If you’ve been making bread for a while, you will know that it can be tricky and time-consuming.
It requires a lot of waiting around, a lot of rising, and a lot of elbow grease.
You should also know that yeast is a key ingredient in making bread.
You can make bread with just flour and water and a few other ingredients, but yeast is what makes the dough rise, creating all those bubbles that you see form while your dough is proving.
But with so many different types of yeast, how do we know what yeast is best for bread?
What is yeast used for?
Yeast is a single-celled microorganism that is part of the fungus family.
Yeast needs food and warmth to thrive in. And yeast’s favourite food? Sugar!
Wait a minute… I need food, warmth, and my favourite food is sugar…does that mean…I am like yeast?!
Okay, now that I have accepted I am basically a form of yeast, let’s continue.
Yeast, to grow, eats on the sugars. The sugar can come from natural sugars in the flour or the extra sugar or honey we add to the dough.
You can make bread without sugar, but if you want a nice rise to your dough, it’s definitely a good idea to add some.
If you don’t want to add any refined sugars, pure honey is also a great substitute.
As the yeast spends some time eating the sugar away, it begins to expand the dough and carbon dioxide begins to form.
Because the dough is very elastic and taut, the carbon dioxide can’t escape from anywhere, causing the dough to rise and create all the bubbles we were talking about.
During the fermentation stage (also known as the proofing/rising stage), the ethyl alcohol produced while rising is what gives yeast-leavened bread the distinctive yeasty aroma and taste.
The longer you ferment the dough, the pungier the yeasty aroma and taste will be.
There are so many different types of yeast, not just bread yeast.
For the purposes of this article, we will only focus on the types of yeast for making bread.
Types of yeast for baking bread
You’re at the baking section at the supermarket looking for yeast and you find yourself wondering what yeast is best for bread.
At the supermarket, you will most likely find two types of yeast for bread, active dry yeast and instant yeast.
Another type of yeast that can be a bit harder to find but still readily available is fresh yeast.
All these different types of yeasts can be used to make bread.
Active Dry Yeast
Active dry yeast is very popular in bread making and can be found in most grocery stores and online.
In the UK, it is usually found in jars, but it can also be sold in individual packets.
Active dry yeast looks like little small granules, similar to cornmeal.
Once opened, active dry yeast needs to be stored in the fridge as leaving it in a cupboard can kill it and deactivate its ability to rise your dough.
It’s called active dry yeast because it needs to be activated before it is mixed in with dry ingredients.
You would usually dissolve the yeast in warm water or milk, depending on the type of dough you are making.
With active dry yeast, you want to let it sit for up to 15 minutes until the liquid mixture becomes nice and frothy. That’s how you know it’s active.
Once it’s activated, you pour the liquid into your dry ingredients and proceed with making the dough like you normally would, either by kneading it for 8 to 10 minutes or letting it ferment and rise overnight.
Instant yeast is similar to active dry yeast in that you can find it in all grocery stores and online.
It is usually sold in packets containing 8 sachets of 7g of yeast.
It can also be found in jars or in large packets. Just like with active dry yeast, if you get it in a jar or a large packet, make sure to store it in the fridge once opened so it stays fresh for longer.
Instant yeast is probably the best one to use for bread, especially if you are making bread in the bread machine. This type of yeast doesn’t have to be activated in liquid-like active dry yeast needs to.
You can mix instant yeast directly with your dry ingredients. This makes it ideal for making bread in the bread machine as you can add all your ingredients in the bread pan directly, rather than activating the yeast separately.
It also works well if you take advantage of your bread machine’s delay timer.
Since you are leaving all your ingredients in the bread pan overnight, you can add the yeast on top of the flour all night without worrying it will deactivate.
Instant yeast might also be sold as rapid-rise yeast, quick-rise yeast or easy-bake yeast.
All of these types of yeast work in a similar manner as instant yeast, so there is no need to activate them in water.
Fresh yeast isn’t as commonly used in bread. But, it can still be found at grocery stores, although not as easily as instant yeast or active dry yeast.
Fresh yeast, also known as ‘cake yeast’, can be found in big blocks in the refrigerated aisle at the grocery store.
It has quite a crumbly texture and just like active dry yeast, I would dissolve it in water before it is mixed in with the dry ingredients.
Fresh yeast doesn’t need to be activated like active dry yeast, but since it’s in much larger pieces, dissolving it in water makes it easier to mix it in with the rest of your ingredients.
It has a very high moisture content, it has to be kept in the fridge and used within a few weeks of purchasing.
How to store yeast
If you buy instant yeast or active dry yeast that is in packs of 8 individual sachets, the sachets can be stored easily in your pantry.
Typically one sachet contains around 7g of yeast. Depending on the type of dough you are making, you might use the whole sachet or you might use half of it.
Anything that is leftover, you can store in a small airtight container in the fridge. Storing opened yeast in the fridge will keep it fresh for longer and can last up to 4 to 6 months.
An unopened packet of yeast, whether it is in a jar or in individual sachets, can be kept in your pantry for up to 2 years or more.
Fresh yeast, like we mentioned above, needs to be stored in the fridge immediately after purchase, regardless whether it’s been opened or not.
Once open, fresh yeast needs to be used fairly soon.
You can also store yeast in the freezer. If opened, you can store it in the freezer for 6 months and if unopened, it can last a few years.
Fresh yeast can also be stored in the freezer, but will only last a few months.
What yeast is best for bread?
If you’re going to reach for any type of yeast at the grocery store, go for instant yeast contained in individual sachets or in a jar.
Instant yeast has a long shelf life and you don’t need to faff around with proofing the yeast in water for 15 minutes beforehand.
It’s easy to use and activates fast, making it the ideal yeast for bread.
Instant yeast is that one that I have a constant supply of in my pantry and my preferred choice in all my yeasted doughs.
Now that we know what yeast is best for bread, you won’t find yourself going back and forth at the supermarket wondering which one to get.
I think by now you will know I am a huge fan of using instant yeast, and you should be too. It’s very hassle free to use and is quick and easy.
I have used active dry yeast in the past and is a good alternative if you can’t get your hands on instant yeast.
Fresh yeast isn’t something I have experimented with, perhaps I should.
The fact it comes in blocks and doesn’t last very long is enough to put me off it.
I like knowing I have a gazillion packets of yeast in the pantry that I know won’t go out of date any time soon.