Extract vs nutritional
This post started as a way of looking at the various yeast extracts that are available taking in the usual Vegemite vs Marmite national and culinary battle; the Bovril vs Marmite challenge; the banning of Bovril in the Us and Marmite in Canada – and I will still mention all of this; but then I thought ‘but what about nutritional yeast, where does that sit in comparison to yeast extract?’. And so the story begins.
In 2015 as a result of earthquake damage to a cooling tower where Marmite was produced in Christchurch a national paper ran with the front-page headline “NZ’s Marmite stock is running out’. The Christchurch plant produces about 640,000kg of Marmite every year. That is a LOT of Marmite. And it is only one brand of the product. There is Promite, also a NZ produced yeast extract, Vegemite, the Australian equivalent and, of course, Bovril that 1870’s extract developed by John Lawson Johnston and now supplied by Unilever. So, NZ was not really short of options and alternatives. But what this revealed was the partiality accorded to yeast extracts and to whichever one a person held dear.
Yeast extract is extracted in a lab, meaning it does not occur or grow naturally on its own, and it has a high concentration of glutamate – remember umami? Yeast extract, says Vegan First, is simply a flavour enhancer that is added to foods to give them a more salty, savoury taste. It is a good source of chromium, which has health benefits such as lowering the insulin and combating diabetes. Also, it is a decent source of phosphorous, manganese, copper, zinc, and lithium.
But not all yeast extracts are equal. The very best have a short list of ingredients along the lines of: Barley yeast extract of at least 86%, vegetable juice and then vitamins (folic acid, and the B complex vitamins). Others add for instance, wheat, salt, mineral salt, malt extract, colour (150c); or perhaps even sugar, colour (caramelII), corn maltodextrin, mineral, herbs and spices. It pays to read the labels when deciding what you want.
They sell themselves on different aspects: Sanitarium’s Marmite tells us to ‘Go Ahead – Dig In’. Well perhaps not. There are 175g in a pot and 35 servings, so a ‘dig-in’ would be at the most a small 5g teaspoon. Or, how about Vegemite who proclaim that it is proudly made in Australia since 1923 – or at least 90% of its ingredients can claim Australian origin. Some of the key ingredients of VEGEMITE are a malt extract derived from yeast grown on barley and wheat. However, their recently developed Gluten Free Vegemite is said to replace that key ingredient, with a gluten free baker’s yeast grown on molasses.
Then there is Marmite, who are so confident of their brand name and loyalty that they do not even call themselves by their name but rather include us in their ‘Our Mate’ labeling. That did not stop it, however, from being banned in 2014 by Canada – for having too many minerals and vitamins!
As a condiment containing meat products Bovril is banned from import into the US. Bovril, historically a meat based yeast extract, did abandon its beef ingredients in 2004, making it suitable for vegetarians. They did this because of a ban on beef exports following concerns about bovine spongiform encephalopathy. In 2006, however, Unilever reversed that decision and reintroduced beef ingredients to their Bovril formula once the beef export bans were lifted. Unilever now produces Bovril using beef extract and a chicken variety using chicken extract, although in NZ ‘suitable for vegetarians’ can still be seen on supermarket shelves.
But which is better, Bovril or Marmite? Well, Marmite, surprisingly, has more protein than Bovril. And despite Bovril’s added vitamins, Marmite wins here to, with considerably more Vitamin B12, Folic Acid and Niacin. Food 24 puts both through their paces but ends with,
‘I know which one I would choose! Which is your favourite?’
So how does nutritional yeast fare as compared to these yeast extracts. Well for a start, unlike yeast extract which does not occur or grow naturally on its own, nutritional yeast is made from a single-celled organism, Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, which is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed and dried with heat to kill it. Because it is inactive, it doesn’t froth or grow like baking yeast does. And, unlike meat based yeast extracts, no animals are harmed in this process because these yeasts are members of the fungi family, like mushrooms. Its special appeal is a relatively high flavour profile that is distinctly cheese-like and thus it can give a parmesan-style kick to vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Nutritional yeast is a rich source of fibre, one of the crucial elements for functional digestion. With around three grams of fibre in each small servings, it regulates the blood sugar level in our bodies thus, helping us sustain our energy throughout the day. It is great source of protein, and although containing the complete protein profile of meat, eggs, cheese and other milk products, it is eaten in such small amounts it should not be seen as a protein contributor of any importance to the diet.
Since it doesn’t have any added sugar, it is low on the glycemic scale. Eating low sugar foods helps those who are keeping a watch on their waistlines and diabetes. Thus, it makes nutritional yeast a great choice across the table.
Finally, nutritional yeast is a very good source of B vitamins, except for B12, although this is often added to its list of ingredients. It also contains glutamates (think umami again), but not monosodium glutamate (MSG).
It is easily available, mainly sold in health food shops and online. It comes in grades of fine, small and large flakes. No preparation is required. Think of it like grated parmesan and use it accordingly, mainly to sprinkle over dishes for a savoury hit. But be careful not to overpower other flavours with it. Nutritional yeast can also be added as an ingredient during the cooking of vegetarian and vegan stews, or soups.