September 30, 2020
Yeast is commonly used to make bread, some baked goods, beer, and some wines. When activated by sugar and wet ingredients, yeast acts as a fermentation agent or rising agent. Due to its active properties, there is some confusion around whether yeast is vegan or not. Read more to learn about yeast and its unique characteristics.
What Is Yeast?
The confusion over whether or not yeast is vegan starts with the fact that yeast is an organism. Aside from health, one of the biggest reasons people choose to eat vegan is because they’re angry about the mistreatment of animals in the food industry. Yeast is a living thing, so the question we need to answer is whether or not it’s an animal.
The short answer? Yeast isn’t an animal. Yeast is a single-celled organism in the Fungi family. This means it’s more closely related to mushrooms than to chickens and is neither plant nor animal. As a fungus, it doesn’t have a nervous system. So even though it technically dies when the bread dough is placed in the oven, the yeast is not an animal and thus doesn’t feel any pain or emotions.
So Can Vegans Eat Yeast?
Although it’s technically an organism, because it isn’t sentient and is part of the Fungi Family, yeast IS vegan. While they do eat and reproduce, they don’t possess brains or nervous systems, meaning they can’t be affected by cruel treatment or poor living conditions.
However, while the general rule is that yeast is Vegan, a Vegan diet is a very personal decision. Some Vegans may be uncomfortable eating yeast, and that’s just fine.
How Is Yeast Used?
Traditionally, yeast is used in baking. Because of what yeast consumes and then produces, it’s known as a leavening agent and is used by bakers to make dough rise. Although yeast starts out as a single-celled organism, it grows and multiplies quickly. When given starch, yeast produces CO2 gas. This is the same chemical produced by other leavening agents such as baking powder. As it takes in the starch it not only produces CO2, but reproduces as well. When given the right food, such as sugar, yeast reproduces at a fast rate. The release of CO2 gas from the rapidly multiplying yeast is what causes your dough to rise quickly and provides a soft, fluffy texture.
However, helping dough rise is only one way that yeast can be used. There are multiple other types of yeast that all serve different purposes.
Types of Yeast:
While yeast is usually used as a leavening agent to help bread rise, different types of yeast actually have other purposes that are great for Vegans. Here are the different types of yeast and what they’re used for:
Baker’s Yeast: The most common type of yeast used as a leavening agent in bread. This includes instant yeast, active dry yeast, and fresh yeast. However, because bread is commonly made with animal products like eggs and butter, many Vegans don’t eat Baker’s Yeast very often.
Brewer’s Yeast: This type of yeast is used in breweries to create beer. The process kills the yeast but creates the foam that rises to the top.
Torula Yeast: Grown on Wood Alcohol, and used mostly in making pet food. Although uncommon, this yeast can be dried and then used to add smoky and umami flavors to food.
Nutritional Yeast: Like Torula yeast, nutritional yeast can add flavor to your cooking. Oddly enough, it has a cheesy flavor and is often used by Vegans to add this flavor to their dishes. Because it’s inactive, don’t try baking with it. Instead, you can sprinkle it on top of your dishes, including soup, salad, and pizza.
Yeast Extract: Another inactive type of yeast, yeast extract is a concentrated and intensely flavored form of yeast that’s used as a topping or spread. A popular example of this is Marmite in the UK.
Is Eating Yeast Healthy?
While yeast can be dangerous if consumed raw, it can be very good for you if you consume it correctly. First of all, yeast is a source of some B vitamins and protein, nutrients that Vegans often find difficult to include in their diet. Nutritional yeast in particular is a great source of B Vitamins because it’s often fortified with Vitamin B-12. Consuming yeast, especially nutritional yeast, is a great way for Vegans and Vegetarians to add protein and B-vitamins to their diets.
However, eating too much nutritional yeast at once can cause some problems, so be careful not to consume a lot at once. Because it has a lot of fiber, introducing too much of it at once can overwhelm your digestive system. This can cause stomach cramps and diarrhea. If you’re thinking about adding nutritional yeast to your diet, just make sure to add it in small amounts.