Yeast - Different Types and How To Use Them

dried yeast
You've bought yeast, or you've found some in the cupboard. It's quite likely to be different from the yeast specified in the recipe you want to use.

Can you still use it?

Many people panic at this point, and decide to buy more yeast.

But stop!

Rest assured, your yeast will work fine - so long as it's within its sell-by date.

This article explains the difference between the various types of yeast on the market and how to use any of them in my bread recipes.

Types of Yeast

There are three main types of yeast available in the shops.

1. Fresh yeast - This is the hardest to get, as far as I know. It is sometimes found in the fridge section of larger supermarkets but I haven't seen any for a while.

2. Dried yeast - Widely available and likely to be sold in tins (see picture at the top of the article)

3. Instant dried yeast - Also widely available and very easily confused with plain old 'dried yeast'. I'll come to the differences in a moment. (This is what I use.)

There is a fourth type of yeast to consider.

4. Wild yeast - This is the sort of yeast that you might cultivate to make sourdough. I will be writing a series about sourdough soon, but for the purposes of this article, I'll stick to the more commercially available types of yeast: fresh, dried and instant.

Ok, so what's the difference?

Fresh yeast is exactly as it sounds - refrigerated, live yeast cells.

fresh yeast
Fresh Yeast

Dried yeast is the same yeast but - you guessed it - dried. Drying the yeast makes it dormant, so it keeps for longer and doesn't need to be refrigerated. Ordinary dried yeast is formed into small pellets of a few millimetres in diameter.

dried yeast
Dried yeast is in relatively large pellets

instant yeast
Instant yeast is in tiny pellets

Instant dried yeast is the same as ordinary dried yeast but formed into tinier pellets.

Each type of yeast requires a different way of working.

The choice is entirely yours - do you prefer working with fresh yeast or dried? Do you like to work with ordinary dried yeast or prefer the convenience of instant yeast?

Aargh! How should I know?! Tell me more!

The different types of yeast require different ways of working.

Both fresh and ordinary dried yeast need to be activated before adding them to your other ingredients.

Activating the yeast is necessary because it helps to start the fermentation process that is going to generate the carbon dioxide to make your bread rise.

How to activate fresh yeast

Fresh yeast is in too big a lump to be easily distributed throughout your dough, so you need to break it down and liquefy it by adding water.

Take a teaspoonful of fresh yeast add a few millilitres of warm water. Leave it for a few minutes until the lump of yeast softens and mixes with the water. Adding some sugar at this stage can help to start fermentation.

How to activate dried yeast

Dried yeast (the ordinary kind, not the instant sort) is also in too-big chunks. And it is dormant.

Take a teaspoonful of dried yeast and stir it into a few millilitres of warm water. I do this in the bowl I'm going to mix the bread in, that way I just need to add the other ingredients to the activated yeast.

dried yeast
Dried yeast in a bowl

activating dried yeast
Water has been added to the dried yeast

After about five minutes, the chunks of yeast will have disintegrated and will stir easily into the liquid, making the yeast easier to incorporate into your dough.

activating dried yeast
The yeast has been incorporated into the water

Wetting the yeast will also awaken it from its dormancy, enabling it to start the fermentation process.

Again, adding sugar at this stage can encourage fermentation but is not necessary.

Here's the same yeast after I added sugar and waited half an hour - you can see froth forming on the surface, which shows that the yeast is active. You don't need to wait that long to use your yeast though - a couple of minutes will be sufficient.

fermenting yeast
Bubbles on the surface show that fermentation is occurring

No need to activate instant yeast

Instant dried yeast can be added directly to your dough mixture without prior activation. The clumps of yeast are small enough to disintegrate easily when stirred into wet dough.

But your recipe says instant yeast - what do I do?

If you have instant dried yeast, great!  You can follow any of my easy bread recipes directly.

However, if you have fresh or un-instant dried yeast, simply activate your yeast as directed above (or per the instructions on the packet if you prefer).

Use about one teaspoonful of yeast per loaf.

Add the activated yeast along with the rest of the ingredients and proceed as per the recipe.

"Fresh Yeast" image courtesy of Pollas under the Creative Commons Licence.


  1. I found fresh yeast on amazon from l'hirondelle. It arrived today still cold from the enclosed ice pack. I made a granary and white loaf. Smells and tastes delicious.

    1. Good tip! Thanks Alice. That sounds lovely :)

  2. Morrison's do fresh yeast too, in the chilled aisle near the butter

  3. Sainsbury also ask at the fresh bread

  4. I get my fresh yeast for free, from the bakers at my local supermarket. To buy large quantities would be wasteful for me, so three or four ounces (100g or so) at a time is perfect and, as the man said, they waste a lot more than that themselves. Not all bakeries will do this, but it's worth asking.
    One of the bakers there is also apprentice trained, rather than merely supermarket trained and is always happy to pass on hints and tips, not just on bread, but on pastry, cakes, enriched doughs, what have you.

  5. Why is there no means to edit or to delete a post on here?

    1. Hmmm. Not sure... I can see a delete option below my comments, but not an 'edit' option. I can delete on your behalf, as site editor, if you like.

  6. Very clear and helpful info. Thank you, now I understand!


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