ic: YEAST - Fresh vs Active vs Instant

Active, instant, and fresh: what are the differences between the most common types of baking yeasts, and how should you use them for home baking?

Approaching a recipe that calls for yeast can feel like an intimidating proposition. There are plenty of confusing terms, labels and uses for the different kinds of baking yeast. But baking with yeast doesn’t have to be complicated!

We’re covering everything you need to know about the major kinds of baking yeast, as well as when and how to use them. This is important information for everyone from the beginning home baker to the professional bread master.




What is Yeast? 

ic: What is Yeast?

Baker’s yeast is a living single-celled organism that’s used in baking recipes to help doughs rise. The organism’s scientific name is Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Under the right conditions, yeast converts sugar and starches into carbon dioxide and alcohol, which in turn causes doughs and batters to rise. Yeasted breads have the signature air bubbles and springy texture that you love in everything from baguettes and sandwich breads to rich brioche and challah.

The conditions that yeast needs for activity include warmth, moisture, and enough food. In such an environment, yeast will begin the process of creating carbon dioxide and alcohol known as fermentation. More commonly, recipes refer to the fermentation phase of baking simply as “rising.” But much like grapes and grains ferment into wine and beet, so too does your bread dough!


How Does Yeast Cause Bread To Rise?

As the yeast is exposed to food (in the form of ingredients like flour, sugar, and milk), heat and moisture in bread dough, it grows increasingly active. The active yeast transforms its food into bubbles of carbon dioxide gas, which get trapped inside the dough.

ic: Bubbles of Carbon Dioxide Gas

Because bread dough is so stretchy, thanks to plenty of gluten, proteins instead of opening up to allow the carbon dioxide to escape, the dough simply rises to make room for the gasses. This takes a bit of time, but under warm conditions, it can happen fairly quickly.

Sugar is a more readily available food source for yeast than starches in wheat flour, so sweetened bread doughs tend to rise even faster than simple flour and water doughs. If you’re looking for a quick and easy yeasted bread recipe, opt for one that includes a bit of sugar or honey.


Common Varieties of Yeast

The most common varieties of baking yeast that you’ll see at the grocery store are fresh and active dry yeast.

What is Fresh Yeast?


ic: Blocks of Fresh Yeast

Fresh yeast is less common for home bakers, but it’s often used in commercial kitchens and bakeries.

Fresh yeast, also called cake yeast, is sold in large bricks. Bakers chip off enough yeast to use in their recipes. For this reason, fresh yeast is often listed as a weight, rather than a volume measurement in recipes.

Fresh yeast is, as the name suggests, fresher, and therefore less shelf-stable than active dry yeast. It contains more moisture and must be stored in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator. It also doesn’t have the same lengthy shelf-life as its relatives. Luckily, commercial bakeries go through so much fresh yeast, they don’t have to worry about it dying.


What is Active Dry Yeast

ic: Active Dry Yeast - The most common type of baking yeast

The other most common type of baking yeast is active dry yeast. This is more commonly found at grocery stores and in home kitchens. If you’re new to baking, pick up a bag of active dry yeast for your first foray into yeasted breads.

Active dry yeast is also best stored in the refrigerator after opening, as the cold temperatures keep the yeast cells dormant and fresh. It’s often sold in individual packets, which measure out to  2¼ teaspoons, or 7 grams.


Active Dry vs. Instant Yeast

Within the active dry yeast category, there is a further breakdown of yeast varieties. Instant yeast is the same as active dry yeast, but it’s been processed into smaller particles. If you compare the two side by side, you may see that active dry yeast has larger pieces than instant yeast.

ic: Activating the Yeast

However, the biggest difference between the two varieties of dry yeast comes when it's time to bake. Active dry yeast needs to be “activated” at the beginning of a recipe. To activate yeast, sprinkle it on top of slightly warm water (110-115°F). Within about 10 minutes, the water should be cloudy with small bubbles on the surface. This is a sign that your yeast organisms are activated and ready to help your bread rise! From here, you can continue adding the rest of your dough ingredients.

If you don’t see any changes to the yeast and water mixture within 10 minutes, the yeast might be dead and shouldn’t be used. Fresher, younger and more active yeast will activate faster in water.

Instant yeast, on the other hand, is ready to be used straight out of the bag, no activation necessary. For this reason, instant yeast is a favorite among beginner bakers.


Rising Dough With Yeast

After you’ve mixed up your yeasted bread dough, your recipe will likely instruct you to rise the dough. It’s best to do this in a warm place. In the summer, you can rise your bread right on the kitchen counter. But if you live in a cooler climate, inside the oven is a great place for rising dough. Just make sure your oven is off before putting anything inside!

It’s best to rise dough in a lightly greased mixing bowl. This ensures that your dough will rise smoothly, rather than getting stuck on the sides of a dry bowl.

ic: Trapping the heat inside the bowl with a full cover

And finally, cover your bowl with a clean dish towel or with plastic wrap. This protects your masterpiece from anything that might fall into it, and helps trap the heat inside for a faster rise.

If you miscalculated the timing of your bread rising, you can always slow down a rise by putting your dough in the fridge. Cold temperatures dampen yeast’s activity for a slower rise.


Substituting Different Kinds of Yeast

If your recipe calls for instant yeast and you only have active dry yeast, you can substitute it by using 1.25 times the amount called for in the recipe. For example, 1 teaspoon of instant yeast is equivalent to 1¼ teaspoons of active dry yeast. Just remember to activate the yeast in warm water first!

ic: Delicious Bakes with your new knowledge of Yeast

By the same token, 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast can be substituted with ¾ teaspoon of instant yeast.

To substitute fresh yeast, you’ll need half of a block of fresh yeast for 1 teaspoon of instant yeast and a third of a block of fresh yeast for 1 teaspoon instant yeast. 

Now that you’re familiar with the most common kinds of baking yeasts, it’s time to preheat your oven and get mixing!


What types of Yeast do you use most often? And what would you like to try using for your next bake? You can leave a comment below! Also, do help a friend struggling with understanding the different types of Yeast by sharing this post :)

Lastly, if you’ve made your yummy cupcakes but hate transporting them, our Cupcake Carriers saves you time and frustration when transporting large quantities of cupcakes. Check out our cupcake carrier collection by clicking here.