Welcome and good day! I’m continuing to write up my studies on brewer’s and nutritional yeasts as supplements. (Don’t use this as medical or treatment advice.) They are very, very similar products, and today I hope to clarify how they are alike and how they are different (as I understand it). The distinctions between the two are muddier than a farm boy’s boots in the springtime. Many supplemental items called “brewer’s yeast” are prepared in the same fashion now as “nutritional yeast,” and there seems to be no standard on what it takes to be called “brewer’s yeast” or “nutritional yeast.” Where once only nutritional yeast had vitamin B 12, now both may. Or may not. If ever reading labels was important, it is crucial in the case of brewer’s and nutritional yeast. I can’t stress that enough.
I’m sorry for stating the obvious. Brewer’s yeasts and nutritional yeasts are yeasts. Yeasts are fungi (plural of fungus), like the mushrooms you eat and the molds you clean out of your shower, but yeasts have just one cell. They are everywhere, occurring naturally on the skin of fruits (like grapes and plums), circulating in the air (like those captured to make a true local sourdough bread), populating the soil, and even residing in and on us. As a kid, I was always fascinated by the strange fact that fungi are neither plants nor animals. (The human brain is always trying to box things, isn’t it?) Humans figured out the advantages of domesticating yeasts, and thus we have wine, beer, and bread. Yeasts metabolize sugars into alcohol and carbon dioxide. Yeasts need a lot of the same vitamins and minerals we need to survive and reproduce, like most, but not all, of the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, and folate).
Brewer’s yeasts and nutritional yeasts are in fact the same yeast. They are both Saccharomyces cerevisiae. You may read that brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast are different things. We will get to their differences later, but for now let’s talk about their same-ness. They are both the yeast called Saccharomyces cerevisiae (S. cerevisiae). The same yeast is used to make brewer’s yeast supplements AND nutritional yeast supplements—the same. This versatile yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae can be used to brew beer, bake bread, and ferment sweetened tea to kombucha, although other yeasts and bacteria can be used along with it to develop desired characteristics of specific foods or drinks. (Saccaromyces boulardii in kombucha is a strain of S. cerevisiae.) Different strains of S. cerevisiae exist, and these different strains are very important for imparting different flavors and qualities to the products they are used to create.
When sold as supplements, brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast are inactivated, unlike the active yeasts used to make bread (baker’s yeast), beer (brewer’s yeast), and kombucha (S. boulardii). The supplement forms are not “alive.” The yeasts used for supplements are cultured and then they are inactivated, dried and ground up. They cannot reproduce, and they cannot cause any type of infection. You could not use the supplement called “brewer’s yeast” to make a home-brewed beer. It couldn’t do it. It is not alive. You would need an active form of brewer’s yeast. The yeasts needed for brewing beer, kombucha, and making bread must be live forms, termed “active yeasts.” The loose terminology makes understanding a bit challenging. When you read terms such as Saccharomyces and brewer’s yeast, you need to determine if active or inactive yeasts are being discussed! Saccharomyces can be sold as a probiotic, in which case it is alive, but it is not “brewer’s yeast” or “nutritional yeast,” even though it is the same organism. Another term you may come across is “spent yeast”; this refers to a yeast that has not been inactivated, but it has been “used” to do a job (like make beer).
- Active yeasts: Live and able to reproduce. Capable of doing their jobs in food production.
- Inactive yeasts: Not live and not capable of reproduction.
- Spent yeasts: Yeasts that have been used to produce food and drink and are no longer needed. Some brewer’s yeast supplements are made from spent yeast. Some spent yeast goes to livestock. It is usually very bitter and requires de-bittering for consumption.
- Brewer’s yeast:
1. It can refer to live S. cerevisiae to be used for brewing.
2. It can be spent brewer’s yeast (S. cerevisiae) that is deactivated and ground for supplements.
3. It can refer to primary grown S. cerevisiae that is called brewer’s yeast. (See more below.)
- Nutritional yeast: S. cerevisiae that is grown primarily for supplemental use (so it has been inactivated and ground up), mostly on sugar beet or sugar cane products (molasses). Usually this name implies that vitamin B 12 was added.
Brewer’s yeasts and nutritional yeasts used for supplements are now usually “primary grown.” Primary grown refers to the idea that these Saccharomyces yeasts were grown specifically to be made into supplements. Brewer’s yeast has been used for a long time as a supplement. At first, it was available only as a by-product of brewing beer, and its nutritional highlights were second to the flavor of the beer it produced—kind of a lucky chance find! Nutrition in waste. To taste palatable, it had to have the bitter flavor removed. Now, however, supplemental brewer’s yeast is often grown specifically (primary grown) for use as a supplement, and much thought is given to its nutritional content and taste! Despite its name and history, it is no longer solely grown in beer and unless it has been, will not require de-bittering. Nutritional yeast, as far as I could find, has only been grown for supplementation purposes (primary grown).
Brewer’s yeast and nutritional yeast can be grown using different plant derivatives: sugar beets, sugar beet molasses, sugar cane molasses, barley, and malt. Brewer’s yeast can be grown on any of these, and so you must clarify which is used, particularly if you have issues with gluten! Nutritional yeast is usually broadly categorized as gluten-free because it is usually grown on sugar beets, sugar beet molasses, or sugar cane molasses–not grain. However, I think it is vitally important that you verify gluten status with the supplement maker, whether you are using brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast. I don’t think you can be too careful. For example, I purchased some Swanson’s brewer’s yeast, and its internet ad stated it was made from sugar beets. Gluten-free, right? (Wrong.) The container I received did not state “gluten-free,” so I called to determine its status. The woman told me they could not verify that it was gluten-free because they get their yeast from different producers, and it is possible that some could have been grown on grains.
If you are taking either brewer’s yeast or nutritional yeast to get a specific nutrient, such as chromium or vitamin B 12, it is crucially important that you read the label. Traditionally, brewer’s yeast was rich in chromium, but the newer supplemental brewer’s yeasts which are primary grown may not even have chromium! (Usually, nutritional yeast does not have chromium.) Many vegans rely on nutritional yeast for vitamin B 12, but unless the container specifically says that it has vitamin B 12, it cannot be counted on! Do not assume that all nutritional yeasts have vitamin B 12. Do not assume that all brewer’s yeasts have chromium. Read every label, every time.
There is so much more to share! In the next post(s), I’d like to discuss more specifics about the nutritional content of these supplemental yeasts and some additional points to consider (glutamates and GMO issues). Until then, take good care!
A note on sources: I cannot count the numerous sources I read to piece this information together. At the end of the series, I am going to list all the pertinent sources. They take up a lot of space, and so I don’t want them on each post. However, feel free, at this time before I have the sources listed, to ask me where to find a piece of information. I don’t mind.
I have been looking into Brewers yeast as I have heard it can help up my milk supply for breastfeeding. That got me wondering if the yeast in kombucha and nutritional yeast are the same. I have brewing my own kombucha for quite sometime, and I also already have some nutritional yeast I like to cook with.
So I guess my question is, do you think Brewers yeast could actually help increase my milk production? My babe is already 9 months old, I’ve started going back to work and feel the need to make more milk so I can pump more often.
Also, is it even worth looking into the Brewers yeast? BC I already have kombucha and nutritional yeast… I read your article but cannot figure out if the difference would relate to why the Brewers yeast is suppose to help with making more milk.
Any insight/advice would be much appreciated!
Good Morning, Elese: I hope you are having a good day. I don’t think I’m going to be very helpful. But I’ll still write out my thoughts. They are long, so you may want your laptop or tablet!
Let’s see. The S. boulardii in the kombucha and the S. cerevisiae in the nutritional/brewer’s yeast is the “same” organism. However, they are different strains. Different yeast strains can have significant different properties, even though they’re “the same” organism. So metabolites that the one makes, the other might not have the capability to do.
I don’t think we know what promotes lactation from the brewer’s yeast. So I’m not sure if or if not kombucha would benefit like the brewer’s yeast is reported to. I am doubtful that kombucha has the same effect, but if someone in the future found that it does, then I guess I wouldn’t be too surprised. However, Dr. Hale, who is known as the breast-feeding man to go to with questions on ingested substances during lactation, says kombucha is not to be ingested by lactating women. Here is a little blog post from a site I found summarizing his information. (I haven’t read it before, so I can’t say I support the site and author or I don’t. But I know Dr. Hale is a reliable source, so if his material is being quoted accurately, I do think a person should read and consider his ideas/information.) I want everyone to have all sides of the story if possible. Bad things can happen with all things about. Probably wise not to use it for milk supply.
On the other hand, nutritional yeast and brewer’s yeast are the same organism, simply grown on different things. I can’t find a human study to support that brewer’s yeast helps lactation, although tons of women report that “lactation cookies” with the brewer’s yeast help. Personally, I did find that when I consumed the Swanson’s nutritional yeast, I had a subjective sense of fullness as a lactating mom. [I was not taking it for that. I was kind of trying it out as I wrote my post series to be able to round out my opinion of the stuff. One day, I was thinking, “Why am I so full? I was taking the serving size on the side of the container. (My body has a tendency to over-produce milk, making it at times uncomfortable if something promotes milk production, say like if my baby is sick and needs to nurse more or if I pump more because we have to be separated, etc.)] So personally, I can say that I doubt that nutritional yeast differs from brewer’s yeast in its ability to be helpful to a woman.
But what is it about either one that SPECIFICALLY “works”–I don’t know and can’t find. Is it the B vitamins—then why doesn’t my B vitamin complex do this? Is it the chromium—no, because not all formulations have chromium. And so on. It could be the affect of the nutritional/brewer’s yeast in our guts–so maybe it doesn’t affect everyone the same because we all have different gut environments and different bacteria.
Here is an article supporting improved lactation in cattle fed S. cerevisiae (nutritional/brewer’s yeast). I tried to follow the producer mentioned, Diamond V in Iowa, to see if I could determine how they produced their yeast—-whether on grains like brewer’s yeast or on sugar beets like nutritional yeast. But I couldn’t find that information. If you sleuth it and find out for curiosity sake, I’d love to know! But I know I don’t have enough time to explore it. 😦
Effect of Saccharomyces cerevisiae Fermentation Product on Lactation Performance and Lipopolysaccharide Concentration of Dairy Cows
Bottom line, I wouldn’t use kombucha to help my milk supply. S. cerevisiae promotes lactation in cows, and there is lots of anecdotal reports that it helps human women too but I couldn’t find a study. (That sounds funny, eh? “Human women…”) Neither could I figure out quickly if the cow study used nutritionally grown yeast or brewer’s-like grown yeast. Probably nutritional and brewer’s yeast (which are both S. cerevisiae) have the same effect, but I don’t know. I SUPPOSE there could be one little metabolite that the yeast make from the grains rather than the beets that might make the difference. I’d use whichever the cows used if I wanted to really self-experiment…???###%% Boy that sounds crazy. What am I coming to?
Warmest wishes going back to work. Hug that sweet baby! I hope you make plenty of milk! I remember those work pumping days, almost fondly. (I have really lost it.) Be well. Be safe. Feel great!
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This is so interesting. Thanks Terri. Have you tried making lactation cookies? I’m not sure which yeast I need because when I make them myself they don’t seem to work 💜
Good morning, Kate! Thanks for interacting in my day today as I wait for the kiddos to get up! 🙂
I haven’t made a lactation cookie, per se. The recipes looked like any yummy cookie that a person would bake. But I do add/have added brewer’s yeast to cookies that I make here and there. I have found that a cookie with peanut butter and/or oats can support the flavor of brewer’s yeast without any detectable change in flavor or texture by my kids’ palates, so I’ll toss a couple tablespoons or so in there.
We’ve tried 2-3 brands. I keep coming back to Swanson’s brewer’s yeast powder, which is what I was trialing when I wrote my brewer’s yeast series. I have corresponded with Swanson’s and they didn’t really do a good job getting back to me like they should have. I really want to know about whether they add supplementation after fermentation; the label does not suggest they do. I also want to know if it contains chromium and why they don’t change their label to folate rather than folic acid if they don’t add supplementation. So, one day, I’ll get back to trying to determine more of the details of their brewer’s yeast to guide me in further critically evaluating my use of it. Until then, I don’t want to give anyone the idea that it meets all of my criteria until I can say for sure.
That’s it! Take care and may you have a wonderful, content life.