactive yeast cannot perform any unique processes as they are no longer living and have become suitable for only one purpose - eating. Eating yeast is only recommended in its inactive forms, as active yeast is challenging for our guts to digest, leading to bloating, cramping, and diarrhea.
Is yeast an animal or a plant?
The fungus kingdom classification is neither animal nor plant. While they're technically a living being, they're not sentient and cannot feel pain or other feelings.
Different types of yeast
Baker's yeast, or S. cerevisiae, is an active yeast used to bake bread, pizza, biscuits, and other dough-based delights. This yeast converts carbs to carbon dioxide and alcohol, creating air bubbles in dough to make it enlarge or rise.
Is bread vegan? It depends on the recipe, but many types of bread are vegan, including those baked with baker's yeast. Beware of other non-vegan ingredients like eggs, butter, and milk.
Brewer's yeast is the same as baker's yeast, used for brewing all sorts of alcohol. Brewer's yeast dies during the alcohol-fermentation process and is then safe to consume on its own as an excellent source of many crucial B vitamins.
Breweries and wineries are also exploring the use of wild yeast floating in the air of their breweries to ferment their alcohol naturally.
Torula is a deactivated yeast called C utilis, used in the paper mill industry to convert wood products into paper. Though it's edible, it doesn't tend to taste very good and is mostly used in dog food and as a smoky, umami flavor in cooking.
Is food made with torula yeast vegan? As long as all other ingredients are plant-based, any food containing torula is acceptable for a vegan diet.
What is nutritional yeast?
Nutritional yeast is the inactivated S. cerevisiae culture, safe for consumption. There are hundreds of nutritional yeast uses as a topping for just about any savory dish and is sold in the form of bright yellow flakes at grocery and bulk food stores alike.
What does nutritional yeast taste like?
Nutritional yeast has a rich, salty flavor that resembles the taste of parmesan cheese but slightly nuttier. Its texture is light and fluffy; these flakes have no weight to them at all.
Is nutritional yeast good for you?
Nutritional yeast is incredibly healthy for humans to consume. It's one of the lucky vegan foods distinguished as a complete vegan protein containing all amino acids essential for the human body.
Nutritional yeast nutrition is off the charts with vitamins and mineral content, too. It contains a wide variety of uber-important B vitamins along with zinc, manganese, selenium, and molybdenum. These trace minerals help regulate genes, strengthen immunity, and balance metabolism.
The exact nutritional value varies from brand to brand, so read your labels to find the grocery store's most nutritious option.
Nutritional yeast calories are trim at 60 calories per quarter-cup, making this food fantastically nutrient-dense.
Is nutritional yeast vegan? It sure is!
Yeast extract is a concentrated nutritional yeast paste used as a flavoring for certain foods, like Austrian marmite and vegemite. It has a robust and intense flavor that people either love or hate.
Is yeast extract vegan? Absolutely, this extract contains no animal products.
Can vegans eat yeast?
Yes! Vegans can eat all kinds of yeast. Although yeast is technically living, it's more similar to bacteria than animals or other living creatures. It doesn't feel pain and isn't a sentient being - there is absolutely no reason why vegans cannot consume yeast or foods made with yeast.
Nutritional yeast is absolutely vegan, often used by dieters who belovedly call this food "vegan nooch." And with the many nutritional yeast benefits, it's a no-brainer for vegans to sprinkle atop most of their favorite savory meals.
Vitamin B12 levels are exceptionally high in nutritional yeast, which is even more important for vegans to note, as vegetarians and vegans have a higher risk of being deficient in this essential nervous-system boosting vitamin.
Use a nutritional yeast substitute in place of grated parmesan as the main ingredient in vegan mac and cheese sauce or on crispy, baked kale chips.
Final verdict: Can vegans eat yeast
Vegans and yeast go hand in hand. Not only can they eat yeast, but they should! Nutritional yeast is low in calories, high in protein, and full of vitamins and minerals. Plus, it makes most foods taste better - it's a win-win.
No one should directly eat active forms of yeast, like brewer's and baker's yeast, as they can cause gastrointestinal distress and digestive problems. Vegans are free to enjoy foods made with these yeasts like bread and alcohol, provided they don't contain any animal-based ingredients.