Harnessing the Nutrients for Modern Use
Yeast microbes may be the earliest domesticated organisms. Since very early times humans have used yeasts for fermentation, one of the oldest and most successful methods of food processing and preservation. In addition to their importance in the preparation of foods and beverages, yeasts have many health benefits all their own. Today, dried and deactivated yeast products have become increasingly popular, due to the high levels of proteins and B vitamins they offer. In this article we will review the practice of incorporating nutritional yeast into the diet as a superfood supplement.
For millennia, societies worldwide have used yeast to create nourishing foods through the practices of baking and brewing. Evidence from Egyptian ruins suggests that yeast has been an important part of the human diet for at least four thousand years. Archeologists digging in ancient sites in Northern Africa have uncovered grinding stones and baking chambers for yeasted bread, as well as drawings of bakeries and breweries.1
DIFFERENT TYPES OF YEAST
It wasn’t until about one hundred fifty years ago, however, prompted by the work of Louis Pasteur, that scientists began to consider exactly how yeast works. Since that time, researchers have come to understand that yeasts do much more than contribute to the flavor and texture of foods. Dietary yeasts have many health-promoting effects; certain strains of yeast support the gut microbiome, enhance the immune system, act as anti-inflammatories, biosynthesize nutrients and increase the assimilation of vitamins and minerals.2
In recent years, the nutraceutical industry has sought to harness the beneficial properties of yeast for use in health-related products. Today, there are three main dried yeast products seen on the market: nutritional yeast, brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast. All of these products are created using a species of yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is the most common yeast for food and nutraceutical preparation.3 Unlike yeasts from the Candida genus, S. cerevisiae is non-pathogenic and does not cause or contribute to infection.
There are many strains of the S. cerevisiae yeast, which have been selected and evolved over generations for specific properties and uses. According to researcher Seymour Pomper, PhD, the strains of yeast used at present are direct descendants of the yeasts first introduced into the food industry in the U.S. more than one hundred years ago.4
This article focuses on nutritional yeast, a specific form of dried and deactivated yeast that is often used as a health food. Nutritional yeast is most widely known for its nutty or cheesy flavor, which lends itself nicely to a variety of savory dishes. Chances are you have strolled by bins of the golden-yellow flakes in the bulk aisle of your natural grocer before. You may also have found nutritional yeast bottled up as a seasoning or coating your favorite kale chip snack. Popularized during the 1970s, it can be enjoyed as a condiment, stirred into sauces, sprinkled over egg or veggie scrambles, mixed into cracker recipes, added to breading or used as a coating for popcorn. Those following a Weston A. Price-inspired diet may also recognize nutritional yeast as one of the key ingredients in the Nourishing Traditions homemade baby formula.
Beyond taste, nutritional yeast has an impressive list of health attributes. It is naturally rich in select B vitamins including B1 (thiamine), B2(riboflavin), B5 (pantothenic acid) and B6 (pyridoxine). These vitamins support the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats and proteins to provide energy for the body. They are also important for maintaining a healthy nervous system, aiding with vision, and enhancing the integrity of the skin and hair.5 In addition, nutritional yeast contains fifteen different bone- and muscle-building minerals, including iron, selenium, zinc and potassium. It is a good source of protein as well, meaning it offers a range of essential amino acids that our bodies don’t naturally produce.6
Nutritional yeast is often confused with brewer’s yeast, but the two are distinct. Brewer’s yeast is aptly named, as it was initially offered as a byproduct of the beer brewing industry. It is now found in dried and deactivated forms specifically prepared for use as a nutritional supplement. Supplemental brewer’s yeast, also called primary brewer’s yeast, is typically grown on a medium of corn or other types of grain. Brewer’s yeast is known for being high in protein, B vitamins and chromium, an essential trace mineral that helps with normalizing blood sugar levels. Because it has a bitter taste, however, brewer’s yeast is used less frequently in foods and is often found in tablet and liquid forms.5
Baker’s yeast is another form of granulated yeast that is used exclusively for baking items such as bread. Unlike dried nutritional yeast, baker’s yeast is carefully prepared and placed in light-protecting packaging so that the yeast strains remain active. When used in recipes, the yeast converts carbohydrates into carbon dioxide. It is this fermentation process that causes dough to leaven or rise. There are anecdotal reports suggesting that a tonic of active yeast and water or milk can be prepared and consumed to boost energy, but opinions on the health benefits of raw yeasts are mixed. Others have stated that consuming active baker’s yeast can deplete the body of B vitamins and select nutrients.7 There is limited scientific research on the subject, which is perhaps why most individuals opt to use deactivated forms of yeast when supplementing.
HOW IS NUTRITIONAL YEAST MADE?
Historically, yeast cultures have been made by mixing together a medium such as flour and water, and letting this starter sit out in open air to “capture” the wild yeasts naturally present in the environment. If you have ever worked with sourdough in your kitchen, you are familiar with this slow and rewarding process.
The steps for manufacturing dried nutritional yeast veer from traditional methods. Commercial nutritional yeast cultures are grown in large quantities and handled in tightly controlled lab-like environments. Temperature and pH are carefully adjusted to optimize the growing rate of the microorganisms. The strains are also closely monitored for quality, and strict measures are taken to prevent contamination. Once the growing of the yeast is complete, the cultures are dried to render them inactive. This step prevents the yeast from reproducing or fermenting, and also concentrates the nutrients. From here the yeast is rolled into flakes or pulverized into powder for bottling.
The current method for manufacturing nutritional yeast can be broken down into four main steps: seeding, cultivation, harvesting and drying.
This process provides a template for the production of nutritional yeast. There are significant variabilities based on manufacturer, however. Some companies take the additional step of fortifying the yeast to amplify the volume of naturally-present nutrients or to add other desired compounds. Select companies employ high temperature spray drying to dehydrate and deactivate the yeast product.
The methods used to manufacture nutritional yeast directly affect the quality of the final product. Below are some key factors to consider when selecting the best nutritional yeast.
HEATING AND DRYING METHOD
Nutritional yeasts are heated for two central purposes: to render the yeast strains inactive and to dehydrate the yeast into a powder that can be easily packaged and stored. Most yeasts are deactivated by the process of pasteurization. This method is questionable as many nutrients, including most of the B vitamins, are temperature sensitive. It is unclear how dramatically pasteurization alters the nutrient profile of the yeast.
Next, the yeast is dried. This occurs either by drum drying or spray drying, depending on the manufacturer. Drum drying involves drying the yeast at relatively low temperatures over rotating, high-capacity drums that produce fine sheets of dried material. These sheets are then milled into flake or powder form. Spray drying is a method used for instantly producing fine dry powder by rapidly drying the yeast with hot gas. Spray drying often causes thermal degradation, however, and is thus considered a poor method for producing nutritional yeast.
FORTIFICATION WITH NUTRIENTS
Many nutritional yeast producers add nutrients during the manufacturing process to create an impressive final vitamin and mineral profile. It is especially common for vitamin B12 to be added, since this vitamin is not naturally present in large amounts in yeast. Folic acid is another frequent additive. While certain strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae do have the potential to biosynthesize folate, it is not often generated in significant quantities. Therefore, any time these nutrients—vitamins B12 and folate or folic acid— are present on nutritional yeast labels, it is fair to assume they have been added.
Some brands claim to use naturally derived nutrients for fortification, while others openly use synthetic compounds. Unfortunately the term “natural” is not regulated, making it difficult to assess the true quality of the fortifying nutrients without inside access to the manufacturing process. Currently there is only one major brand offering non-fortified nutritional yeast.
GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS (GMOs)
Most nutritional yeast is grown on a medium of sugarcane and/or beet molasses. This is troublesome as sugar beets are a high risk crop for genetic modification. According to the researchers at the Non-GMO Project, 95 percent of the sugar beets grown in the United States in 2010 were either contaminated from or grown using genetically modified materials. It is thus important to check with manufacturers to question the medium used to grow nutritional yeast and to ensure that their products are free of GMOs.9 Some brands use organic ingredients for the growing medium, which is favorable for preventing contamination with GMOs.This having been said, no nutritional yeast producers have yet received official non-GMO certification.
The issue of monosodium glutamate, or MSG, in nutritional yeast is a sensitive one. Yeast-based products naturally contain glutamic acid, an amino acid that is found in abundance in plant and animal proteins. Glutamic acid and glutamate (its ionized form) are considered essential for life and are critical for gut, brain and immune health. Both are found in high amounts in traditional foods like bone broth, matured cheeses and cured meats. MSG on the other hand, is the isolated sodium salt of glutamic acid, which is a synthetically created compound used to enhance the flavor of processed foods.10 Both naturally occurring glutamate and MSG contain glutamic acid, but the compounds behave differently in the body. Nutritional yeast does not contain MSG unless it is added. Individuals who are sensitive to glutamate products, however, may opt to avoid nutritional yeast due to the inevitable presence of glutamic acid.
Nutritional yeast is a flavorful, convenient and nutrient-dense health food when grown and prepared properly. It is naturally high in protein, concentrated in certain B vitamins and rich with trace minerals. Unfortunately, some manufacturers provide adulterated forms of nutritional yeast that have been exposed to high heat and fortified with synthetic nutrients. It is therefore critical to monitor brands closely in order to select the best and most authentic product.
THE THREE MAIN TYPES OF YEAST
NUTRITIONAL YEAST: Deactivated yeast used as a condiment and nutritional supplement; known for nutty or cheesy
BREWER’S YEAST: Deactivated yeast that is a byproduct of beer-making industry or grown on grain; bitter taste
BAKER’S YEAST: Active yeast used to make baked goods; not produced for supplemental consumption
NUTRITIONAL YEAST PRODUCTION
1. SEEDING: A parent yeast culture is carefully prepared in flasks and sterile fermentation tanks.
2. CULTIVATION: The yeast culture is fed a glucose-rich medium such as beet sugar, molasses or sugarcane. The temperature and pH are also controlled to optimize growth.
3. HARVESTING: Once the growing process is complete, the fermented yeast liquid goes through a washing or centrifuging process to concentrate the yeast cells. The result is an off-white liquid or “nutritional yeast cream.”
4. DRYING: The nutritional yeast cream is heated or pasteurized to render the yeast inactive. Next it is dried on roller
drums and pulverized. The powder is now ready for packaging.
Adapted from LeSaffre, 20148
PROMINENT NUTRITIONAL YEAST BRANDS
Information based on information from brand websites and personal communication with company representatives.
1. Phillips, T. and Noever, D. 2011. Planets in a bottle: more about yeast. NASA Science. Available at: http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/msad16mar99_1b/.
2. Moslehi-Jenabian, S., Pedersen, L. L. and Jespersen, L. 2010. Beneficial effects of probiotic and food borne yeasts on human health.Nutrients 2(4):449-473.
3. Legras, J-L., Medrinoglu, D., Cornuet, J-M., and Karst, F. 2007. Bread, beer and wine: Saccharomyces cerevisiae diversity reflects human history. Molecular Ecology 16(10):2091-2102.
4. Passwater, R. A. 1999. Nutritional yeasts and yeastophobia: an interview with Dr. Seymour Pomper. Whole Foods Magazine. Available at: http://www.drpasswater.com/nutrition_library/Yeastophobia_Pomper.html.
5. UMMC. 2014. Brewer’s yeast. Complementary and alternative medicine guide. Available at:http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/brewers-yeast.
6. Oaklander, M. 2015. Should I eat nutritional yeast? Time Magazine. Available at: http://time.com/4016184/nutritional-yeast/.
7. Bruno, G. 2009. Nutritional yeast and liver. Huntington College of Health Sciences. Available at:http://www.hchs.edu/literature/Nutritional%20Yeast%20&%20Liver.pdf
8. LeSaffre Yeast Corporation. 2014. The 5 steps in manufacturing nutritional yeast. Available at: http://lesaffre-yeast.com/five-steps.html.
9. Non-GMO Project. 2011. Agricultural crops that have a risk of being GMO. Available at: http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/what-is-gmo/.
10. Tapiero, H., Mathe, G., Couvreur, P., and Tew, K.D. 2002. Glutamine and glutamate. Biomedical Pharmacotherapy 56(9):446-57. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12481981.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly journal of the Weston A. Price Foundation,Fall 2016🖨️ Print post
The above information on brands is inaccurate. The label for NOW Foods Nutritional Yeast shows it is non-GMO and the only ingredients other than yeast are B vitamins. Conversely, the label for Braggs and Frontier does not indicate non-GMO.
NOW, and nearly everybody else, has added Folic Acid, which is problematic for people with methylation issues. Personally, I avoid all fortified nutritional issue because of the Folic Acid. This is a very important issue that I will all the supplies understood. Apparently they don’t understand the dangers at all and are contributing to massive problems with people’s health.
If you want a good read about supplementation and epigenetics, I suggest you read “Dirty Genes” by Dr. Ben Lynch.
Yes!!! I just realized I was giving my baby folic acid in the Frontier nutritional yeast brand and I am so upset because it was recommended through radiant life website and Weston Price 🙁 Shame on me for not checking the label sooner, though!
Deborah D Nelson says
Maybe this information has changed since 2017, but I am sitting here reading this article and looking at my bottle of Bragg’s Nutritional Yeast. It says Non-GMO Certified NSF .
I am shocked that the Weston A. Price Foundation has published this article about nutritional yeast, which leads one to believe, through extremely careful wording, that this is a nutrient-rich food and that there is no processed free glutamic acid (what is commonly referred to as ‘MSG’) in this processed food product. The paragraph “MSG Byproducts” is full of the type of clever industry spin we expect to see written by chemists from the glutamate industry …not from the webapges of the WAPF.
For years, WAPF has published on its website the seminal work of Jack Samuels of the Truth in Labeling Campaign (http://www.truthinlabeling.org/) and had him as its guest speaker at WAPF conferences. Jack and Adrienne Samuels worked tirelessly for decades to expose the hidden MSG / processed free glutamic acid (an excitotoxin) in our food supply. Were Jack still alive, I am sure he would counter the claims in this article. He, sadly, passed in 2012, so this article, written in 2017, with its very careful wording (‘spin’), stands.
I ask the author to, in the spirit of FULL disclosure of the ingredients contained in nutritional yeast, to tell us:
1. Did you conduct a chemical analysis of nutritional yeast?
2. Does nutritional yeast have any ‘processed free glutamic acid’ in it?
3. What is the percentage of ‘processed free glutamic acid’ in this product?
4. Does this product contain both the “L” and “D” forms of glutamic acid/glutamate?
5. Does it contain any impurities? If so, what are they, exactly, by name?
6. Does it contain any of the carcinogenic by-products found in some forms of ‘processed free glutamic acid’ production?
7. Does the author have any conflicts of interest with the food or glutamate industry which he should disclose?
When one does a search on the internet on”nutritional yeast” and MSG or glutamate, this article pops up. It is gaining its place as “THE” authoritative voice about nutrition yeast on the web (and is establishing the meme that one need have no concerns about nutritional yeast and MSG).
I plan to write directly to the main offices of the WAPF about this issue and request clarification, and I plan to “cc” the Truth in Labeling Campaign, so that Adrienne Samuels will be aware that there is an issue here at WAPF which concerns the legacy left by her husband.
I had been planning on joining the WAPF as I highly respect the content of your website and refer to it all the time! WAPF is truly a wonderful resource. This article has given me pause and I am holding off on any WAPF membership until I receive a clear and unambiguous answer from the Foundation.
The author should publish answers to the questions I asked, above, in a second, linked article, or the WAPF should remove this article. It should, in its place, publish an article about nutritional yeast which will set the record straight, and alert WAPF members about both the benefits AND the nutritional & health risks of eating nutritional yeast.
I posted this because there are many people who react very badly to hidden processed free glutamic acid in their food supply; they have a right to know ALL the facts from a source as authoritative as the Weston A. Price Foundation.
Tim Boyd says
We would welcome any additional information you can provide. In the past, you could purchase fresh yeast cakes (not dried), which were dissolved in water to make a nutritious beverage. Until we see a return of this product, we are recommending roller drum dried products as people who are sensitive to MSG have reported to us that they can tolerate yeast that has been processed in this way. This article is an attempt to provide the most accurate information that we have, so the consumer can then make a choice.
Judy DeLorenzo says
Do you have any studies that you can point me to regarding nutritional yeast and it’s adverse effects?
I am interested in further info on this matter also. I have a son who has seizures. We love using Nutritional Yeast flakes, but as of late, I am unsure if it is safe for him, or not.
Thank you laura for your astute observation and a balanced view. I make my share of donations to the WAPF because I believe in the work they do and place my faith in the information they provide.
We have a 5 mo old boy who is suffering with severe eczema, and from the information we have found so far, in a study by Lobley and Swain on patients with existing food induced allergy or intolerance symptoms, more than 35 experienced adverse reactions through MSG.
As our baby is breastfed, the mother has started a very strict elimination diet which is already producing positive results, the challenge right now is ot get her enough variety and nutrition in food so she can maintain the diet over time, that’s why we are considering nutritional yeast.
Given what I have read here however, I would say the neutrality of the article is indeed in question, and the validity of the recommendation, if based on incomplete or partial evidence, is also in question.
As such, if WAPF has any current evidence based data in relation to nutritional yeast and eczema, my family, and perhaps countless others, would find it quite helpful indeed.
I can’t imagine why you would approve of this food if vitamin B has been added after fermentation is complete. We, most of us, consume plenty of foods containing B vitamins. So when we eat this yeast, we are basically eating vitamin B pills. That is not the same as the vitamin B from natural foods, which I am sure you know. Nutritional yeast can stand on its own as a good source of protein so why can’t they just leave it at that.
Most people don’t actually get enough B vitamins
It seems like the Sari nutritional yeast is recommended in this article– but it also doesn’t have any B12, which most vegetarians/vegans need direly.
Jaxon Basra says
Dear Samia, Nutritional Yeast is naturally rich in B Vitamins – similar to how sourdough bread also has a superior nutrient content due to the fermentation process. Well-prepared nutritional yeast does not have any risks and certainly has a nutritional profile that is theoretically beneficial to health. Thiamine, especially, is often found in large amounts in grains. However, eating enough grains to provide Thiamine is taxing to the body. Nutritional Yeast provides lots of thiamine, which controls childhood aggression and enhances brain development.
Ah Nabe says
There Is Only One Acceptable Yeast Product! Transfer Point Beta1,3D Gulan! There Are Others But This Is The Absolute Best!
I have been rec the formula recipe to my FB group and now, I am a little upset, after a member asked me why the nutritional yeast has folic acid, instead of folate? Also, she has the MTHFR gene and can not use anything with folic acid. What is going on? If you know that there is an issue with an ingredient, pls at least, offer a suitable substitute. I fight a battle daily with vegans and others who don’t like WAPF, so, this is causing some serious consternation for those of us who know this diet/lifestyle is good. Thank you. Evelyn
Tim Boyd says
Reply from Sally and others:
According to the research we have conducted, small amounts of folate would be found in all nutritional yeast. This is why essentially all the yeast we have researched is fortified with additional folic acid. However, as mentioned in the email exchange that occurred in early February this year between Pam Schoenfeld, Sarah Pope, and others, it was determined that:
1. A folic acid-free yeast (sold by Sari) or a desiccated beef liver would not be recommended.
2. A desiccated chicken liver (GMO-free, Soy-free) may prove to be a good option for folate. We are hoping to add this product soon.
3. Radiant Life will continue with Frontier nutritional yeast within the kit.
4. People can make the recipe without the yeast if the baby does not do well with it.
I hope this helps.
Folate and Folic Acid are not the same thing. Folate is necessary for methylation, yet Folic Acid blocks it.
Until researchers, medical professionals, and food suppliers understand the difference we’ll all keep getting fed bogus misinformation by people who indend well but are really part of the problem.
Yes! Folic acid is the synthetic version! Check out Shane Ellison’s take on it, an organic chemist!
Kassia Batista says
Why is dessicated beef liver not recommended to be used in baby formula?
Simon Poon says
“Most nutritional yeast is grown on a medium of sugarcane and/or beet molasses.”
Depending on the nature of plant-growth environment for sugarcane or beet root, sugarcane and/or beet molasses used in the fermentation process, may be highly concentrated in harmful things like insecticides etc.
Will the nutritional yeast be contaminated in this case?
Nutritional yeast is absolutely great. The only problem though, and it is a big problem in my opinion (especially for people with b12 absorption issues), is that it has b12 analogs in it (inactive b12), which interfere with normal (active) b12 metabolism. I would soooo very much like to find brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast that doesn’t have any b12 analogs in it! Too bad the analog b12-content is never displayed on the label, that makes it impossible to tell… Does anyone know of a brand or type of yeast that would be suitable? I would be eternally grateful…
Additional info: I read somewhere that it is the drying process that deactivates the b12? In a comment above Sally mentions that in the past there were fresh, non-dried yeast cakes available, that one could dissolve in water. Maybe these cakes didn’t have the b12-analogs in them then? Too bad they are not sold anymore.
I have been told by a Functional MD I need to be taking a whole B complex. I also have found that whole food sources are best for any ”vitamins” as rest are chemicals from a lab and my liver is already challenged so taxing it further I don’t want to do. Dr. Bieler says that the natural baker’s yeast tonic on empty stomach is one of the richest sources of B complex vitamins known to man so I am very interested in this topic–knowing full well the heat applied to yeast to deactivate it kills some of these benefits..it is also according to him very healing for the gut and I have many gut issues..so yes I am very interested in this topic.
So from what I understand, the forms of B12 and folate in nutritional yeast are not methylated. Thus it is not a good food/supplement for people with MTHFR mutations. Is that correct? I heard bee pollen is a good source of B vitamins though not B12.
Jaxon Basra says
Nutritional Yeast and Baker’s Yeast are whole foods and have a natural content of the B Vitamins: B1, B2, B3, B5 and B6. If B12 or Folic Acid are listed on the label, avoid the products as these are synthetic additions. Our ancestors, including the cultures visited by Weston A. Price, ate lots of foods that were fermented and full of yeast. Nutrients found in yeast are responsible for controlling aggression and maintaining mental health.
Hello, is it possible to make NUTRITIONAL yeast at home – From baker’s yeast?
1. Heat to 121 ° C
2. Dry them
Why is dessicated liver not recommended?
I wanted to add my comment that I am in Canada, and I just purchased a can of nutritional yeast powder by a brand called Everland, which is nothing but pure nutritional yeast and has no synthetic vitamins added.
Hello, I live in France and purchase a product by Gerblé called “levure de bière,” meaning yeast of beer. Is this then brewer’s yeast, not nutritional yeast? It claims that that is the only ingredient plus “malt d’orge,” barely malt, and the nutritional profile is very impressive, with lots of B9 (no mention of B12). It tastes delicious. I am pregnant with nearly no history of headaches and I restarted eating it regularly since the conception on salads at noon. For a couple weeks I developed headaches and began to question the yeast. I stopped it and have had no more headaches, though I sprinkled a small bit two times on my food.
Am I to believe that they may still add b vitamins while claiming there are no other added ingredients?
How does Noochy Licious Nutritional Yeast stand up to your test. Does it have MSG? Is it produced the right way? Should we have any concerns. Thank you