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April 17, 2012
Which Yeast Should You Use?
Bakers today have a lot of options when it comes to yeast. Does it really
matter which one you use? Paula Figoni, author of the book How Baking
Works, states that instant yeast is the way to go. According to the
scientific story, instant yeast allows better gluten development because of
the way its made.
Let’s start with a little background on the making of commercial yeast.
Active dry yeast is grown in a moist environment, then sprayed onto a
screen and dried. This is relatively harsh on the yeast and kills many of the
little guys in the process. The dead yeast contains high levels of
glutathione, a small protein, that tends to inhibit gluten development. By
contrast, rapid rise and instant yeast are dried down in a gentler manner that
results in more living yeast per unit of measure and less glutathione.
Because of this difference in processing, professional bakers typically
prefer instant yeast and recommend it over active dry yeast.
So should the home baker steer away from active dry yeast? To help
answer the question, I performed an admittedly limited and nonblinded
comparison of three types of yeast: active dry yeast, rapid rise (bread
machine) yeast, and instant yeast. I should note that rapid rise (bread
machine) yeast and instant yeast are very similar products made by the
same process. The only difference is that instant yeast typically has some
ascorbic acid (vitamin C) added to help with the rise.
To compare the yeasts, I made baguettes, keeping the loaves a bit shorter
and fatter than usual so I could fit all three loaves on my baking stone at the
same time. All doughs had identical moisture levels and were given the
same stirring, folding, and shaping.
Looking at the three types of yeast, one can see that the rapid rise yeast and
instant yeast look identical, and appear denser than active dry yeast. I had a
little trouble deciding how much yeast to measure out when mixing up and
comparing doughs. Since rapid rise and instant yeast are more dense and
contain more living yeast per unit of measure, one should be able to use less
yeast by volume compared to active dry yeast to make the same dough.
Making my single baguette calls for 2 tsp of active dry yeast. For the
purposes of the experiment, should I use 2 tsp of rapid rise and instant
yeast or cut back to 1 ½ or even 1 tsp? To help make any differences in
activity more clear, and to keep things simple, I stuck with 2 tsp of yeast
for all three baguettes.
Here is a photo of the doughs at 1 ½ hours after mixing up. To my eye,
they all look to be risen about the same amount. The label on the rapid rise
yeast states that it rises 50% faster. Fifty percent faster than what?
Anyway, the doughs were refrigerated after a couple hours at room
temperature and baked up the next day.
As you can see, the baguettes looked identical (and looked identical on the
So, at least with the type of no-knead recipes I make, the type of yeast
doesn’t appear to make any difference and I would say you can use them
interchangeably. If you measure by volume, you could even use a bit less
instant yeast than the amount of yeast my recipes call for. If a recipe calls
for 1 ½ Tbsp of active dry yeast, you should be able to get the same bang
out of 1 Tbsp of instant yeast.
All that being said, I’ll start using SAF instant yeast due to the big savings.
A 4 oz jar of Red Star or Fleischmann’s yeast costs over five bucks at my
local grocery, while a 16 oz package of SAF instant yeast costs $ 4.99 at
my local U Bake. That’s four times as much yeast for slightly less money.
No wonder commercial bakers prefer instant yeast! One thing though, if
you use SAF instant yeast you probably want to get some type of storage
canister as the bag it comes in isn’t real great for storage once opened.
(King Arthur Flour sells a 16 oz cannister). Of course, you could always
use sourdough, which is tastier, more natural, and free!