Hippie Popcorn: Popcorn with Nutritional Yeast
My writing group and our neighborhood ‘Mom’s Night Out’ group both meet at the Central Cinema, a small indie film and dinner joint that happens to be conveniently located just around the corner from where I live. You can watch a flick while filling your tummy with a lovely selection of homemade pizzas, salads, soups, desserts, wine and beer…or you can hang out in the café and just eat and chat.
The Cinema is a fun place to rendezvous with friends. But truth be told, the main reason we always go there boils down to one thing: popcorn with “brewer’s yeast.”*
Oh take me back to my college days during the late 1970s, in Ithaca, New York, where I was first introduced to the hippie way of making popcorn with nutritional or brewer’s yeast. I lived in a “co-op,” hippie speak for a household where we shared in the cooking and household chores. Many nights, after dinner, we’d pop a batch of popcorn, sprinkle it with yeast and sit together on the couch to watch a movie or just shoot the breeze. The nutty flavor and cheesy texture is out of this world, and I love how the yeast floats like a yellow cloud atop my bowl of crunchy popcorn goodness.
*First a disclaimer: nutritional yeast and Brewer’s yeast are not the same thing, though you can (and I have) use either on popcorn or other foods. Personally, I like the flavor and texture of nutritional yeast tastes better; Brewer’s yeast comes off as a bit bitter to my taste buds.
Second: don’t confuse nutritional yeast, which is deactivated, with active forms of yeast, like the kind of yeasts bakers, winemakers and beer makers (who, yes, use a “brewer’s yeast but it’s an activated rather than deactivated type of yeast) use. Whereas nutritional yeast is actually good for you, these other yeasts are not and can even rob your body of nutrients.
Back to the yeast you DO want to use: Nutritional yeast has a pleasant nutty-cheesy flavor and is packed with protein and B vitamins. It comes in flakes or powder and is popular with vegans and health buffs who use it to make cheese substitutes, gravies, and many other dishes. And, as I’ve mentioned, it’s also a great topping for popcorn.
Brewer’s yeast, which is also used as a nutritional supplement, is made from the same strain of yeast as nutritional yeast. The difference is that brewer’s yeast is a by-product of beer production and retains some of the bitter flavor of hops. It is more granular in texture and darker in color. You can find both types of yeast at most health food grocery stores.
Aside from tasting delicious, nutritional yeast is…well, nutritious. It is a powerhouse of B-vitamins, including B-12, and it is also rich in folic acid, amino acids and 15 minerals including iron, magnesium, phorphorus, zinc, and chromium, and selenium. B-vitamins are helpful for stress reduction and sleep. Minerals such as chromium assist in regulating regulate sugar which is important for diabetics and people with a tendency toward low blood sugar. Plus, nutritional yeast also contains a high amount of fiber, which eliminates constipation, assists in lowering cholesterol, reduces the risk of colon disease, and protects against high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
These are all valid reasons to sprinkle a healthy dusting of yeast on your popcorn. But mostly I like it because it tastes so darn good, addictive in fact. It is so yummy that once I munch my first mouthful, I simply cannot—stop—myself.
- Nutritional Yeast (I use Red Star) or Brewer’s Yeast (both can be found at most health-food grocery stores, Whole Foods, etc.)
- Salt (I use kosher salt)
- Butter or similar substitute
- Drizzle about 4 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a large, heavy pot
- Add about 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels
- Raise the heat to high until you hear the oil start to sizzle.
- Cover the pot with a lid and use potholders to lift it and shake it over the heat (you don’t want the bottom to burn).
- Resist the urge to lift the lid to see if it’s popping — you’re likely to get hit with a flying kernel.
- Listen for the pop-pop-popping to slow down and then remove the pan from the heat, leaving it covered for another minute.
- While the pop corn is popping, melt a little butter, margarine or soy butter melting in pan. Pour the popcorn into a big bowl; drizzle with the melted butter or margarine; sprinkle with kosher salt and lots and lots of nutritional yeast.
That’s all there is to it. Munch away. Just remember that it’s nearly impossible to stop. Please don’t say I didn’t warn you.
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