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Which Baker’s Yeast to Use? Understanding the Differences between Instant, Active and Fresh Yeast

Updated on December 7, 2009

The recipe calls for instant yeast and you’re looking at a package of active yeast that’s been sitting in your pantry. Will it work?!?

Read on to learn:

  1. The types of yeast available
  2. What yeast is and what it does
  3. How to interchange yeasts
  4. How to use yeast

The three basic types of yeast that you can use to bake bread are:

  1. Fresh yeast
  2. Active yeast
  3. Instant yeast

What Is Yeast?

Yeast is a type of fungi. There are thousands of different types of yeast, but the type used in bread making is called Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

How Does Yeast Leaven Bread?

Yeast consumes the sugars in flour (and/or sugar added to a bread dough) and produces carbon dioxide and ethanol as byproducts.

  1. The carbon dioxide produced forms gas bubbles that raise and lighten the dough.
  2. The ethanol produced is burnt off in the baking process, and has no effect on the finished product. (unless a dough is over-proofed and too much ethanol is produced, in such cases the finished bread can taste beery/yeasty)

Can I Substitute 1 Form of Yeast for Another?


All 3 kinds of yeast can be used to make any kind of leavened bread. You can use any of the 3 types of yeast for any recipe, provided you follow the instructions for the type of yeast you are using.

The 3 Kinds of Yeast

Active Yeast

  • A package of active yeast consists of yeast cells that have been dehydrated and then coated with a protective inactive coating
  • To use active dried yeast, you must first rehydrate and activate the yeast, by soaking it in warm 110f water for a few minutes

Instant Yeast

  • Instant yeast is dehydrated similarly to active yeast, but the yeast cells are not coated with any protective coating. Because they lack a coating, they are much smaller in size and do not require any rehydration prior to using.
  • To use instant yeast, simply add it in with the dry ingredients in your recipe

Fresh Yeast

  • Yeast cells that are kept dormant through refrigeration living in a ‘cake’ of compressed carbohydrates, often some form of starch
  • Fresh yeast is the least commonly used type of yeast for home baking applications, as it only survives for a couple of weeks, after which time the yeasts die and the fresh yeast is inactive
  • Fresh yeast is commonly sold in .6 ounce ‘cakes’ which are equivalent to one 7 gram package of active yeast
  • To use fresh yeast, you do not need to ‘activate it’ just mix it in with the liquid or dry ingredients on your recipe


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    • mysticalrose profile image

      mysticalrose 4 years ago

      That is interesting information. I didn't know the difference was there. Thanks. I use any kind of yeast but use warm water to dissolve it whether its active or instant.

    • John D Lee profile image

      John D Lee 8 years ago

      Hi Pollyannalana - you should give it a try - it's not as scary as you think !

    • Pollyannalana profile image

      Pollyannalana 8 years ago from US

      Thx, great info,Ive only ever know one yeast and half afraid of it, I don't get much in to bread making, my Mom was wonderful at it and I can still remember the aroma, there is nothing like it. Maybe I will give it a try this winter and check back with you.