In Portland, you can find nutritional yeast flakes (aka vegetarian food yeast) at almost every restaurant catering to a vegetarian clientele. They're a funky orange-yellow color and can range from a fine powder to larger flakes. Nutritional yeast smells a bit yeasty, a bit nutty, and a bit cheesy, but what's the deal? What is this funky "hippie dust"? (Truly, I have seen it called that before.)
Nutritional yeast, which is not to be confused with Active Dry Yeast or Brewer's Yeast, is a deactivated form of the microorganism Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The yeast is pasteurized and placed in a dryer to deactivate the yeast and bring out its nutritional properties. The yeast, which is gluten free, has a flavor reminiscent of cheese and is rich in amino acids, B-complex vitamins, niacin, folic acid, zinc, selenium, and thiamine. Bob's Red Mill's nutritional yeast has been fortified with vitamin B-12, as well. Nutritional yeast is popular with vegetarians and vegans whose diets can be deplete of B-complex vitamins, especially B-12.
Nutritional yeast won't make your bread rise or your beer ferment, but it is excellent sprinkled over popcorn and pizza. It can be added to breading for tofu or meat to increase the flavor and nutritional value of the food. The yeast is also a wonderful addition to gravies and sauces or used to create a non-dairy "cheese" sauce for those who are vegan or who cannot tolerate dairy.
Here are some great recipes for turning this funky dust into something delicious and nutritious!
Nutritional Yeast Cheese Sauce from Bob's Red Mill
The Best Cheesy Uncheese Sauce from Karina's Kitchen (gluten free)
Hemp Burgers from Bob's Red Mill
Best Vegan Macaroni and Cheese (in the world) from VegWeb.com
Old Fashioned Macaroni and Cheese from Flavor Vegan