Yeast extract is a flavoring or additive commonly added to processed foods. Some foods that contain yeast extract include canned soups and salty snacks, among others.
Yeast extract may read like a natural ingredient on food labels, but don't let the name fool you — yeast extract is a food additive similar to MSG, and can pose problems for people with MSG sensitivity, gluten intolerance and high blood pressure.
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What Is Yeast Extract?
"Yeast extract adds a savory, salty flavor to food," says New York City-based Alana Kessler, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and founder of Be Well. It's derived from the same yeast that makes beer, wine and bread, she says.
For fresh yeast to turn into a powdery yeast extract, it goes through a multi-step process that includes fermentation and adding sugar to the yeast before it's placed in hot tanks, according to the European Association for Specialty Yeast Products.
Can Yeast Extract Be Harmful?
A little bit of yeast extract can pack a flavorful punch. Still, it's not necessarily healthy, Kessler says, as products with yeast extract can be high in salt, which is something to be mindful of if you have high blood pressure or are on a low-sodium diet.
"Miso and nutritional yeast are a good substitute," Kessler says.
Also, individuals who take monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a class of antidepressants, need to avoid foods that are high in tyramine (an amino acid that naturally occurs in the body), which includes yeast-extract spreads, according to the Mayo Clinic. If you take MAOIs and you eat a lot of high-tyramine foods, your blood pressure can become dangerously high.
Lastly, yeast extract could potentially contain gluten from barley, according to Beyond Celiac. Because manufacturers in the United States are not required to disclose the source of yeast extract on the ingredient label, those who avoid gluten should only use yeast extract that's labeled gluten-free or confirmed by the manufacturer to be gluten-free, the organization says.
6 Common Foods Containing Yeast Extract
Thousands of processed foods contain yeast extract, according to the USDA. Some of the most common include the following.
1. Canned Soups
Yeast extract is common in packaged and canned soups and stews, including miso, cream of mushroom, tomato, ramen, vegetable, egg drop and more. It's also in a number of pre-packaged broths, including many that are labeled organic or low- or reduced-sodium and including beef, chicken and veggie broths. You may also find it in bouillons and gravy mixes.
2. Savory Snacks
Yeast extract is found in a variety of flavored potato chips, as well as pork rinds, beef jerky, cheddar puffs, crackers, pretzels, packaged onion rings, rice cracker snacks, seasoned nuts and more.
3. Rice Mixes
Rice is considered a yeast-free grain, according to CHI Health, a regional health network of hospitals. However, yeast extract is in a number of pre-packaged, processed rice mixes, including items like chicken fried rice, rice pilaf, brown rice packages and cilantro lime rice, as well as seasonings that may be put on rice, like jambalaya seasoning packets.
4. Refined Sauces and Seasonings
As far as condiments go, sauces, barbecues, marinades and dip mixes commonly contain yeast extract. The ingredient can be found in oyster, taco, barbecue and tikka masala sauces, as well as pre-packaged seasoning mixes made for steaks, guacamole, onion dips and more. Some salad dressings also contain yeast extract.
5. Yeast Extract Spread
One of the most recognizable yeast extract products is Marmite, a savory vegan spread that's commonly smeared on sandwiches, toast and bagels as well as added to sauces for enhanced flavor. It's widely used in the United Kingdom. Vegemite, which is Australian, is another yeast extract spread.
6. Packaged Meats
Yeast extract is common in deli meats, breakfast sausages, bacon, hot dogs and bratwursts. Also, many of the processed, packaged dishes that you find in the grocery store's frozen aisle, like chicken tenders and nuggets, as well as beef patties, contain yeast extract.
Other Names for Yeast Extract
If you're looking to spot yeast extract on nutritional labels, Kessler says to keep your eyes peeled for:
- monosodium salt
- L-glutamic acid
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) requires foods containing MSG to list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as "monosodium glutamate." However, MSG can occur naturally in yeast extract. But while the FDA requires these products to be listed on the ingredient panel, the agency doesn't require the label to specify whether the MSG comes from a natural source.
- Alana Kessler, MS, RDN, E-RYT, registered dietitian nutritionist, founder, Be Well, New York, New York
- Beyond Celiac: “Is Yeast Gluten-Free?”
- Mayo Clinic: “MAOIs and Diet: Is It Necessary to Restrict Tyramine?”
- European Association for Specialty Yeast Products: “How Is Yeast Extract Produced?”
- U.S. Food & Drug Administration: “Questions and Answers on Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)”
- USDA: FoodData Central: "Yeast Extract”
- CHI Health: "NUTRITION WELLNESS What To Avoid On A Yeast-Free Diet"