This article explains the different types of baker's yeast--all the yeasts used in baking.
Yeast is confusing. Many people don't understand how yeasts differ, or how to make substitutions when necessary.
In this article, you'll learn all about the different types of baker's yeasts, basic rules on how to use them, and how to substitute them for each other.
We also provide a handy printable you can tape in your baking supply cabinet so you don't have to memorize all this information.
What Is Yeast?
Yeast is a single-celled organism that feeds on sugars, converting them to carbon dioxide and ethanol. Carbon dioxide creates the bubbles that raise dough and are what give yeast-raised doughs their lightness and air pockets.
There are many different strains of yeast. All baker's yeasts are the species Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Brewer's yeast, the yeast used in beer making, is also Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but is a slightly different strain of it.
Sourdough starter is also a strain of wild yeast called Saccharomyces exiguus. It operates on similar, but slightly different, principles.
You can use both types interchangeably if you know the right substitutions. Substitutions aren't always ideal, but you can almost always make them work if you have to.
Also called: Cake yeast, compressed yeast, wet yeast. There are other types of fresh yeast, but they aren't readily available for home bakers so we aren't including them.
What It Is: Fresh yeast is live yeast that has to be refrigerated and is highly perishable--it will last in your fridge for only about 8 weeks. Sold in blocks and always found in the refrigerated section. Most commercially sold fresh yeast is "cake yeast" or "compressed yeast" that has had most of the moisture removed; "wet yeast" and "cream yeast" have not had liquid removed and are slurry-like (think sourdough starter). Wet yeast is not available in supermarkets but is used commonly in commercial baking because of its high activity and the need for only one rise.
Example: Red Star Fresh Yeast
Use for: Typically used by professional bakers because of its high perishability. Can be used for any standard yeast dough. Does not require proofing so it can be added directly to dough. If you go through a lot of yeast, fresh yeast is a viable option, but dry yeasts are generally easier for home cooks to work with.
Dry yeasts are the most common type of yeast for home baking and the ones that cause the most confusion for home bakers. Here are all the types of dry yeasts, with examples--so you never have to be confused again.
Active Dry Yeast (ADY)
Also called: n/a
What It Is: Dried, deactivated fresh yeast. Adding liquid to it "wakes it up." Active dry yeast is the most common type of yeast available to home bakers. It is more convenient than fresh/wet yeast, but it also the least active type of yeast, very temperature sensitive--water hotter than 115F will kill it--and will last for only about a year in storage at room temperature. (Keeping it in the freezer will extend its shelf life.)
Use for: Any recipe calling for yeast. Most suitable for doughs that require more than one rise and for cold-proofed doughs.
How to Use: Active dry yeast must be proofed, or activated, before use. Proofing accomplishes two things: 1) you make sure the yeast is alive before adding it to the dough, and 2) you get the yeast working so it will raise the dough. You proof yeast by dissolving it in warm water (no hotter than 115F!), sometimes with a bit of sugar, to make sure the yeast is active.
If the yeast is active, you will see bubbling and growth in the bowl after a few minutes:
If you don't see activity after about 10 minutes, your yeast is dead, so you have to use a new package.
Water temperature is very important when proofing active dry yeast. If the temperature is below 105F, the yeast may not activate. If the temperature is above 115F, it kills the yeast.
Though recipes usually call for "warm" water and rarely give a temperature, be sure your water is in the 105-115F range for best results.
Instant Yeast (Recommended!)
Also called: Instant active dry yeast, instant rise yeast, perfect rise yeast.
What It Is: Instant yeast is also a dry yeast, but with smaller granules than active dry yeast. Instant yeast has a higher percentage of live cells than active dry yeast, thus is more active and does not require proofing--you can add it directly to dough. It is also less sensitive to temperature and will activate in water up to 130F.
Some sources say instant yeast is more perishable than active dry yeast, but others say it's more stable and will last longer in storage. Keeping it in the freezer will extend its shelf life. types of yeast
Use for: Use for any recipe calling for yeast, including cold-proofed doughs and those requiring more than one rise (i.e., use just as active dry yeast--but no proofing needed). Since instant yeast is more active than active dry yeast, you can use less of it in recipes calling for active dry yeast. For example, if a recipes calls for 1 tsp. active dry yeast, you can use about 3/4 tsp. instant yeast.
It's okay to use a whole package, you just don't need to. (Buying in jars or bags rather than individual packets solves this problem, and saves you money in the long run.) types of yeast
How to Use: Add instant yeast directly to dough. If a recipe calls for active dry yeast, add the same amount of proofing liquid, and the yeast, directly to the dough instead of to the proofing bowl.
NOTE: See the substitutions below for more info. Briefly, if a recipe calls for one package of active dry yeast, which is 2.25 tsp., you can use 2 tsp. of instant yeast and get the same results. (You may even be able to use less, but you'll have to experiment with your recipes to figure this out.)
Rapid Rise Yeast
Also called: Quick rise yeast, fast-acting instant yeast, bread machine yeast.
What It Is: A type of instant yeast with even smaller granules for even faster activation and rising. Some sources say that instant yeast and rapid rise yeast are the same, but Wikipedia distinguishes between the two, and most yeast makers have a type of instant yeast and a type of fast-acting instant yeast. Some bakers use instant yeast and rapid rise yeast interchangeably, while some believe that rapid rise yeast is not good for cold proofing or for doughs that require more than one rise. types of yeast
The real issue is that rapid rise yeast, because it works so quickly, may not develop the flavors that you'll get from the slower fermentation of other yeasts (including instant yeast).
Use for: Best suited to recipes with one rise. Not ideal for cold-proofed doughs or doughs that require more than one rise.
Interestingly, people use rapid rise yeast in recipes that call for active dry yeast or instant yeast all the time, largely because they don't know the difference. (Check out the questions section on Amazon to see what we mean.) So, while baking experts recommend that you do not substitute rapid rise yeast for other types, it seems to work for most recipes. Just know that you may not get the flavor development that you will get from active dry or instant yeast.
How to Use: Add rapid rise yeast directly to dough. No proofing required. If using instead of active dry yeast, add the yeast and proofing liquid directly to the dough (as with instant yeast). You can use even less rapid rise yeast than you do instant yeast, but there are no set rules about this; if you're using a single package of yeast, you can use the whole package. types of yeast
Like other instant yeasts, quick rise yeast is tolerant of water temperatures up to 130F.
Bread Machine Yeast
Also called: Rapid rise yeast, quick rise yeast, fast-acting instant yeast.
What It Is: Bread machine yeast is the same as rapid rise yeast. It's made specifically for bread machines, but it is really just a rapid rise yeast. It may have added ascorbic acid, or it can simply be a type of rapid rise yeast. You can use any bread machine yeast and rapid rise yeast interchangeably.
Example: Fleischmann's Bread Machine Yeast. (If you check the link, note that the bottle says this yeast is suitable for all Rapid Rise yeast recipes. In other words, bread machine yeast = rapid rise/quick rise/fast-acting yeast.) Like ADY, available in jars, bags, and individual packets (usually a set of 3).
Use for: Primarily used for bread machines, but since it is a rapid rise yeast, it can be used for any rapid rise yeast recipe. Some experienced bakers do not recommend subbing rapid rise yeast for active dry yeast or instant yeast, but if you do it will probably raise the dough just fine--it just may not develop as much flavor as slower-acting yeasts. types of yeast
How to Use: Add directly to dough per recipe. No proofing is required. Follow instructions for rapid rise or instant yeast, or if substituting for active dry, add directly to dough instead of proofing first.
Like other instant yeasts, bread machine yeast is tolerant of water temperatures up to 130F.
Also called: Saf Gold
What It Is: Osmotolerant yeast is an instant yeast for use with sweet dough (cinnamon rolls, Danish, brioche, etc.). Sugar can slow the rate of rising, so using an osmotolerant yeast helps fix that issue.
You do not need osmotolerant yeast for sweet doughs, but if you've had problems with rising, you may want to try it.
Example: saf Instant Gold
Use for: Use with doughs that are at least 5% sugar by weight.
How to Use: Use per the recipe. Osmotolerant yeast is more expensive than other baking yeasts, so only buy it if you need it. For this reason, you probably won't be using it in place of any other yeasts. However, if you want to use other instant yeast in place of osmotolerant yeast, you can increase the amount of yeast, by weight, by up to 30%. This is not necessary, but it may improve your results with sweet dough.
Since it is an instant yeast, it tolerates liquid temps up to 130F.
Also called: Sourdough, sourdough starter, starter
What It Is: Wild yeast is more commonly known as sourdough starter. It is a strain of yeast called Saccharomyces exiguus, so different from packaged baker's yeast, but it performs very similarly. You can keep wild yeasts alive in your refrigerator pretty much forever as long as you feed them regularly. They have a tangy flavor that makes for delicious breads, rolls, biscuits, and more.
Use for: Bread, rolls, biscuits, pancakes, and much more. The Covid-19 quarantine has been great for sourdough baking, with people producing gorgeous artisan loaves like this one:
How to Use: You use sourdough as you would yeast: to make dough rise. However, it is a very different process. Once active, the sourdough starter has to be fed regularly to be kept alive-though-dormant in your refrigerator. When you want to bake with it, you feed it and leave it at room temperature until it reaches a peak point of activity, at which point it's ready to use. types of yeast
Sourdough baking is an art unto itself, and it requires a fair amount of both intuition and experience to do well. Anyone is capable of developing this knowledge (and intuition), but it's not something we can do justice to in a few paragraphs. If you're interested in learning how to bake with sourdough starter, there are a lot of excellent websites and books that can get you started.
And if you are lucky enough to know someone who has a starter, you don't need to purchase one--just ask your friend for some of theirs. Since "discarding" is a regular part of sourdough starter maintenance, people are always happy to share some of their starter with you (instead of throwing it down the drain!).
Tips for How to Substitute Yeasts (Including Sourdough)
All types of baking yeasts are interchangeable, though some substitutions may not produce great results. Understanding the differences between them and knowing the right amounts to use is crucial to getting the results you want. types of yeast
You can even use sourdough in yeast recipes, and vice versa.
Here are the conversions and other tips to know when substituting different types of yeast:
- 1 package Active Dry Yeast, Instant, or Quick Rise yeast = 2.25 tsp = 7 grams = 1/4 ounce = (app.) 1 Cup sourdough starter.
- If subbing ADY for instant or quick rise yeast, it must be proofed (even if recipe does not call for it). Warm some liquid from the recipe to 105-115F and add to a separate bowl to activate the ADY yeast. Do not add extra liquid. (Note: For best results, don't use ADY in place of quick rise yeast.)
- ADY requires more than one rise for best results; instant and quick rise yeast only need one rise.
- Can use 25-30% less instant or quick rise yeast than ADY in most recipes. This can vary, and some experimentation may be required. You can also use the full amount (you just don't need it). (Yes, instant yeasts have the same amount in individual packets, even though you can use less of them. We don't know why.)
- Sweet doughs: Do not reduce yeast for doughs that are 5% sugar or more by weight--or use osmotolerant yeast like Saf Gold.
- For best results, do not sub quick rise yeast in an ADY recipe (though instant yeast is okay).
- Always use correct water temp for best results! ADY is especially temp sensitive.
- Always weigh ingredients--do not rely on measuring cups--for best results
All About Yeasts (The Printable)
Here's a handy printout you can put in your kitchen (inside your baking supply cabinet, perhaps) so you don't have to remember all of this:
It looks like this (only bigger--fits perfectly on a piece of standard paper):
There can be a lot of confusion about yeasts and how to use them. If you want to get the best results in your baking, you have to know the different types of yeasts and how to use them.
Thanks for reading--and don't forget to print out our Yeast Infographic for the next time you bake!
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