Hippie dust, nooch, savory yeast flakes.
These are some of the nicknames given to nutritional yeast, a deactivated form of yeast. No worries, no association with the dreaded Candida albicans. That is a monster of a mess to clear.
But, let’s back up and tell a story, a made-up story to segue into the more scientific, with a light touch. Coal Creek, Colorado, circa 1974, outside a rented log cabin in the mountains. A half-mile walk to the Beaver Creek Inn when in need of a payphone or small talk with the mustached and bearded bartender.
“I got you, babe,” Taylor sang in his best Sonny voice to Sunshine (birth name Susan). Strumming his hand-me-down guitar, Michael, now going by his middle name, Taylor (since it sounded cooler), sang.
Sunshine was lying on the sparse grassy hill outside their log cabin. The last snow had come in mid-June and finally, patches of yellowed grass could be seen. Soon the yard would be a carpet of soft, lush grass, perfect for walking barefoot.
Her long, sun-kissed blonde hair fell in gentle waves past her shoulders. Sprigs of wildflowers tucked gently behind her right ear and complemented the rainbow tie-dyed cotton dress she wore. Hemp twine adorned her left ankle and she dug her bare toes into the dirt. So great to be barefoot outside, earthing and grounding.
“I got you, babe, I got you to hold my hand, I got you to understand,” Taylor winked and blew her a kiss. It landed on her nose.
Sunshine sat up and looked over to Taylor, an unusually concerned furrow between her brows had Taylor lay his guitar aside. He knew her thoughts; they had both been losing weight and muscle since they went full-on activist vegan. Ditching all from the animal kingdom for food, beverage, clothing, shoes, furniture, they even sold their junker car. It was time to think more clearly about their nutrition.
While Taylor had embraced the study of the arts, Sunshine had pursued the sciences and was studying medicine, Western and Eastern. Delving into allopathic medicine, along with Ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, nutrition courses, and herbalism. Quite an eclectic mix. This flower child was going to be attending the university in the fall to study nutritional sciences. Her goal was to obtain her dietician degree before adding advanced studies into Ayurveda, acupuncture, and herbalism.
She had read that an American company, Red Star, had produced a form of yeast called nutritional yeast. Whereas yeast and its form, brewer’s yeast, are active compounds, nutritional yeast was deactivated, hence “dead.” It could be fortified with B vitamins including B12. And, B12 was lacking from their plates since its sources come mainly from animals.
However, she knew and made certain they had plenty of B vitamin plant sources from dark leafy greens, whole grains, beans, sunflower seeds, lentils, and potatoes. The meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, and poultry industries hide this fact. That’s a tale to be told at another time.
Armed with a little knowledge and a lot of will, she and Taylor chatted until the sun went down, a huge ball of reddish yellow in the western sky and the first twinkling of thousands of stars, tiny fairies lit their sky.
The next morning, after a breakfast of fruit and coffee, they set out on foot to hitch a ride into Boulder. The first seven or so miles on the mountain road were on foot with sparse traffic passing by. They always scored in Nederland; someone would see their thumbs in the air and smiles on their faces and pull over.
Taylor with his long chocolate-lab-colored locks, tied back into a ponytail, cowboy hat on his head and Sunshine with her signature wildflowers tucked behind one ear would gratefully slide in the truck, car, or sometimes, each on the back of a motorcycle.
This day, it was a beat-up, dirt-covered red pickup driven by an aging mountain of a man who stopped and pushed open the passenger door with his hefty callused right hand.
They were let off on Pearl Street after a chatty ride, all on the part of Hank, who told them he moved to Colorado hoping for a fresh start. Although they were interested in the details of his why, they were also glad to have reached their destination. And, hoping to find the answer to their health quest.
They entered their favorite grocery store, no meat or fish in this place. Taking their time, they searched the shelves and found a red, round container labeled nutritional yeast. Not one to read labels, Taylor took the bottle from the top shelf; no wonder Sunshine had never seen it, clearly hidden from view for anyone under six foot two.
Armed with two bottles, they made their way around the store selecting fruits and vegetables. James, the longish, red-haired owner, thinly built and pale as pure cream, asked them if they had any questions. Why yes, they did. Could he tell them more about this mystical flaky yellow substance? And would it help them gain back lost muscle—they had mountains to climb, firewood to chop, and coal to haul into the cabin for heat.
And so James began, and Sunshine was sorry she had not brought her green spiral notebook and her pens of black, red, and purple. Sit back, this won’t take too long.
We can give a thank you to Louis Pasteur for his in-depth study of yeast that led to its use in the form of brewer’s yeast, then, later, as nutritional yeast, the deactivated type.
Known technically as Saccharomyces cerevisiae, it is a yellowy flakey or finer powder. It can come fortified or not (the fortified one is best since it has the B complex, including B-12 vitamins). It is grown from sugarcane, beet molasses, or, wait for it: wood pulp. I will take mine with the beet molasses, please.
Great news, it forms a complete protein. Protein needed for muscles, brain function, a healthy immune system (think wound-healing), healthy hair, and skin. James went on to remind them that even though water-soluble, so it releases out through your urine, you can get too much, or too little. Apply the Goldilocks Principle here: not too little, not too much, just right.
James went on to lecture them on an irrelevant topic, “Smoking cigarettes, those white rolled sticks filled with hundreds of carcinogenic ingredients that not only ruin your health, but also deplete the good stuff, or even block it. And it trashes the health of those in the vicinity through secondhand smoke. It can also prevent B12 from doing its job, so don’t waste your time taking it.”
Taylor interjected here and said neither of them smoked cigarettes, nor did any of their friends or family who came to visit. However, he did point out that since they hitch rides into towns, it’s typical to enter a smoky vehicle.
Sunshine said they strip down outside on their porch and that she launders those clothes separate from the others. They are thinking of adding an outdoor shower. James said that is a great idea, a simple bucket will do.
James went on to tell them ways to incorporate the “hippie dust”—yes, he called it that—in their food. The story goes like this: when Nederland, Colorado became a haven for the hippies in the 1960s, they came down into Boulder for food supplies, and latched on to nutritional yeast and decided it was indeed magical and mystical, and needed a new name: they called it hippie dust. You can add it to soups, stews, vegan chili, and tofu, sprinkle it on popcorn. Be creative.
Probably a bit more than you wanted to know, but now you do. Have fun adding it to your vegan and veggie dishes, and please share your recipes too.
This information on hippie dust came from perusing a variety of websites, aiming for the most reasonable and sound sources. It is not medical nor nutritional advice. As with anything, what works for some may not for others. I use Frontier, an organic source in the bulk section that is loaded with protein and dietary fiber too. There are others on the shelves; do read the ingredients before purchasing.
Regarding the story, some of it is true, some of it I pulled from the creative chaos that resides in my grey matter. If you are curious, log in to leave a comment, and hopefully a heart, and I will be happy to answer what is true about Sunshine and Taylor and the rented log cabin.
For a whole bunch of delicious recipes, scroll through my author page.
Here are a couple of recipes that use the magical hippie dust: