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Culinary Lesson #12 - Yeasts

Friday, December 14, 2012

Q11:  I think I have a pretty good grasp on the basics to yeast breads, but I'm still a little unsure about the different types of dry yeasts out there.  Does one type work better than the other?  Does it even matter what type you use, or are they basically interchangeable?

A11:  Confusion is completely understandable when it comes to choosing what type of yeast to use.  There are basically two different types of dry yeast (active dry yeast and instant dry yeast), yet manufacturers have managed to coin more than enough names for the two.  Along with Active Dry Yeast and Instant Dry Yeast, there's also Bread Machine Yeast, Fast Rising Yeast, Rapid Rise Yeast, Quick Rise Yeast, and the list goes on...  Below I've touched on some of the major differences between the two main types.  As always, feel free to comment on anything additional you'd like covered.

NAME CONFUSION:  Active dry yeast is just that, whereas instant dry yeast is also called Bread Machine Yeast, Fast Rising Yeast, Rapid Rise Yeast, and/or Quick Rise Yeast.  Luckily, it's not worth memorizing these names.  As long as you know the basics between active and instant dry yeast (as outlined below), you're set.

PHYSICAL DIFFERENCES:  Although the two are similar in color and are both granular, you can tell that active dry yeast granules are larger than instant dry yeast granules when they're put side by side.

HOW TO USE:  If you're used to proofing your yeast with warm water before using it in a recipe, it means that you use active dry yeast.  The reason for proofing is to essentially wake up your yeast, since the outer coating of active dry yeast granules are not alive due to the drying process that is used.  Generally speaking, all you need to do is add twice the yeast's volume of warm water (110 degrees F, or whatever temperature your package recommends) and wait for 10 minutes.  If a decent number of bubbles form, your yeast is alive and well.  If not, it means your yeast has been sitting on the shelf too long and should be tossed.  Instant dry yeast, on the other hand, does not require (and should not undergo) proofing (it's instant).  Instead, just make sure to mix it in with your flour before adding it to any liquids.  So in short, if your yeast has directions for how to proof it, you've got active dry yeast.  If it doesn't, you have instant dry yeast.

SUBSTITUTIONS:  If your recipe calls for the kind of dry yeast that you don't have at home, one can easily be substituted for the other using the fact that 100% fresh yeast = 40% active dry yeast = 33% instant dry yeast.  In other words:

(Instant dry yeast amount) * (40 / 33) = (Active dry yeast amount)
(Active dry yeast amount) * (33 / 40) = (Instant dry yeast amount)

Note that less instant dry yeast is needed to equal the leavening power of active dry yeast.  Basically, instant dry yeast is a bit more powerful than active dry yeast.

FINAL RECOMMENDATION:  As revealed in last week's post, I've officially switched over to instant dry yeast.  Not only is it more convenient not having to worry about proofing my yeast, several studies have shown that breads made with instant dry yeast have slightly more flavor than ones made with active dry yeast (due to its purity).  But with that said, it really comes down to personal preference and availability.  If you're making your own homemade yeast breads, you really can't go wrong with your selection.

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