Is Yeast Vegan?

When I was new to vegetarianism and researching different types of veg-friendly foods, I remember seeing the question, “Is yeast vegan?” pop up in a Facebook group. I have to admit that I was confused by the question. It seemed logical to me that yeast would be vegan-friendly since it didn’t contain any animal products. It wasn’t until later that I learned why there’s some debate about whether yeast is vegan. The good news is that, yes, yeast IS vegan! 

In this article, you’ll learn:

  • What is yeast?
  • Is Yeast Vegan (and why the debate?
  • The health benefits of nutritional yeast
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What is Yeast? The Little Fungus That Could!

Yeast is a single-celled organism and is part of the fungi family. It’s used for a ton of stuff like baking, brewing, and fermenting. There are different types of yeast, but Saccharomyces cerevisiae, used in baking and brewing, is the yeast superstar.

In baking, yeast gobbles up sugar and lets out carbon dioxide, making the dough rise. In brewing, yeast feasts on sugar and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide, giving beer and wine their flavor and bubbles.

bread made with yeast

Now that we know what yeast is and how it’s used, let’s dig deeper into the vegan question.

Is Yeast Vegan? Busting the Animal Byproduct Myth

The reason there’s been some debate about whether yeast is appropriate for vegetarians and vegans is that it’s technically a living organism. Therefore, very strict vegans may choose to avoid it.

However, yeast isn’t an animal or an animal byproduct. It doesn’t have a central nervous system and doesn’t experience pain. That means that yeast, just like its other fungi pals, is a totally cruelty-free ingredient and is a thumbs-up for vegans! 

Types of Yeast

There are several kinds of yeast, each with different properties and uses. Here are 5  common types:

1. Baker’s Yeast Also known as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, baker’s yeast is the most common type of yeast used in baking. It is available in both fresh and dry forms and is used to leaven bread, pizza dough, and other baked goods. 

Nutritional yeast, also known as savory yeast or nooch, is a deactivated form of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. It is commonly used as a dietary supplement and as a flavor enhancer in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, as it has a cheesy nutty flavor. Additionally, its yummy umami flavor makes it versatile in various dishes. 

2. Candida utilis Also known as Torula yeast, this type is used as a food additive and flavor enhancer. It’s a rich source of protein and can be used as a nutritional supplement. Torula yeast is often found in processed foods like snack foods, soups, and sauces as a flavor enhancer or meat substitute.

3. Saccharomyces pastorianus This yeast is commonly used in the brewing industry to produce lager beer. It’s a hybrid species, combining characteristics of S. cerevisiae and S. eubayanus. It ferments at lower temperatures compared to S. cerevisiae, resulting in the cleaner, crisper flavor profile of lager beers.

4. Saccharomyces bayanus This yeast strain is often used in winemaking, especially for white and sparkling wines. It has a high alcohol and sulfur dioxide tolerance, making it suitable for fermenting grape must having a high sugar content. It contributes to the production of fruity and floral aroma compounds in wine.

5. Brettanomyces This genus of yeast is often associated with “wild” or “sour” beers and wines. It can contribute unique flavors and aromas, such as barnyard, earthy, or fruity notes. Brettanomyces is used intentionally in some traditional Belgian beer styles and natural wines, but in other cases, it is considered a spoilage organism.

hand holding yeast over a bowl of yeast

Benefits of Yeast

Now that you’re familiar with a few of the most common types of yeast, let’s talk about some health benefits.

1. Digestive Health The probiotic properties of yeast may help improve digestive health by promoting the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. This can help alleviate symptoms of digestive disorders such as bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.

2. Immune System Support Yeast is rich in beta-glucans, a type of soluble fiber that has been shown to boost the immune system by activating immune cells. This can help protect against infections and diseases.

3. Nutritional Value Yeast is rich in B vitamins including thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. These vitamins play a crucial role in energy production, brain function, and cell metabolism.

4. Skin Health The B vitamins in yeast can also help improve skin health by promoting collagen production and reducing inflammation. This can help reduce the appearance of fine lines, wrinkles, and acne.

5. Weight Management Yeast is a low-calorie, high-protein source of nutrition that can help promote feelings of fullness and reduce appetite. This can aid in weight management by reducing food consumption.

6. A Complete Protein With respect to nutritional yeast, let’s just say it’s a nutritional powerhouse! It’s a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids that our bodies can’t make. Plus, it’s full of B vitamins including vitamin B12, folic acid, selenium, and other essential nutrients that can be a challenge to find in a vegan diet.

Recipe Ideas

Now let’s get to the yummies! Here are 5 vegan recipes with yeast.

1. Homemade Pizza Dough Combine 3 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 packet of dry yeast, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1 cup of warm water in a bowl. Knead the dough and let it rise for 1 hour before rolling it out and adding your favorite toppings. 

hands kneading pizza dough

2. Cheesy Vegan Popcorn Pop 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels and toss with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast. Add salt to taste

2 bowls of popcorn

3. Garlic Bread Recipe from Minimalist Baker.

4. Crispy Potato Vegan Cheese Sticks by Forks Over Knives

5. Vegan Dinner Rolls from Nora Cooks

Whether or not you’re following a plant-based diet, yeast is a versatile and nutritious ingredient that offers a range of health benefits. From supporting digestive health and immune function to promoting skin health and weight management, yeast can be a valuable source of nutrients and vitamins so be sure to incorporate it into your diet.

Experiment with various forms of yeast, such as nutritional yeast, baker’s yeast, and even some wild yeasts in fermented foods, to add flavor, texture, and health benefits to your meals. Go ahead and explore the wonderful world of yeast and enjoy the delicious and nutritious creations it has to offer!

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