When I started eating a mostly plant-based diet, I was shocked to discover how many ways there were to add nutritional yeast to my meals. I’d had it before — once sprinkled over a bowl of pasta at a friend’s house, and once tossed with some popcorn — but suddenly I was seeing it in recipes for everything from three-bean chili to vegan mac and cheese. It’s a versatile ingredient with a nutty, cheese-like taste, and it has a ton of vitamin B-12 in it, something that’s hard to get from a plant-based diet alone. “Nooch,” as it’s often called, is a deactivated yeast, meaning you can’t use it to make bread or for brewing beer or wine. But it does have a lot of the same glutamic acid compounds in it that you find in other super savory foods like soy sauce, mushrooms, and cheese, making it an essential pantry ingredient. Most vegans use it as a substitute for cheese (like in this dreamy vegan queso), but you can add it to your diet in so many other ways. These are some of my favorites.

As a topping

If you’re eating something that needs a little extra flavor — a risotto, a bowl of pasta, you name it — a shake of nutritional yeast on top will add a savory boost. You can even make your own vegan “Parmesan” cheese by processing nooch, cashews, garlic powder, and salt together to create a sprinkly topping.

In sauces and soups

I always add nutritional yeast to sauces and soups to give them more depth of flavor. Vegetable broth, even homemade, can be a little lacking, and salt alone isn’t always enough to wake up the flavor. Adding in some nutritional yeast gives the broth a savory edge that makes it the perfect base for your favorite soup. You can stir it into gravy or tomato sauce to give it a boost of flavor too.

As a seasoning

Just as you’d use any other spice, you can add nutritional yeast to recipes too. It’s an especially tasty addition to flour that’s used to coat tofu or anything baked or fried and is delicious in spice rubs, and you can even add it to bread and rolls to give them a “cheesy,” savory flavor. If your food has been tasting a little lackluster and you’re looking for a quick fix, reach for the nooch.

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(Photos via Brittany Griffin / Brit + Co)