A recent Cook's Illustrated mentioned nutritional yeast as an interesting savory ingredient to sprinkle over popcorn, and it is. But it is a good deal more. Unlike normal yeast, it has been cooked and has no leavening power so it is (and has for 100 years been) used as a nutritious flavor enhancer. Available in bulk or in jars at health food stores, it contains no sodium, meat, dairy or fish product, is gluten-free and contains lots of good amino acids and vitamins. What it does have is a cheesy, savory quality that provides a hit of umami, which is most typically found in abundance in parmesan cheese, anchovies, soy sauce, fish sauce, broiled red meat and similar sources. All of these except soy sauce have animal products, and soy sauce generally (always?) contains wheat.
Nutritional yeast therefore seems like a great ingredient. However, a brief web search did not uncover many inspired recipes. As noted above, it is good on popcorn. I like it on buttered toast, too. The challenge is to incorporate it into salads and other vegetarian dishes to find ways to exploit its unique taste, which I plan to do. I would love to hear ideas from others who have tried this product. Here is what Bob's Red Mill says about this product:
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.
I'll report back if I come up with something great.