Yeast comes in many forms, and each type works a bit differently.  From Active Dry yeast to Rapid Rise or Instant yeast, each of these dry varieties of yeast work rather quickly when making pan/sandwich bread and when compared to a sourdough or natural yeast starter.  Fresh yeast also takes a bit longer but is just as effective.  


Yeast is the ingredient that allows your dough to rise.  Without yeast, you have flat or unleavened bread.  Yeast can be dry, cake/compressed or wet like a sourdough starter, but each type of yeast has the same function when it comes to getting your dough to rise.  Below are listed the most common types of yeast and when and how you would use them.




Yeast - Bread Science

  • Active Dry yeast - A dry yeast that requires activation or proofing to begin the yeast/fermentation process.  Active dry yeast has been around as long as your grandmother - perhaps longer, but real grandma's used sourdough starter.  I loved my grandma and her bread was awesome, but things have changed and we don't all keep sourdough starters in the pantry any longer.  Active dry yeast was the first of the dry yeasts to help speed up the rising process.  To proof Active Dry yeast, simply add the yeast to 1/4 cup of water and a pinch of sugar, give it a stir to disolve the yeast and wait 5 minutes. The yeast will begin to foam and bubble, or proof.  At that point, you can add the water/yeast mixture to the other ingredients in your bread.  

  • Rapid Rise or Instant yeast - Years ago, the yeast God's decided that Active Dry yeast wasn't fast enough and besides, it was a bit messy - all that foaming and bubbling and proofing.  So they invented Rapid Rise/Instant yeast which causes dough to rise even faster - sometimes up to twice as fast. We all like the taste of fresh bread, but we don't like to wait.  Rapid Rise was the answer to the wait game, AND it didn't require proofing.  Coincidentally, instant yeast is also the type of yeast used in bread machine recipes.  Whether in a bread machine or in other recipes, just toss it in with the other ingredients and no worries, it all comes together and rises like a dream.  However, time is a friend to great bread.  The more time bread is given to rise and ferment, the better the flavor.  The time issue applies more to artisan breads which require longer rise cycles, but the flavor of pan breads can also benefit from a slower rise.  However, since the flavor of pan bread is usually determined by other ingredients (type of wheat, oils, herbs, sweetners), Rapid Rise/Instant yeast works quite well and makes a great loaf of bread.

  • Fresh yeast - Sometimes referred to as cake or compressed yeast, this yeast is usually found in the refrigerated section of the store - if the store carries it at all.  In some parts of the country, fresh yeast is a bit hard to find.  Fresh yeast works wonderfully for longer rise cycles and also has to be proofed in order to be activated.  When using fresh yeast, the amount of yeast by weight will also increase compared to dry yeast.  See the yeast conversion chart for more information on how dry and fresh yeast compare in standard recipes.  Fresh yeast also has a fairly short shelf life.  The yeast will keep 2-3 weeks in your refridgerator.  Check the yeast before using to make sure it has not discolored or turned moldy.  Fresh yeast means fresh.  It can go bad just like other items in your fridge if not watched closely.  If you choose to use fresh yeast, I would recommend using a sponge to start your bread. The sponge method allows the yeast to proof and also helps strengthen the gluten while the bread is being made.  The sponge is explained in more detail in the ??? link.

  • Sourdough starter - also known as natural yeast, since this type of yeast is literally grown and cared for in your own kitchen, pantry or fridge.  I'll use these two terms interchangably.  More than any other yeast, sourdough yeast helps flavor the bread.  However, natural yeast also requires a long rise.  But regardless of the type, yeast is a live culture giving bread life, volume and flavor.   I've dedicated a whole section to sourdough/natural yeast on the ??? link.  Creating and keeping a sourdough is a wonderful skill to learn.  The yeast can be used time and time again in not only bread, but also for pancakes, waffles, muffins, batter breads and even smoothies.  Unlike other types of yeast, natural yeast is a probiotic, full of good, live cultures that offer a host of health benefits.  When using sourdough, most bread reciepes will require up to 1/2 to 1 cup of starter for each loaf of bread (compared to 1 packet or 2 1/2 teaspoons of dry yeast).  Using sourdough is a very different method for making bread, but if you have the time, it is well worth the effort.

  • Brewers yeast - This type of yeast is not a bread yeast, at least for this forum.  Used to make alcoholic beverages, I mention brewers yeast here only because some may have heard of this type of yeast and confuse it with the types of yeast described above used in making bread.  

  • Yeast Conversion Chart - If you ever need to move from one type of yeast to another, the Yeast Conversion Chart is very helpful to view conversion information when using Active Dry, Rapid Rise/Instant and Fresh yeast.  By weight, each type of yeast is different for the amount used.  If you are using the same type of yeast every time for your bread recipes, there's no need for the chart but it's helpful to make conversions if needed.