Saturday, March 19, 2011

Cheese please!

There are many individuals who cannot have dairy products, including cheese, for a variety of reasons. I came across an ingredient that can be used as a substitute: yeast.

Now, this isn't the type of yeast you are used to, although it is derived in the same manner. Yeast is the primary ingredient used in fermentation. Be it to ferment alcohol, e.g. beer, or to make breads rise, this product has been used for centuries.

Common baker's yeast is usually made from a species called Saccharomyces cerevisiae. The same species of yeast is also used to produce a product called nutritional yeast. Nutritional yeast, compared to baker's yeast, has been deactivated, so that it does not reproduce. It is essentially dead yeast (R.I.P.). A very important effect of killing the yeast is that it produces a very pronounced cheese flavour.

Nutritional yeast is not just "nutritional" in its name. It is a great source of vitamin B12, which is the vitamin that:
- supports production of red blood cells
- prevents anemia
- allows for nerve cells to develop properly
- helps cells metabolize protein, carbohydrates and fat

Compared to other vitamins, which can be acquired through a variety of plants and animals, it appears that the exclusive source of vitamin B12 is through microorganisms like bacteria, molds, algae and yeasts. 

Nutritional yeast is rather inexpensive and can be found at some bulk food stores and health food stores. It is often found in the form of yellow flakes or powder.

To create the effect of grated cheese, combine equal amounts of nutritional yeast and ground blanched almonds. I used approximately 2 tablespoons of each. To this mixture, add a pinch or two of sea salt and enough olive oil to make it resemble moist bread crumbs.

Surprisingly, this mixture actually tastes like grated parmesan cheese. You have to try it to believe it! As a preliminary experiment, I used it to top pasta it was delicious. 

There will be some more experimentation to come.

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