If your particular type of vegan diet allows you to eat mushrooms, you can eat yeast as well. Yeast comes from the fungus kingdom, and therefore is a separate type of life to both plants and animals.
There are four major edible types of yeas – nutritional, bakers, beer/brewer’s, and wine/champagne, and as a vegan, you can consume them all.
Why the Confusion?
Since yeast is a fungus, that means that it’s not biologically a plant, and therefore it can sound like a no-no to someone who is on a plant-only diet.
For those who slept through biology classes, all multicell organisms are divided into three kingdoms – animals, plants, and fungi. Fungi used to be classified as plants, but we got to study them a bit more, so they ended up with a kingdom all of their own.
Fungi have this weird mix of both plant and animal attributes. They “grow” like regular plants, but they don’t feed like them. You might have noticed that mushrooms and yeast prefer shade – that is because they don’t need photosynthesis to feed themselves as other plants do. They can’t create their own food, so they have to get it from the outside – just like animals do.
But then again, fungi reproduce asexually in ways that are very similar to either other members of the plant kingdom, or even some single-cell organisms.
Yeast is a single-cell organism that converts sugar and starch into food through fermentation. And it’s far closer to being a zombie than alive in the classic sense.
Nutritional Yeast. Nutritional yeast recipes
The spoiler is in the name – nutritional yeast is purposefully created for human consumption. In short, it’s the deactivated form of the stuff that you can use to either bake bread or make booze.
This stuff is jam-packed with nutrition, including the whole host of B vitamins and numerous minerals. Though it naturally doesn’t contain vitamin B12, you’ll find these days brands that fortify their product with it.
Nutritional yeast is famous for it’s nutty and down-right cheesy taste, making it an essential ingredient in creating vegan cheese. For those who have recently made the switch, it tastes almost like parmesan concentrate, minus the salt. And it has a decent amount of fiber.
It’s readily available in vegan, health food stores, and online, but your local bigger supermarkets may also have it in the health food aisle.
Baking Yeast. Yeast for baking
Fresh, dry, dry active, sourdough starter,… If you can use it to leaven your bread, it falls into this category.
In human nutrition, baking yeast is only used for baking, and consuming it fresh can create trouble for your tummy. And by the time you eat that slice of bread, it doesn’t really do much for you anyway.
Baking bread is a good way to observe these zombie armies at work. Once they are mixed throughout the dough, they start feeding off of the starches in the grain. While they are digesting them, they start “burping” a lot and release gasses that create bubbles in the dough. This is fermentation at work, and since sugar is easier to ferment than starch (starches are firs converted into sugar, then consumed), this is also why some will give a headstart to their dough by mixing some sugar in as well.
However, too much sugar can impede fermentation, while salt can kill the yeast itself. Bread baking is a weird balancing act, but you should give it a go at least once – if nothing else, just to see yeat at work and to understand it a bit better.
Several different species of yeast are employed in beer brewing, and the type of yeast will determine what type of beverage you are making (beer, lager, etc).
The yeast is the number one reason why you can tell a difference in the taste of beer based on their location. Though today the manufacturing process is a lot more sterile and standardized, beer used to be brewed by a type of wild yeast that is very similar to sourdough, and therefore you could literally taste where it came from.
Active beer yeast can also serve as the raising agent in bread baking, but it will also give a stronger, yeasty taste to your loaf. Also, beer yeast is not quite “designed” to produce Co2, so you will get a dense product and not an airy and bubbly one.
While active beer yeast is also not meant for direct human consumption, in its dry deactivated form it’s somewhat similar to nutritional yeast. It will also have a multitude of vitamins and minerals, but with more beer notes instead of a cheesy flavor.
It’s also great for topical use as an ingredient in homemade skin and hair treatments.
Some breweries sell or even give away their dead yeast, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find some in your local health food store or online.
Very similar to beer yeast, but with slightly different taste and properties. While brewer’s yeast goes the longer route from starches to sugar, then to alcohol, wine yeast goes straight for the sugar in fruit. This gives it that light fruity floral aroma, that can bring something different to the party.
Wine yeast is not as easily available, but if you feel like playing and experimenting with it, either reach out to a winery or go online to get your hands on some.
An Ode to Marmatie and Vegemite
Both of these guys are more or less the same thing, it’s just that they hail from different continents. Both are yeast extracts – which means they are made out of yeast cells that don’t have their cell walls. They can’t promote fermentation, but they are great for flavoring food.
Honestly, you need to have one of these guys in your pantry. A spoonful of this brown ooze is a more potent umami bomb than a whole chunk of bacon. But, if you love your nutritional yeast, get ready for these guys to blow your mind since they have a lot stronger flavor.
Though even this stuff is awesome, sometimes it’s difficult to find it in the US. So, make friends with a Brit or an Aussie and have them hook you up