Yeast: A guide to Instant vs Dry Active

Instant yeast and dry active yeast are the primary types of yeast. Learn the differences, their pros and cons, and tips for using them!

Breadmaking is fun but delicate that requires the right ingredients, skill, and knowledge to achieve great results. One of the most crucial ingredients in bread making is yeast, which is responsible for the dough’s rising and fermentation. There are two primary types of yeast used by home bakers; instant yeast and dry active yeast. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between these two types of yeast, their pros and cons, and tips for using them in your baking.

A large bowl of water with foaming yeast bubbles

Instant Yeast:

Instant yeast is also known as quick-rise yeast. It is called “instant” because it activates quickly and doesn’t require proofing before use. It comes in small granules that dissolve quickly and can be added directly to the flour. Here are some pros and cons of using instant yeast:

Pros:

  1. Convenience: It can be added directly to the flour, which eliminates the need to proof it in water. This saves time and effort.
  2.  Quick Rising: Instant yeast activates quickly, and the dough rises faster than with other types of yeast. This makes it perfect for bread-making anytime and anywhere..
  3.  Consistency: Instant yeast produces a consistent and uniform rise in the dough, which ensures even baking.
  4.  Longer Shelf Life: Instant yeast has a longer shelf life than other types of yeast and can be stored at room temperature for up to two years.

Cons:

  1. Sensitivity to Temperature: Instant yeast is sensitive to temperature, and it can die if exposed to temperatures that are too high or too low.
  2.  Over-proofing: It works quickly therefore it can easily be over-proof if left to rise for too long.
  3.  Less Flavour Development: Some opinions that I found were that instant yeast doesn’t allow enough time for the dough to develop complex flavours.

Tips for Using Instant Yeast:

  1. Use Warm Water: When using instant yeast, it’s important to use warm water between 40°C to 43°C / 105°F to 110°F. Water that is too hot can kill the yeast, and water that is too cold will not activate the yeast.
  2. Add to Dry Ingredients: Instant yeast can be added directly to the flour and mixed with other dry ingredients. There’s no need to proof it in water.
  3. Store it Properly: Store dry active yeast in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. This will keep it fresh for longer.
Close up image of a wooden scoop with dry yeast granules

Dry Active Yeast:

Dry active yeast is another type of yeast used commonly by home bakers. It comes in small granules that require proofing in water before use. Here are some pros and cons of using dry active yeast:

Pros:

  1. Versatility: It can be used in various bread recipes, including traditional bread, pizza dough, and pastries that may benefit from slower fermentation.
  2. Flavour Development: As dry active yeast requires longer, slower proofing, the dough has more time to develop complex flavours. This fermentation can bring out flavours varying from nutty and sweet, to tangy and umami.
  3. Long Shelf Life: If kept in an airtight container and free from moisture, It can be stored in the freezer for up to a year.

Cons:

  1. Longer Rising Time: Dry active yeast requires a longer rising time than instant yeast, which means that bread-making can take longer.
  2. Sensitivity to Temperature: Like instant yeast, dry active yeast is sensitive to temperature and can die if exposed to temperatures that are too hot or too cold.
  3. More Effort: Dry active yeast requires proofing, which means that it requires more effort and time to use than instant yeast.

Tips for Using Dry Active Yeast:

  1. Proof in Warm Water: When using dry active yeast, proof it in warm water between 40°C to 43°C / 105°F to 110°F to activate the yeast.
  2. Check Expiration Date: Check the back of the package for the expiry date before using it. Expired yeast may not be active, which can lead to failed bread.
  3. Use Sugar: Adding sugar to the water can help activate the yeast by providing food for the yeast to consume so it gets big and strong.
  4. Store Properly: Store dry active yeast in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. This will keep it fresh for longer and prevent it from spoiling.
A large bowl on a set of scales with water, flour and yeast inside it. A calculator and another large bowl are seen in the background

Is dry active or instant yeast better?

Both dry active and instant yeast are great options for baking bread, and which one is “better” depends on the specific recipe, baking method and personal preference. 

Instant yeast is designed to work quickly and efficiently and does not require proofing before use. This makes it a convenient option for bakers like myself who want to save time and streamline their baking process. Instant yeast also rises more quickly and produces a lighter, more uniform texture in the finished bread.

Dry active yeast requires proofing before use, adding an extra step to baking. This longer fermentation time however can lead to a more complex flavour in the finished bread, as the yeast has more time to ferment and produce flavour compounds. Dry active yeast also tends to be more tolerant of cooler temperatures, which makes it a good choice for recipes that require longer fermentation periods like pizza dough. 

Ultimately, the choice between dry active and instant yeast comes down to personal preference and the specific requirements of the recipe. I prefer to buy one product and tailor it to my recipes. The results of the dry active yeast may result in more complex flavours but this is easily replicated by using less instant yeast and proofing for a longer time. 

Why do we prove yeast?

Firstly, proofing instant yeast can help to confirm its viability before using it in a recipe.

Dry active yeast needs to be proofed before using it in a recipe. It is activated by warm water or other liquids, and it needs time to proof before it can be added to the dough. 

Instant yeast is designed to be used without proving, there is still a chance that it may be inactive or expired. By proofing it, you can ensure that it is alive and active, and avoid any disappointment or wasted ingredients if the yeast does not work as expected.

Secondly, proofing instant yeast can give it a head start in the rising process, resulting in a faster rise and a lighter texture in the finished product. While instant yeast is designed to be fast-acting, proofing it can help to jump-start the fermentation process and give the dough a boost.

Macro close up of yeasted dough bubble matrix

How to Proof Yeast

Proofing yeast is the process of testing the viability of the yeast before using it in baking. Here are the steps to proof yeast:

  • Start by warming the liquid that you will be using in your recipe. It should be warm to the touch but not hot, around 40°C to 43°C / 105°F to 110°F.
  • Add the yeast and a small amount of sugar to the warm liquid, stirring gently to dissolve.
  • Let the mixture sit for about 5-10 minutes. During this time, the yeast should begin to appear foamy and have small bubbles. If it does not, it may be dead or expired and you will need to start over with fresh yeast.
  • If the yeast is active and has produced a foam, it is ready to be used in your recipe.

It is important to note that proofing yeast is not always necessary, especially if you are using instant yeast, which can be added directly to the dry ingredients in your recipe. However, proofing can help to ensure that your yeast is active and will produce the desired rise in your dough or batter.

How to Substitute Yeast Types

If you only have one type of yeast on hand and the recipe calls for the other type, don’t worry! You can substitute one type of yeast for another with a few adjustments.

To substitute instant for dry active:

  1. Reduce the amount of yeast by 1/4 or 25%. If the recipe asks for 1 tablespoon of dry active yeast, use 3/4 tablespoon of instant yeast.
  2. You can technically skip the proofing step. Since instant yeast doesn’t need to be proofed, you can skip the step of dissolving it in warm water or milk. I like to keep this step no matter what yeast I am using. It is just a cheap and easy way to ensure your yeast is alive and active.
  3.  Reduce the rise time. Instant yeast rises more quickly than dry active yeast, so you may need to reduce the rise time by 10-15 minutes.

To substitute dry active for instant:

  1. Increase the amount of yeast by 1/4 or 25%. If the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of instant yeast, use 1 1/4 tablespoons of dry active yeast.
  2.  Proof the yeast in warm water or milk before using it. Dissolve the yeast in a small amount of warm water or milk and let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it becomes foamy.
  3.  Increase the rise time. Dry active yeast rises more slowly than instant yeast, so you may need to increase the rise time by 10-15 minutes.
Close up image of dough being kneaded. Hands are in the image foreground and body is in background.

Conclusion:

Instant yeast and dry active yeast have their pros and cons. Instant yeast is convenient and quick, while dry active yeast requires more time and effort but allows for more flavour development. When deciding which type of yeast to use, consider your baking needs and preferences. Whichever type of yeast you choose, be sure to store it properly and follow the recipe instructions for the best results.

Remember, yeast is a living organism and can be affected by many factors, including temperature, humidity, and the freshness of the yeast. Even if you follow the substitution guidelines, your bread may turn out slightly different than the original recipe. Don’t be discouraged if it’s not perfect the first time – practice makes perfect!

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Hiya, I’m Lauren but you can call me Molly!

Former OR Nurse and self-taught home cook passionate about Approachable, No-Nonsense recipes to help you level up in the kitchen. Together with my husband Troy, we create simplified dishes for busy people with easy-to-find ingredients!
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