Teeny Tiny Brain Food Mushrooms

19 07 2009

I had one of those flash back moments the other day at the Coop.

If it only had a prettier name, like Artisanal Mini-Mushrooms

If it only had a prettier name, like Artisanal Mini-Mushrooms

The store had just opened. A man who looked vaguely familiar had entered before me, and caught my eye because he was acting rather pushy to the worker there. As I rolled my cart nearby, I gathered that he wanted the organic bananas to be discounted for him. The response of the very patient coop worker implied that this was a regular event, and one in which he did not feel much urgency. As a former coop worker, I surmised that this guy always bought his bananas first thing in the morning, and always demanded the discount.

As I plucked some gorgeous local new potatoes from the rack, I caught another glimpse of the man’s face. Suddenly I remembered where I had seen him before.

Back in the day, when I cooked at an all-vegetarian worker owned restaurant in town, that guy was a regular customer. He stood out then by his habitual “condiment abuse”. Every day, he would order the cheapest brown rice and tofu based dish, then approach the condiment table. There, we kept a shaker of nutritional yeast, and a ground sesame seed and salt sprinkle called gomasio.

He would shake these condiments over his food until the volume of condiment matched the volume of the base dish. It was a habit that we worker/owners in the restaurant noticed. Both condiments were actually pretty expensive, in that volume. One prep cook decided to up the amount of salt in the gomasio, hoping that the saltiness of his customization would deter him. Of course, it only irritated our other customers, and he was unfazed.

All these years later, here was the yeast and gomasio guy, pinching those pennies for organic food. He might be cheap, but he only ate organic, vegan food.

So what was so special about that yeast?

Yes, this whole story is a roundabout way to get to the nutritional yeast.

If you haven’t had nutritional yeast, you are with the majority. To be specific, T6635 Vegetarian Support Formula Saccharomyces Cerevisiae, made by Red Star Yeast. It’s a light yellow flake, the kind of thing you can put in a parmesan shaker. Sounds a little scary, but it has a mild, cheesy taste. It’s nothing like Brewers yeast, so if you have tried that, this tastes much better.

Fifty years ago, the Red Star people started producing this yeast, which is grown on molasses that has been enriched with minerals and bacteria grown B12. It’s the only vegan, food based source of B12, other than supplements or enriched foods like soymilk.

Why? Well, this yeast is 52% complete protein, and packed with B-vitamins, minerals, fiber, and even some trace miracle compounds like beta glucans, glutathione, trehalose and mannan, all of which are good for balancing blood sugar. Chromium is also high, a big helper for blood sugar balance. Vegetarians, diabetics and women on birth control pills are all prone to b2 deficiency. Thiamine is necessary for your nervous system. B6 supports the antibodies and red blood cells you need, as well as your nervous and musculoskeletal systems, and of course, B12 prevents nerve damage, anemia, digestive problems, infertility and depression.

Just 2 tablespoons a day is all you need (you don’t have to cover all your food an inch deep) and you are covered for B’s. Overall, the miracle yeast boosts immunity, lowers cholesterol, prevents cancer and supports blood sugar balance.

So why aren’t more people eating it? I suppose it gets promoted as a vegetarian health food thing, so people assume it is awful. Maybe they associate it with hippies. Maybe eating yeast sounds freakish and unhealthy. There were anti-candida people who swore up and down that it would encourage yeast overgrowth in your body, but it has never been shown to cause that problem, and it is completely inactivated when it is harvested and dried. It’s just a fungus, no weirder than eating a mushroom. Tiny little mushrooms by the thousands, to be more accurate.

I admit, I forget to eat my yeast. It’s kind of nostalgic for me, I love to make sandwiches with tahini and a sprinkling of the yeast, or a tofu scramble with the yellow flakes mixed in. It’s not cheese, so don’t get carried away. The most popular way to eat it is sprinkled on popcorn. Like a touch of miso, the yeast adds a depth of flavor and a little umami to dishes you add it to. A tablespoon in your hummus, salad dressing or soup is really delicious.

Really.

And if you can find a place that lets you have it for free, by all means. Just don’t abuse the condiments. Somebody might blog about you twenty years from now.

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