The Best Yeast for Home Bakers: Instant Yeast Vs. Active Dry

A look at the different kinds of yeast available for home bread bakers, and the only kind you actually need.

wooden surface with instant yeast in mason jar and teaspoon

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One of the biggest issues that people seem to have with baking bread is dealing with the yeast.  There is a lot of conflicting advice out there. Do you need to mix it with water and sugar to activate it and wait for it to foam?  Are we supposed to dissolve the yeast? Wait, I thought it wasn’t supposed to get wet! Don’t let it touch the salt! And so on.  

Well, there is one easy bread baking decision you can make that will let you ignore all that advice and have no trouble with your yeast.  When you switch to instant yeast, you just add it in like any other ingredient and never worry about any of that. If you don’t need to hear all the reasons why and just want to order some, here is the kind I use and recommend.

Let’s discuss the differences between instant yeast vs active dry.

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    Different types of yeast:

    Active dry. 

    This is the “typical” yeast that you kind at the grocery store.  It comes in packets and the most common brand is Fleischmann’s.  

    Instant: 

    This has slightly smaller grains than active dry and does not need to be dissolved in water.  

    Fast acting yeast: 

    This is a type of instant yeast that is specifically formulated to work extra fast.  Rapid rise is made by Fleischmann’s and is the most accessible brand. It is NOT the same thing as instant yeast..  (I do not ever use this kind.)

    (There is also an old-fashioned cake yeast, and a special bread machine yeast, but they are less common and I’ve never used them.)

    So why is instant yeast better than active dry?

     It always works.

    The packets you buy at the store have a much shorter shelf life and occasionally you will get one that has lost its ability to work, even if it’s not past the expiration date.  This is why you will need to mix it will water and let it foam. It’s just showing you whether its still good before you waste all your time and ingredients.

    Instant yeast, however, does not have this problem.  It is much more shelf stable and arrives at your home vacuum sealed.  It will reliably last more than a year, so you can just add it to your bread dough with confidence.  Never worry about fresh yeast again.

     It comes in bulk so you can measure the exact amount you need

    Active dry yeast comes in frustrating packets that contain 2 ¼ teaspoons of yeast.  If you only need 1 teaspoon, well you can try to seal it up somehow or just throw it out.  Very annoying.

    Instant yeast, on the other hand, comes in a 1 pound block.  You simply pour it into a quart sized container such as a mason jar and pop it in the freezer.  Then you measure out the exact amount you need and don’t have to waste any.  

     It is much less expensive

    At my grocery store, a packet of yeast is about $1.50.  Remember that a packet of yeast is good for 1 or 2 loaves of bread and that’s it.  So the yeast becomes a big expense every time you bake. If you are using active dry packets, the yeast will be your biggest expense for each loaf.

    Instant yeast, in contrast, is bought by the pound and is well under ten dollars per pound.  This means it is pennies per use. You can bake bread consistently and not worry about the cost of the yeast at all.  This is a great feeling, knowing that you are truly saving money every time you bake bread.

     It’s much easier to use than active dry

    You don’t need to proof it and you don’t need to worry about the temperature of the water in your recipe.  No checking the temperature of warm water, no warming up milk. As long as the water isn’t HOT, which could kill the yeast, you won’t have a problem.

    You can store it in the freezer and it to your dough while it’s still cold.  

    You just add it in and knead, like any other ingredient.  It might feel weird at first, but just trust me. Toss it in there with the dry ingredients.  Don’t worry about the order you’re adding things, unless the recipe is specific about it.  

    So if I buy instant yeast, what about all these recipes that call for active dry yeast?

    That’s simple.  You just use a little less, about 25% less.  So a recipe that calls for the classic 2 ¼ teaspoons of active dry yeast would only need a little under 1 ¾ teaspoons of instant. And you definitely do NOT need to calculate this exactly.  

    Many recipes will call for instant yeast specifically, and then you can just use exactly what’s specified.

    Everything else in your recipe will be the same.  The rising times, the baking times, everything. It’s called instant because it’s “instantly” ready to use, not because it makes things rise “instantly”

    Are there any times that active dry yeast is better?

    I don’t think so.  Some people say that bread recipes that have an overnight refrigerated rise do better with regular active dry.  But this has not been my experience at all. I will never buy active dry yeast again, for anything.

    Have I convinced you?   If working with yeast is holding you back from baking bread, I hope this has eased your mind.  It’s easy! If you can work with baking soda, you can work with yeast.

    Where to find instant yeast:

    You can get in bulk at warehouse stores like Costco or Sam’s club.

    Or you can order a 1 pound package from Amazon.

    More basic bread baking tips:

    Step by step bread baking for the absolute beginner

    How to knead dough in a stand mixer

    A great beginner french bread recipe


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    3 thoughts on “The Best Yeast for Home Bakers: Instant Yeast Vs. Active Dry”

    1. Active dry yeast is also available in vaccum sealed packages, usually in 2 pounds. It can last for many years, just as instant yeast does. The difference is actually that the instant yeast is a fine grain, hence no need to predispose it. Both yeast are “active” at 80 degrees. If you have active dry yeast, you need only dissolve it in Lukewa water before adding to your reciepe so that it dissolves (because the granulars are a little bigger than in instant yeast. I have been baking home breads and homemade pizza etc. For our 5 boys for 28 years, the only “bad” yeast I’ve ever had was when I tried to dissolve it in boiling hot water (when I didnt know what I was doing). I’ve just discovered instant yeast in the last year. The two can be used interchangeably and both with last for many years in your freezer

      The only real difference is the size of the granules. Instant yeast is slightly more convenient, BUT Dont be nervous about using active dry if you need to! Just make sure you follow the proper temps for any yeast (you can kill instant yeast if you put it in too hot environment as well). Active dry yeast in packets or in the 4 oz jars is very overpriced, it’s always worth your while to buy one or two pounds and store it in your freezer

      Reply
    2. Thank you for this article and clarity, with lockdown I have had chance to practice bread, focaccia, olive garden style breadsticks and lastly a copycat cinnabon recipe – but the yeast always gets me in a fizzle (USA to UK recipes and measurements don’t help haha)

      Reply

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