Nutritional yeast is a staple for many vegans, often used to impart a cheesy flavor to savory meals. Regular ol’ yeast is used in tons of breads and pizza dough, and to be honest, I can’t imagine life without pizza– are you really living if you don’t have pizza every once in a while? So the other day, when a coworker of mine asked if I ate bread because there was yeast in it, I was pretty taken aback. Can’t vegans eat yeast?! The short answer: yes.
If you’ve ever eaten mushrooms before, you’ve probably had fungi… and that’s just what yeast is! Yeast are single celled fungi that are used to leaven breads and doughs, develop blue cheese, and make antibiotics. Sure, plenty of animal products are used in making all of those things, but that’s just what they are: animal products. A vegan is a person who does not use or ingest animal products, and the animal kingdom is a whole different genus than the fungi kingdom. Remember the classifications of living things from science class? Check this out!
People eating a vegan “diet” can eat things from almost every kingdom, outside of other animals. Most kingdoms are comprised of a ton of single celled organisms, and our bodies are home to tons of them! Besides, yeast is a single-celled organism; when have you really heard anything about a single celled dog or cat? Probably only in their conception within their mothers, and even then, it takes two to tango! 😉
So what about nutritional yeast? Nutritional yeast is deactivated yeast that is often fortified with B12, to give people ingesting it an additional source. And this is important, because B12 plays an important role in the functions of the brain and nervous system. However, it’s not too hard to come by, as many foods (like cereal and soy milk!) are fortified with it, and there are plenty of vegan-friendly supplements on the market! In any case, regardless of whether or not you eat meat, nutritional yeast is a fantastic source of umami flavor and added vitamins. (For more on nutritional yeast, check out this BuzzFeed article on 23 delicious ways to use it!)
Now, this is not to say that things that contain yeast are necessarily vegan. Love challah bread? Sorry to tell you, but you’re SOL– at least until you can find a vegan recipe (check out Mayim Bialik’s vegan-friendly, pretzel challah recipe here)! Many breads (such as challah) contain egg or milk products, and oftentimes, whole wheat dough will also contain honey, so being vegan, we try to avoid things like this. Dave and I won’t intentionally purchase something with honey in it, but if it’s already in something and we find out after the fact, it’s not the end of the world.
When it comes down to it, there’s a lot of confusion around many things within the plant-based or vegan community. Is honey vegan-friendly, or are we exploiting bees? Should we avoid wearing leather shoes or belts from before we made the switch? Ultimately, it’s all about living a reasonable, practical vegan lifestyle. Do what you can.. but enjoy your carbs along the way! 🙂
Questions for you:
If you had to choose one way to eat nutritional yeast, which do you think would be your favorite?
What’s your favorite kind of pizza? I just love piling as many veggies as possible onto mine!