What's The Difference Between Brewer’s Yeast vs. Nutritional Yeast?

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    While they appear to have a lot in common, brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast are very different. Find out which one is right for you.

    What is Brewer's Yeast?

    Brewers yeast is an active yeast made from a one-celled fungus, saccharomyces cerevisiae, and is used to make both beer and bread, as well as a nutritional supplement. It is a rich source of B vitamins, protein, selenium, and chromium, an essential trace mineral that helps the body maintain normal blood sugar levels.

    Brewer’s yeast is a probiotic that can help to improve the gut flora composition, which may help to improve the body’s overall digestive health. There are also some who contend that, because of its vitamin B content, brewer’s yeast can benefit hair growth and make hair stronger.

    What Is Nutritional Yeast?

    Nutritional yeast, also called nooch, is a seasoning that is often referred to as a superfood because it is a high-protein, low-fat, nutrient-dense food that is packed with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidant properties. It is also dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, soy-free, and considered to be vegan because it is not derived from any animal or wheat products.

    Like brewer’s yeast, nooch is also made from the fungus saccharomyces cerevisiae, though the yeast has been deactivated during the processing and all that remains is the nutritional benefits, and flavor. The large flakes have a cheesy, nutty flavor that makes it a delicious alternative to cheese, as well as a perfect addition to soup, vegetables, pasta, dips, kale chips, and popcorn.

    Production Processes

    Brewer's Yeast

    Brewer’s yeast is typically grown on malted barley or other grains that are used to produce beer. Once the beer has completed the fermentation process, the yeast is separated from the liquid and dried using rollers. This process deactivates the yeast cells. Brewer’s yeast tends to be more bitter than nutritional yeast, so many manufacturers then put their product through a debittering process in order to make it more palatable.

    Nutritional Yeast

    Unlike brewer’s yeast which is a byproduct of brewing beer, nutritional yeast is exclusively made as a dietary supplement. The most common substrates on which nutritional yeast is grown are sugar beets, blackstrap molasses, and cane sugar molasses. Often synthetic nutrients are added to this substrate to produce a better product. The yeast is ultimately pasteurized to dry it out in order to extract its nutritional benefits.

    Factors Influencing Yeast Production

    In order for yeast to thrive it requires a warm temperature, plenty of moisture, food, and nutrients for growth. Yeast is commercially cultured in a controlled environment, on an aerated suspension of molasses, the sugar that serves as a food source for the flourishing yeast.

    Nutritional contents

    B Vitamins

    Both brewer’s and nutritional yeasts are high in certain B vitamins, such as thiamine, niacin, riboflavin, and folic acid. Nutritional yeast has the added benefit of synthetic nutrients added to the growth substrate which increase its overall nutrient value. Brewer’s yeast does not contain vitamin B12, an essential vitamin those eating a vegan diet cannot get adequately in their food.

    Protein, Minerals, and Antioxidants

    Nutritional yeast contains all nine amino acids, making it a complete protein. It also contains the powerful antioxidants glutathione and selenomethionine.

    Brewer’s yeast is a rich source of minerals, especially selenium and chromium, an essential trace mineral that supports normal blood sugar levels.

    Health Benefits

    Brewer’s yeast is used by many who contend that it helps the body maintain healthy blood glucose levels, promote digestive and immune health, though more scientific research is needed to confirm these claims.

    Nutritional yeast is purported to aid in promoting healthy cholesterol levels (already in normal range), promoting immunity, and is an excellent source of protein and vitamin B12, both of which are important for those eating vegan and vegetarian diets.

    Can Yeast be Used as a Dietary Supplement?

    Brewer’s yeast is primarily sold as a nutritional supplement in powder, liquid, tablet, or flake form. It is high in protein and a rich source of minerals, especially selenium and chromium, as well as B vitamins. It has a bitter taste and is usually taken with water.

    Nutritional yeast is a dietary supplement that is high in B vitamins, especially B12, and an excellent source of protein. It is sold as granules or flakes and, unlike brewer’s yeast, is tasty and makes a great addition to any meal. The cheesy flavor makes it an ideal replacement for dairy, and it also is used to create cheese sauces, macaroni and cheese, and a host of other non-dairy meals by vegans and vegetarians. The high level of B12 also makes it appealing to vegans, vegetarians, and others eating a plant-based diet.

    Comparing the Flavor Profiles

    Brewer’s yeast has a bitter, rather unpleasant taste even though it is often debittered when produced. Nutritional yeast, on the other hand, has a savory, cheesy, somewhat nutty flavor that makes it a great addition to meals and snacks. It is especially tasty on popcorn, and as a dairy replacement in cheese sauces.

    Brewer's Yeast for Nursing Mothers

    Brewer’s yeast is purported to be effective as a galactagogue, a food that promotes breast milk production in nursing mothers. While the science of its impact on milk supply isn’t there, many new mothers swear by it.

    Precautions and Safe Consumption Guidelines

    As with any dietary supplement, it is always best to check with your physician, or registered dietician, before you make any changes to your current protocol. Not everyone can safely use brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast. If you are taking any medications, have any health conditions, an allergy or sensitivity to yeast, or a compromised immune system, contact your physician for further guidance.

    Side Effects for Brewer's Yeast

    On taking brewer’s yeast, some people may experience mild side effects, such as headaches, stomach discomfort, and flatulence, but it is generally considered safe for most people. If you are taking any medications, or anything that contains lithium, do not take brewer’s yeast. Always be sure to discuss new supplements with your doctor before adding anything into your regimen.

    The Bottom Line

    It’s easy to understand any confusion about brewer’s and nutritional yeast. They are both yeasts essentially made from the same fungi, and are both popular nutritional supplements. But the differences, ranging from taste to function, are many and it is best to get all the information before choosing one.

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    Dr. Carla Montrond Correia ND, CNS
    Medical Content Manager
    Dr. Montrond-Correia is a licensed naturopathic physician and a certified nutrition specialist (CNS). She holds degrees from University of Bridgeport, Georgetown University, and University of Saint Joseph, and supplemented her education with internships in the health and wellness space. She's focused on research, herbal medicine, nutrigenomics, and integrative and functional medicine. She makes time for exercise, artistic activities, and enjoying delicious food.
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