Why the Best Vegan Protein Source for Your Smoothie Might Be Beer

Photo: Stocksy/Cameron Whitman

Not only can you use beer to wash your hair and hydrate post-workout (yes, really), but it’s also responsible for creating one of the best natural protein sources on the market. (Clearly, they don’t call it “liquid gold” for nothing.)

Brewer’s yeast, the OG vegan protein supplement that's a byproduct of its fermentation process, is making a reappearance in the health food aisle. It’s the latest old-is-new-again craze—and further proof that “protein” doesn’t necessarily have to mean meat.

The trend had its first wave in the US in the 1920s or '30s, according to Jonathan Kauffman, author of the forthcoming Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. “That was when scientists were just discovering vitamins and Americans were beginning to take supplements,” he says.

Its popularity peaked in the '50s and '60s when it became a recipe staple for holistic health gurus, who were known to get rather, ahem, hopped up on the stuff. But when nutritional yeast was discovered as a tastier replacement, it fell out of favor—only to re-emerge recently as a new go-to, now that more people are reconsidering meat-based diets and opting for that #veggielife instead. 

And no, it won’t make you tipsy. 

Here's everything you need to know about the so-called "hippie dust" protein that will give you major energy.

Photo: Stocksy/Babett Lupaneszku

Up your protein game

Brewer's yeast is a fungal byproduct of the beer fermentation process, which is pasteurized and deactivated to leave behind a powdery or flaky yeast. But instead of being full of carbs like actual beer, the yeast packs a major protein punch: 1 oz. contains a whopping 11 grams (as compared to 6 grams in an oz. of chickpeas or 7 grams in an oz. of steak), and it serves up amino acids your body can’t produce on its own.

“Brewer’s yeast is a way to add in some extra protein without including tofu or another soy protein,” says Kimberly Snyder, celeb nutritionist and Well+Good Council member, who recommends yeast as a dietary supplement to her clients. “It’s also much easier to digest than animal protein or processed seitan products, and provides energy through its abundance of nutrition."

Brewer’s yeast also contains chromium, which can be beneficial for controlling blood sugar; selenium, which supports thyroid and immune functions; and potassium, which helps control blood sugar and may decrease your chances of developing diabetes

Photo: Stocksy/Good Vibration Images

That taste, though...

While brewer’s yeast may be nutritious, it’s not exactly delicious: Imagine drinking a skunked beer that’s super concentrated, with an aftertaste that sticks around for hours.

Not looking to throw a frat party for your tastebuds? You may prefer to take the yeast as a supplement in pill form, or sprinkle the powder into juices and over snacks like kale chips and popcorn, which can mask some of the flavor. West Coast yoga teacher Kathryn Budig likes to combine brewer’s yeast with olive oil, sea salt, and lemon juice to make a dip for steamed veggies.

You can also pour it into your actual beer, if that’s how you like to party.

Photo: Instagram/@kimberlyweich

Brewer's vs. nutritional yeast

The “liquid gold” of the yeast family is pretty much identical to nutritional yeast, with a few minor differences: Nutritional yeast contains B12, unlike brewer's yeast, but it has less protein (9 grams per oz. versus 11). The choice between the two comes down to a matter of preference, though some people find the nuttier taste of nutritional yeast more appealing.

“There’s this never-ending obsession with protein, and yeast is an excellent vegan source,” says Snyder. Plus, “people are more stressed than ever, and so all the B vitamins and minerals help with that.”

Now, as they say: Beer me.

For more vegan-approved ideas, check out this barbecue recipe that's perfect for your next weekend hang. And here are some dairy-free dinners that taste great any night of the week.

Our editors independently select these products. Making a purchase through our links may earn Well+Good a commission.

Loading More Posts...