Updated June 2022
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Buying guide for Best Baker's Yeast

What’s in a baked treat? If it’s leavened, that roll, cinnamon bun, or bread loaf was made using baker’s yeast. Developed to perform reliably in baked goods, baker’s yeast is an absolute must-have in any well-stocked kitchen.

The variety of baker’s yeast available today is amazing when you consider that two centuries ago, bread bakers were pretty much on their own when it came to figuring out how to leaven their breads and cakes. Now, we can grab exactly what we need from the store shelf or order it online.

Still, choosing the perfect baker’s yeast takes a little bit of consideration. Several types of baker’s yeast are available, and each shines best in a different area of baking. Let’s take a look at the differences and outline some common uses for baker’s yeast.

baker's yeast
Store baker’s yeast in the freezer to extend its lifespan from one year to several years.

How to buy the best baker’s yeast 

What types of baker’s yeast are available?

Cream yeast: Rarely seen in home baking, cream yeast is a liquid slurry. It’s used mainly by large commercial bakeries.

Fresh yeast: Also referred to as wet, cake, compressed, or crumbled yeast, it’s commonly sold in compressed blocks. Fresh yeast has a much shorter shelf life than other retail yeast.

Active dry yeast: This granular yeast can be stored at room temperature; it must be rehydrated before adding to recipes.

Instant yeast: Unlike its active dry counterpart, instant yeast can be added to a recipe without needing to be rehydrated, saving bakers 10 minutes or more. It has smaller granules than active dry yeast and a shorter shelf life.

Rapid-rise yeast: This variant of instant yeast provides a very fast rise. It’s recommended for bread machine recipes.

Expert Tip
Use water that’s just warm to the touch when activating yeast. Water that’s too hot can kill the yeast.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Which is the best baker’s yeast for your needs?

Not all baker’s yeast is the same. 

One crucial factor when using yeast is time: determining when to start the rise and how long dough should rise. The longer a rise lasts, the more flavors develop in the dough. This is desirable for rustic-type breads but not so much for breads like sweet rolls, where you want the added flavors to shine through. In that case, bakers opt for a faster rise.

Here are a few common situations that may determine which baker’s yeast you choose:

You bake only a few times a year. Many bakers are only able to make time for baking on holidays like Easter and Christmas. Choose a baker’s yeast that has a long shelf life; active dry yeast stays in top shape for over a year at room temperature.

You have limited time but love to bake regularly. Instant yeast will knock 10 minutes (or more) off your prep time because you don’t have to rehydrate it.

You love to experiment. Compressed (cake) yeast is fun to work with and more reliable than sourdough starter. Keep active dry or instant yeast nearby as a backup.

You want the same results each time you bake. Instant yeast provides the most consistent rise because you use the same amount each time — without sacrificing some to rehydration and proofing.

You just want to throw the ingredients in a machine and walk away. Rapid-rise yeast is the perfect baker’s yeast for bread machines.

Active dry yeast and instant yeast can be used interchangeably in recipes because they rise at similar rates. Some bakers say they taste a difference in their finished breads depending on which type they used, but not everyone agrees.

Bakers can slow the speed of yeast production by keeping the dough cool for several hours. They can speed up the rise by keeping the dough in a warm spot.

Problems with baker’s yeast

Heat: Always measure the temperature of the water added to bread recipes. Hot water can kill the yeast, so keep it just warm to the touch to protect the yeast. Follow directions closely in this regard, if your recipe provides them.

Overproofing: Let bread dough rise too long, and it’ll overproof. (The air bubbles will have expanded too far, and the dough will no longer bounce back when pressed.) If overproofing occurs, you’ll have to compress and re-knead the dough, then let it rise one more time to recover.

Aging: Baker’s yeast has a finite shelf life. Active dry yeast lasts a year at room temperature. Instant and rapid-rise yeasts last a couple months less than that. However, you can extend the life of the yeast by keeping it in the freezer.

baker's yeast 1
Expert Tip
Some recipes measure yeast in teaspoons and others in how many packets to use. One ¼-oz packet of dry yeast equals 2 ¼ teaspoons.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

Why baker’s yeast is ideal for home chefs

  • Fast rise: With baker’s yeast, you can time how long it takes bread dough to rise—about 60 to 90 minutes, depending on the air temperature in the room.
  • Consistent performance: As long as baker’s yeast is viable, it will give you a nicely risen, quality bread, roll, or cake.
  • Distinct aroma: Freshly baked bread has an aroma that can’t be matched.
  • Versatility: You can make any yeast-risen recipe with baker’s yeast. This includes bread, cinnamon rolls, doughnuts, dinner rolls, brioche, crescent rolls, cakes, and more.
Expert Tip
Obey the expiration dates on your yeast! Embracing the life-cycle of yeast, fresh or dry, will get you the best results.
BestReviews Cooking and Baking Expert

How yeast made history

There are over 1,500 species of yeast, but just one, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, is used in baking. S. cerevisiae is a single-celled fungus that is likely related to a wild yeast that existed 5,000 years ago.

Like the wild yeasts of today, that ancient fungi was carried by air currents and landed on everything, including dough being prepared by the people of the Mediterranean basin. Yeast made bread puffy, light, and delicious. And so began a beautiful friendship.

Before baker’s yeast was developed in Europe, baking bread was a tricky task. Bakers used starters that relied on wild yeast (sometimes captured by mixing in wine grapes) or foam skimmed from beer vats.

A Dutch scientist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, identified the yeast organism in 1680, paving the way to better beer brewing. But reliable yeast for baking wasn’t available for another 200 years. In the mid-1800s, Austrian chemists developed a way to mass-produce dried yeast. It was sold in dried cakes. Like a lot of processed foods at the time, purity was a problem; yeast cakes were often adulterated with fillers like chalk or clay.

Different strains of S. cerevisiae were developed to enhance desired characteristics:

  • Baker’s yeast produces lots of carbon dioxide quickly, so the bread rises fast and generates almost no alcohol.
  • Brewer’s yeast is a different strain that is slower-acting and produces alcohol and carbon dioxide (the carbonation in beer).
  • Nutritional yeast is a strain of S. cerevisiae that has been grown on a sugary medium (usually molasses), then heated to kill the yeast cells and keep the nourishing B12 vitamins intact.

Today, baker’s yeast is made by the ton. But it all starts from a tiny amount of pure culture kept in test tubes by yeast manufacturers. The S. cerevisiae fungi are multiplied, then fermented in giant vats. Most of the liquid is removed by centrifuge, and the resulting “cream yeast” is processed into wet (fresh) and dry yeast for retail sale.

Accessories to optimize baker’s yeast

Storage canister

Just opened a bag of active dry yeast? Store it in an airtight canister, away from direct sunlight; square sides are shelf-friendly.

Kitchen scale

A kitchen scale is ideal when you need to take weight-based measurements of yeast, flour, and water to create the perfect bread loaf every time.

Mixing bowl

Stainless steel or shatterproof glass mixing bowls are ideal for mixing bread and pastry dough. They’re roomy and easy to clean afterward, and they can double as rising bowls.

Instant-read thermometer

Quickly double-check the temperature of the water before adding yeast with an instant-read thermometer. This handy tool can be used to check if bread or pastry is done baking, too.

baker's yeast 2
Did You Know?
Salt inhibits yeast growth and is included in bread recipes to control the rate at which baker’s yeast multiplies.
Staff
BestReviews

How much does baker’s yeast cost? 

Inexpensive

Active dry yeast and instant yeast are sold in three-packet packs for $3 to $6. These yeast packets are easy to store and contain just the right amount for home recipes.

Mid-range

For weekly baking, expect to pay between $7 and $10 for up to 1 pound of instant or active dry yeast.

Expensive

Compressed fresh yeast is pricey, running between $11 and $16 for a two-ounce cake. Fresh yeast usually lasts two to three weeks in the refrigerator, so only buy what you will use in that amount of time.

Tips

  • Follow the recipe. Bread recipes should specify the type of baker’s yeast to use and how long each rise period should last. Letting yeast work too long can overproof the bread.
  • Avoid sunlight. Store baker’s yeast in a cool, dry spot away from sunlight as well as heat sources (like stoves or radiator grilles).
  • Heat kills yeast. Avoid exposing baker’s yeast to high temperatures until it’s time to actually bake.
  • Experiment. Wondering how a different baker’s yeast, like fresh yeast, would work in a recipe? Make a test batch to learn how an unfamiliar yeast performs.
  • Double-check activity. Test baker’s yeast by mixing two teaspoons in a cup of lukewarm water along with a half-teaspoon of sugar. If the yeast is bubbly and expanding after 10 minutes, it’s still good to use.
substituting baker's yeast
When substituting one type of baker’s yeast for another in a recipe, check the side of the yeast package for conversion rates. Active dry yeast and instant yeast are about equal, but the amount of compressed yeast is much greater than dry yeast.

FAQ

Q. Is baker’s yeast gluten-free?

A. Baker’s yeast typically is gluten-free, but to be on the safe side, choose a baker’s yeast that is labeled as gluten-free. 

Q. Is baker’s yeast alive?

A. It is! When packaged, baker’s yeast is in an inactive state, effectively asleep but still alive. When you add inactive yeast to flour and room-temperature water, the yeast wakes up and starts doing the two things it does best: eating and farting. The yeast keeps doing this, producing the carbon dioxide that makes baked goods rise, until heated past a certain temperature. Heat kills yeast. So keep your baker’s yeast away from heat until it’s time to use it.

Q. Is baker’s yeast prokaryotic or eukaryotic?

A. Science time! Baker’s yeast is a single-celled organism that is considered eukaryotic because of its cellular structure. It has almost the same organelles as a mature eukaryotic cell, and it has a nucleus and a behavior very different from that of bacteria (which are prokaryotic). 

In fact, S. cerevisiae yeast is used in studies as a “model organism” to help scientists understand the biological processes in other kinds of cells.

Q. Is baker’s yeast vegan?

A. Baker’s yeast is indeed vegan, as it grows naturally in soil and plants, and no animals need to suffer or be exploited to obtain it. For those looking for a vegan-friendly nutritional supplement, avoid eating baker’s yeast directly (or any active form of yeast). Use deactivated nutritional yeast instead.

Q. Can I make beer with baker’s yeast?

A. Yes, it’s possible to make beer with baker’s yeast, and you can also make bread with brewer’s yeast! Because each type is optimized for a different task, you’ll experience some odd flavors when using them. Brewer’s yeast may give bread a bitter tang (which some find desirable), while baker’s yeast imparts a strong yeast smell to finished beer.

Q. Can I make baker’s yeast at home?

A. It’s possible, but doing so takes several days and lots of patience, and the results can be wildly inconsistent. (Bakers who love to experiment are probably rubbing their hands with glee just thinking about the challenge.) The most consistent homemade rising medium is a pre-ferment like sourdough, a lactobacillus-rich product with a trademark sour aroma, or poolish.

Q. How do I avoid using baker’s yeast? I have a yeast allergy.

A. Yeast allergy can cause everything from gastrointestinal problems to skin rash. Severe anaphylaxis is also a possibility. So, those with a diagnosed yeast allergy must avoid bread, cake, alcoholic beverages, nutritional yeast, and spreads like Marmite or Vegemite.

Thankfully, there are alternatives to yeast-risen breads. “Quick” breads made with baking soda or baking powder (or both) are easy to make. Flatbreads, tortillas, and crackers are made without yeast. But in all cases, you should check the ingredient listing on the package to be sure it’s safe for your diet.

Get to know Andrea Boudewijn, our cooking and baking expert.

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