If You’re Making Bread, You Should Know the Different Types of Yeasts

Words: Katrina Rose Wind

People have been baking bread for centuries, even today, bread baking hasn’t lost its popularity. The magic ingredient of any great bread is the leavening agent, and if you want to take your bread-making skills to the next level, you should know the difference between wild, instant and active dry yeast.

What Is Yeast?

Before you learn about the difference between various types of yeast, you should probably understand what it is. Yeast are single-celled fungi – basically, small organisms in various forms that feed off sugar. They then break down sugars into carbon dioxide, ethanol, energy and flavour molecules; this process is called fermentation. In bread baking, once yeast is able to ferment the sugar, it expels carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is what causes the dough to rise and inflate.

Wild Yeast

Let’s start at the beginning. Thousands of different yeasts thrive in nature and – surprise, surprise – our homes. All yeast really needs is a medium for it to start congregating – this is where the sourdough starter comes in – some flour and water and voilá, a few days later you have your live culture. In order to keep it alive, it needs to be ‘fed’ twice a day or weekly, so that the yeast can remain alive. Wild yeast likes to be in warm spots while it’s still growing, but once you have enough and you won’t be making any bread any time soon, that’s when it can move to the fridge. Once in the fridge, it only needs to be fed weekly.

You might be wondering: why even bother with wild yeast when you can buy packets from the shops? Well, before we get into the differences between packet yeast, you should know why wild yeast is preferred in certain bread recipes. It all boils down to texture and flavour.

Bread or other baked goods that have been made with wild yeast is incomparable; the flavours are layered and complex, and the texture is ‘poofier’ and easier to chew. This is why baking aficionados keep a sourdough starter in a jar in the back of their fridge at all times.


How To Make Your Own Starter

If you haven’t been lucky enough to get passed down a sourdough starter, fear not. Making a starter is not that complicated. Wild yeast is present in all flour, so cultivating it at home is easy. Simply combine white bread flour and whole grain flour with water, and let it sit at a warm room temperature for 24 hours. On the second day, discard a little bit and add more flour and water. By the third day, bubbles will start to form in the starter, which means it’s now time to begin two feedings a day.

In order to keep it alive, you have to continue to feed the starter with fresh flour and water; let it sit in a warm spot, preferably in direct sunlight. Think of the starter as a Tamagotchi, so kind of like a pet that needs to be fed in order to survive. Once the starter has been fed twice daily for a couple of days, it should be almost foamy, and a different kind of bubbly. This means the starter is ready for use.

Once you have used it and don’t really have the time to feed it twice a day, it is perfectly okay to store your starter in the fridge; remember to feed it just once a week. The colour and texture will be different once stored in the fridge – it might appear a bit frothy, and there might be a bit of clear liquid on the top. You can scoop it out or mix it in; it’s just alcohol from the yeast fermenting.

Unlike a starter that has been kept out of the fridge, you need to do some prep a couple of days before you start baking your bread. You need to take your starter out of the fridge and start feeding it twice a day for several days before you can bake. Once it starts looking healthy and alive again, you can use it to make some delicious baked goods.

Instant Yeast

Just because it’s sold in a packet, that doesn’t make it any less alive than wild yeast. Instant yeast is granular in texture, but smaller in size than active-dry yeast. The good thing about this type of packet yeast is that it does not have to be proofed first. If a recipe calls for instant yeast, you can simply add the yeast straight into the dry ingredients.

It’s best to keep your packet in a cool place. If you’re not going to use the whole packet, make sure to put it in the fridge right after. One thing to note is that instant yeast makes the dough rise quicker than active-dry yeast. Make sure to follow the expiration date – it is not advised to use yeast after the expiration date.


Active Dry Yeast

Last but not least, the most common store-bought packet of yeast. Unlike instant yeast, you cannot add this straight into your dry ingredients. This yeast is dormant and needs to be rehydrated before use. The way you ‘poof’ it up is by dissolving it in a small amount of lukewarm water.

Active dry yeast takes a bit more time to get the dough to rise. Many baking aficionados appreciate the longer rise time of active dry yeast because it can enhance the flavour of the bread or baked goods. Like instant yeast, this should be kept in a cool place and once opened, should be refrigerated.

If you’re using a recipe that calls for either instant or active dry yeast, and you only have one type, don’t stress. They can be used interchangeably. However, if you are going to use active dry yeast when a recipe calls for instant, make sure to give it some additional time to rise.

Check out these bread recipes that you can easily make at home. Happy baking!

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