I have to admit: When I first went vegan in 2009 and partner told me about nutritional yeast, I shuddered with horror. Nutritional yeast? Really? With a name like that, it has to be lousy.
As a recent article on the Huffington Post pointed out: "Just the name of this ingredient will most likely cause you to instantaneously dismiss it. Nutritional yeast doesn't sound like something you want to willingly eat; and it doesn't sound like it could possibly contribute to a tasty meal."
That's putting it politely. In fact, it sounds downright lousy.
But here's the punchline: As the article in Huff-Post aptly described it, nutritional yeast tastes "nutty, cheesy and delightfully creamy."
They're right. It's good. Damn good.
Great, in fact!
Still, like the grouchy, hat-wearing character in Green Eggs & Ham, I stubbornly resisted nutritional yeast for the longest time. I did not like it in a house. I did not like it with a mouse.
Then I tried it on pasta. And I was a goner. It tasted just like parmesan! Somehow, these magical flakes created that wonderful creamy taste described in Huffington Post.
And if there's one thing that we vegans often desperately miss, it's creamy foods. At least I do. I can honestly say that I've never felt deprived as a result of the disappearance of meat from my diet. It's flesh and I'll never eat flesh again. Good riddance! But creamy foods? Oh man, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.
Alas, it's hard to find decent dairy substitutes for vegans. Soy milk? Blech. Rice milk? No thanks. Almond milk? OK in small doses. Non-dairy cheese? Sketchy. Real sketchy. Tofurky-brand vegan pizza? Tasty, but on the "Creamy Scale," it only rates a 2.5 on a scale from 0 to 10.
My partner once made me a vegan coconut cream pie because, like Gilligan, coconut cream pie was my favorite dessert. It was about the most well-meaning experiment I've ever seen. And it tasted good, too. But I still missed the real deal.
By the time my companion urged me to sprinkle nutritional yeast on top of a wonderful pasta dish she made, I was seriously cream-deprived. I resisted at first. But, like Mikey on the Life cereal advertisements from the 1970s, I gave it a shot. And I ended up having about the same reaction as Mikey. I started eating it and I just couldn't stop.
I'm glad I finally gave nutritional yeast a try, after months and months of resisting it. It was a sign of deep love and dedication that my companion never stopped lobbying me to try it.
Now, like the grouchy hat-wearer in Green Eggs and Ham and Mikey on the Life cereal commercials, I'm hooked. Now it goes on soups, salads, sandwiches, Asian food - you name it.
The moral of the story is don't let a name scare you off.
That said, Food Network's website has published a wonderful list of 40 Unfortunate Food and Beverage Names that is funny as hell. Have a look if you get a chance. Between Australia's VegePoo-brand vegemite and Ghana's Pee Cola, I have to say, Nutritional Yeast comes off sounding downright delicious!