Yeast is perhaps one of the most confusing food ingredients for any diet-conscious individual. If you have yet to figure out what yeast really is, I’m sure you’re wondering:
Is it an animal product? Where does it come from? Is yeast vegan?
Then you’ve probably also heard of disease-causing yeast, which will leave you with even more questions. How does yeast really work?
First of all, yeast is vegan. But it is NOT a plant product. Hey, I’m not trying to confuse you even more. If you are, don’t worry, you’ll find all the answers here!
Is Yeast A Plant or An Animal?
You might find it a surprise because yeast is neither plant or animal. They’re sort of in-between, as they share some characteristics with both plants and animals in some way. So now your next question is probably:
Why are fungi organisms considered vegan?
Yeast is a single-celled fungus similar to molds and mushrooms. Yes, it’s a living thing, a living organism. A lot of people argue that it shouldn’t be vegan since it’s a “living thing”. However, they’re probably forgetting that plants are also living things!
But if this type of fungus is neither plant or animal, what makes it vegan-friendly?
Here are the reasons why yeast is vegan:
1. It doesn’t have a face
You’ve probably heard a lot of vegans that go by the rule of not eating anything that has a face. For a lot of vegans, this is a strict but simple enough definition of what goes into their diet and what doesn’t. Yeast is microscopic, but even if you try to see it under a microscope, you won’t see anything that resembles a face.
2. It cannot feel pain
Yeasts do not have a central nervous system and spinal cord. This means it cannot feel pain or even register such a stimulus. It also means it is not a sentient being and will not “suffer” in any way.
The Many Types Of Yeast
There are currently at least 1,500 species of yeast. These microscopic organisms can reproduce asexually through budding. Virtually invisible, they can be found everywhere: in the human body, plants, soil, and even in the air!
While most fungi species are useful especially in the food industry, some species can be harmful to humans and animals. Here are the most common and significant genera of yeast known to man today:
There are hundreds of Candida species and many of these naturally lives in the human body. They can be found in our skin, mouth, gut, and genitals. Some of them are beneficial to human health like those that reside in the gut and the vagina.
However, most Candida species can also become opportunistic pathogens that cause disease. This happens when they multiply out of control, like in the case of a weak immune system.
Under the right balance, our body’s good bacteria keep the growth of these species in a low but beneficial number. When yeasts outnumber the good bacteria, that’s when problems begin. That’s why people who take antibiotics in the long term are susceptible to yeast infections.
This species is a known pathogen that can invade the human body when there is immunosuppression. It can cause fatal infections of the respiratory system, which commonly affects individuals with AIDS and those undergoing chemotherapy.
Individuals taking immunosuppressants like those who have had organ transplants are also at risk.
Other species from this genus can also cause meningoencephalitis. It can also cause diseases that affect the skin, eyes, urinary tract, bones, heart, and prostate glands.
Many of the species from this genus are the most useful fungi in the food industry. These can be isolated from the soil or from sugary plants to be grown for industrial uses.
Carrying some similarities with Candida fungi, Saccharomyces can also be useful in medical research. It is also useful in the treatment of intestinal problems like diarrhea. However, it can also be an opportunistic pathogen like Candida.
In order to survive, fungi organisms require a moist environment. To grow and multiply, they feed on sugar and amino acids. This is also why high sugar consumption can aggravate yeast infections.
In the food industry, yeasts are grown on any organic medium with high glucose content. Unlike plants, they do not require light to grow. In short, they only need moisture and sugar.
There are edible yeasts that come in a non-fermenting or deactivated form like nutritional yeast. This is done through drying and heating, which essentially kills the yeast and stops them from fermenting. These types of yeasts are not for baking or fermentation but can be useful as a flavor or seasoning.
Uses Of Yeast
- Fermentation of food products
- Development of probiotics
- Leavener in cooking and baking
- Brewery (beer)
- Distillery (wine and spirits)
- Flavor, seasoning, or topping
- Production of ethanol, alcohol, and carbon dioxide
- Manufacture of fuel and biofuel
- Chocolate production
- Scientific and medical research
- Nutritional supplement
Types Of Edible Yeast
Generally speaking, edible yeasts can be classed into two: wild or cultured. Wild yeast exists in the air naturally, and causes spontaneous fermentation in any food left long enough by itself. However, this kind of fermentation produces unpredictable results. Hence the need to culture them.
Cultured yeasts, like the ones below are grown in a controlled environment to create desirable conditions that produce the intended results. This is how manufacturers can produce food products with reliable quality.
1. Baker’s yeast
- Active dry
2. Yeast for cooking or flavoring
- Nutritional yeast
- Yeast extract
- Torula yeast
3. Brewer’s yeast
4. Distiller’s or wine yeast
- Ale yeast
- Wine yeast
- Turbo yeast
- Bread yeast
- Champagne yeast
Common Food Products With Yeast
- Dried fruits
- Bread (especially sourdough) and biscuits with leavening
- Bakes pastries, donuts
- Aged beverages
- Soy sauce
- Yeast spread (Marmite, Vegemite)
Benefits Of Yeast
You’ve also probably seen yeasts taken as a form of nutritional supplement. This is because it is also known to be rich in beneficial nutrients. Among its many types, nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are the ones sold or taken as supplements.
Both varieties come from the same yeast species and are deactivated forms, but they are not the same. Brewer’s yeast tastes very bitter and beer-like. On the other hand, nutritional yeast is known for its cheese-like and nutty taste, with a distinct umami flavor. Here’s a closer comparison:
Nutritional Yeast: Made by culturing yeast in sugar, then harvested, washed, and dried.
Brewer’s Yeast: After its use in beer-making, the byproducts are grown on grains, barley, or sugar beets. It also undergoes drying to deactivate the yeast.
Nutritional Yeast: Cooking, seasoning, flavor, nutritional supplement.
Brewer’s Yeast: Nutritional supplement, cooking; an ingredient in pet food.
Nutritional Yeast: lowers cholesterol, boosts immunity, with antioxidant benefits; good for the skin, hair, and nails; improves glucose sensitivity; contributes to a healthy pregnancy; antiviral and antibacterial properties; may improve digestion.
Brewer’s Yeast: lowers blood glucose; decreases blood pressure; relieves symptoms of IBS; enhances enzyme activity; boost immunity, increases energy, promotes weight loss; supports cardiovascular health; may relieve PMS.
Nutrients per 2 tbsp serving (16g): Brewer’s Yeast
Calories: 116 kcal
B1 (Thiamin): 1.2mg
B2 (Riboflavin): 1.5mg
B3 (Niacin): 10mg
Pantothenic Acid: 0.6mg
Nutrients per 2 tbsp serving (16g): Nutritional Yeast
Calories: 45 kcal
B1 (Thiamin): 9.6mg
B2 (Riboflavin): 9.7mg
B3 (Niacin): 56mg
Pantothenic Acid: 1mg
Sodium : 5mg
Too Much Yeast: Is It Bad?
It’s no doubt that yeast products, especially supplements can be a nutritious food source. With a multitude of health benefits to offer, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of it? However, even all the popular superfoods have a limit. Yeast is no exception.
Now, how bad can it get when we end up with too much yeast in our body? I’m sure you’ll have an idea by now, but here are all the problems you can get with yeast overgrowth:
- Digestive issues or gastrointestinal disturbances (constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, cramps, nausea)
- Feelings of fatigue that you can’t explain
- Difficulty concentrating
- Red, itchy rashes that don’t go away
- Yeast or fungal infection of the nails, skin, mouth, and throat
- Genital and urinary tract infections
- Chronic sinus infection
- Joint pain
Supplements from deactivated yeast will not increase your body’s yeast since it is not an active form. However, intolerance and side effects may still occur.
If you are looking to add more yeast in your diet or would like to take yeast supplements, here are some important considerations to keep in mind:
- If you are taking medications and other supplements, including contraceptives, consult with your doctor first. Yeast supplements may interact or interfere with some medications.
In particular, it may interact with medications for blood pressure, pain, diabetes, and depression.
- Yeast allergies are rare but not unheard of. Make sure you do not have yeast sensitivity, intolerance, or allergies.
- Although yeast supplements are generally safe, consult your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
- If you have medical conditions such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease, or digestive disorders, ask your doctor first.
- Individuals who frequently suffer yeast infections should avoid fermented foods.
Remember that yeast supplements do not act the same as live yeast since its cells are inactive. Supplements from inactive yeast will NOT increase your body’s yeast.
Tips To Keep In Mind When Taking Yeast Supplements
- Consult with your doctor first
- Use inactive, non-fermenting yeasts only
- Start with small doses
- Observe for side effects or changes in your body
- Avoid long term use (over 12 weeks)
- Continue eating nutrient-dense food
1. Is yeast extract vegan?
Yeast extract is made by adding sugar to fresh yeast. As long as the sugar in question is vegan (i.e., not made with bone char), then it is vegan. For more about vegan sugar, check this article.
2. Is yeast made from eggs?
No. Edible yeast comes from fungi, which are neither plant or animal. It may require sugars or amino acids to grow, but never will it need eggs.
3. Is nutritional yeast vegan?
Also known as “nooch”, nutritional yeast is made by culturing yeast on a nutritional medium, mostly on molasses or other sugary medium. It is vegan but some brands may contain high MSG.
4. Is Torula yeast vegan?
Usually grown on paper mill waste or wood alcohol, torula yeast is vegan. It is similar to nutritional yeast in terms of taste and use.
5. Is Brewer’s yeast vegan?
Yes. Brewer’s yeast is a byproduct of the fermentation process done in beer production. It’s a deactivated byproduct, and therefore cannot be used for fermentation. Instead, it is sold as a supplement or an ingredient for pet food products.
6. Is Fleischmann’s yeast vegan?
Aside from the yeast itself, Fleischmann’s yeast products also contain sorbitan monostearate and ascorbic acid. The brand uses sorbitan monostearate as an emulsifier. This waxy coating that preserves the yeast is synthetic in origin (sorbitan and stearic acid).
Ascorbic acid is either from plant or synthetic sources. So although their labels don’t say it, Fleischmann’s yeast products are vegan.
7. Is Red Star nutritional yeast vegan?
All other yeast products from this brand come with a vegan label except for this one. Although it’s not clear if its added B-vitamins are vegan, this product appears in many online vegan stores.
However, it’s also worth noting that its label says it comes from a facility that handles milk and eggs too. This possibility of cross-contamination can be an issue for strict vegans.
As a fungus that is neither plant nor animal, yeast is vegan. Its many uses make it a very common ingredient in many food products.
Nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are rich in beneficial nutrients, which make them a sought-after health supplement. However, it’s not for everyone, and precautions must be taken into consideration before and during supplementation.
Finally, remember that eating nutritious, whole food is always better than relying on supplements.
Are you a yeast-loving vegan? How do you make use of this tasty and nutritious fungi? Let me know in the comment section below. And don’t forget to share this article on your favorite social media platform.