Some independent movie theaters now offer nutritional yeast as a topping for popcorn. What is it?
Like baker’s yeast, nutritional yeast is a member of the fungus kingdom. It’s grown on a mixture of beet molasses and sugarcane, and then heated to deactivate its leavening power. There are several brands available—usually in the form of fluffy yellow flakes—at natural foods stores and mail-order sources. Vegans and vegetarians find it especially valuable because it contains the essential nutrient vitamin B12, which is usually obtained from animal products. We’d also heard that it packs big savory flavor, so we popped a batch of popcorn and sprinkled a little on to evaluate.
Despite its clinical—sounding name, nutritional yeast was a big hit for seasoning popcorn, with tasters describing its effect as “tangy,” “nutty,” “cheesy,” and “addictive.” The key is its high level of glutamic acid, the main chemical compound responsible for boosting the umami taste in food. Just don’t confuse the product with brewer’s yeast, which looks similar but tastes bitter.