I’m not a big believer in having processed foods in my pantry, but I do make some small exceptions. One of those allowances is Vitam-R, a yeast extract made with two ingredients: yeast and salt. Ok, I know the sodium amount is on the high side at 2,300 mg per 100 grams, which is why I only use a small amount in my cooking – usually something like a teaspoon (about 6 grams) or two spread out in a portion of whatever I’m cooking. So, in the end, my sodium contribution is actually about the same as if I seasoned the food.
Yeast extracts contain glutamic acid, which is an amino acid found in meat, cheeses, mushrooms, broccoli and tomatoes. We perceive glutamic acid on our tongues, which is often referred to as our fifth taste (behind sweet, salt, acid and bitter), or also known as umami. And it is precisely this savory sensation I try to create in some of my recipes.
Vitam-R is the German brand name for this type of yeast extract. It is very similar to Vegemite and Marmite. Vegemite contains other additives, vegetable extracts and spices to alter the flavor, while Marmite follows the same path and adds vegetable extracts, spices and a host of vitamins.
I like to dissolve a teaspoon in some liquid first before adding it to a dish – usually something involving tofu, tempeh or mushrooms. A student of mine recently came up with another use that turned out to be rather intriguing – a teaspoon of yeast extract mixed with a tablespoon of cashew butter yields a very nice cheese-like flavor.