Which yeast to use: choosing the best type for any recipe

With all of the varieties of yeast out there (let alone brand names), how do you know which yeast to use?

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

Traditional active dry yeast and fast-rising yeast

Active dry yeast (ADY), the stuff your mom may have used, is widely available everywhere. You’ll find it in your supermarket’s cold case in 1/4-ounce packets, three packets to a strip; it’s also available in bulk, in 4-ounce jars. ADY is the tortoise in the tortoise/hare race: while slow to get going, it provides hours of steady growth.

Then there’s fast-rising yeast (a.k.a. highly active yeast) – the hare in the race. Red Star Quick-Rise™ and Fleischmann’s RapidRise® are the two most popular brands. These yeasts purport to work 50% faster than ADY.

Now, here’s an important point: Red Star advises bakers not use their fast-rising yeast for refrigerated or frozen dough – which eliminates no-knead dough as well as many sweet dough recipes, which often call for a long, slow rise in the fridge.

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

Versatile SAF instant yeast

Here’s our favorite yeast: SAF instant yeast, a King Arthur Flour test kitchen staple for decades. SAF gets going much more quickly than ADY, and has just as much staying power.

SAF instant yeast is appropriate for all dough, from your standard sandwich bread with its minimal rising, to multi-day refrigerated no-knead dough, to frozen-dough dinner rolls.

Note: The nomenclature for yeast can be very confusing. Red Star and Fleischmann’s don’t offer “instant yeast” per se – but both call their fast-rising and bread machine yeasts “instant yeast.” We’ve found that SAF instant yeast is not the same as Red Star and Fleischmann’s fast-rising yeasts; so when you see a recipe on this site calling for instant yeast, we’re referring to SAF instant yeast.

Why choose ADY or fast-rising yeast instead of instant?

Instant yeast certainly looks like the way to go. Still, there are times when bakers might choose active dry yeast, or one of the fast-rising yeasts. Why?

Comfort and tradition. Some bakers simply love to use what they’ve always used, or what their mom or grandma used. Carrying on family baking traditions is important, and certainly a valid reason for sticking with your tried-and-true active dry yeast.

Flavor. Many bakers report a difference in flavor between active dry and instant or fast-rising yeast, with ADY lending bread milder, less aggressively “yeasty” taste.

Fear and confusion. “My recipe calls for active dry yeast, so I have to use active dry yeast.”

Not true! It’s easy to use instant yeast in recipes calling for ADY or fast-rising yeast – no fancy conversions needed. Simply use the same amount of instant yeast in your recipe as ADY or fast-rising. Add it right along with your other dry ingredients; there’s no need to dissolve instant yeast in water first.

Let’s put all three yeasts to the test.

How do these three most common yeasts – active dry, fast-rising, and instant – perform against one another?

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

Active dry yeast takes longer to work.

Here we have (l to r) Red Star ADY, Red Star Quick-Rise, and SAF Red instant yeast. I’ve just kneaded the dough, and it’s going through its first rise in mini loaf pans (top).

The Quick-Rise and SAF instant yeasts are about equal in volume after an hour; the ADY is lagging behind (bottom).

Now let’s shape and bake these breads.

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

Here they are shaped and in the pan (top); and 1 hour later, risen.

The ADY is still behind Quick-Rise and SAF instant. SAF (right) has pulled ahead of Quick-Rise just a tad, though you can’t see it from this angle. In fact, the SAF loaf has crowned about 1/4″ over the rim of its pan, so I put it into the oven to bake. Fifteen minutes later, the Quick-Rise loaf is also ready, and goes into the oven.

A full hour after the first loaf went in, the ADY loaf still isn’t fully risen. The point’s been made by now; ADY is slower than both Quick-Rise and SAF instant. So I go ahead and bake it.

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

The finished loaves

Here’s a cross-section of the results. That’s ADY on the left; Quick-Rise in the center, and SAF Red on the right.

The SAF Red and Quick-Rise loaves bake to virtually the same height, but the SAF loaf rises a bit more quickly in the pan than the Quick-Rise.

The ADY loaf is shorter – though, given enough time, it would have risen fully and no doubt produced as tall a loaf as its Quick-Rise and instant competitors.

Flavor-wise, both the Quick-Rise and SAF instant yeast loaves have a distinctly yeasty flavor and aroma, while the ADY loaf’s flavor is more neutral.

The overall winner? SAF instant, by a crumb.

By virtue of its fast, strong rise; and its versatility (standard, no-knead, and refrigerated/frozen doughs), we choose SAF instant.

OK, now that we’ve established SAF instant yeast is the ideal all-around yeast, we have another potential decision to make:

Which SAF yeast to use, Red or Gold?

SAF Red is your best choice for all-around baking, from sandwich loaves to crusty no-knead bread to freeze-and-bake dinner rolls.

SAF Gold is formulated for one specific type of dough: sweet dough. Think Portuguese Sweet Bread, Hawaiian Buns, Panettone, Raisin Challah, and the like.

What about cinnamon rolls or sticky buns, you ask? Well, they’re sweet – but mainly from their topping/filling. The dough for these sweet rolls is often only lightly sweetened, if at all; so they don’t need SAF Gold.

Here’s a rule of thumb: if the weight of the sugar in your recipe is equal to or greater than 10% of the weight of the flour, SAF Gold will hasten the dough’s rise.

Roughly translated to volume, any recipe calling for over 1 tablespoon sugar per cup of flour will benefit from SAF Gold.

But can’t you just use SAF Red, and let everything rise longer?

Yes – but there’s a tradeoff. Most sweet doughs also include eggs, milk, and/or butter. Letting these elements sit at warm room temperature for hours at a time, as the dough rises, can cause them to take on a slightly tangy, fermented flavor; and this flavor can clash with the appealing sweetness of your finished loaf. SAF Gold, with its shorter rising time, prevents this flavor deterioration.

Let’s see what happens when we test Red against Gold in our Hawaiian Buns. With the buns’ sugar/flour ratio climbing above 22%, they’re one sweet candidate for this test!

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

Here are the two doughs just after mixing (top), and 90 minutes later (bottom). That’s SAF Gold on the left, SAF Red on the right.

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

I shape the dough into buns, and let them rise for an hour (bottom).

The SAF Gold buns (left) have risen slightly more than the Red buns; see how the Gold buns are filling more of the pan?

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

And here they are, baked and ready to enjoy.

Which Yeast to Use via @kingarthurflour

SAF Gold wins the sweet dough test.

That’s Gold on the left, Red on the right. In sweeter recipes, Gold produces a higher-rising bun.

So we’ve gotten to the end of our tests, and I’m happy to say SAF instant yeast has validated my long-time faith. For the full range of all my yeast baking, SAF is the choice.

Still, there’s one more reason to choose SAF instant yeast:

The price is right.

Sold in its typical three-packet, 3/4-ounce strip, active dry yeast or fast-rising yeast at the grocery store costs around $40 a pound.

A pound of SAF Red instant yeast – the equivalent of 64 (1/4-ounce) packets – costs $5.95.

Are you worried about using up a pound of yeast? Stored in your freezer, it’ll stay good for at least a year, and probably longer. In fact, though the manufacturer would certainly never recommend it, I’ve used 6-year-old instant yeast (stored in the freezer), and still achieved good results.

SAF gives you the most bang for your buck. Its value, combined with quality, seals the deal for me.

Which yeast to choose – the bottom line:

P.S. For those of you who go WAY back, fresh yeast (cake yeast) was the staple of every bread baker’s kitchen. These days, though, the familiar foil-wrapped cubes are available only in scattered grocery stores. So for the sake of simplicity, I didn’t include fresh yeast in these tests.

Looking for more information on successful yeast-bread baking? See our 5 Quick Tips for High-Rising Yeast Loaves.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. William

    I misplaced a half used 16 ounce package of SAF Yeast in my chest freezer for several years, perhaps 10 or so, and it still worked fine when I found it.

    Reply
    1. Cindy McCampbell

      That’s amazing!! I just threw out a large amount of yeast because I thought it must be old, right? It had been in freezer for 2 years. 😕 I guess I just learned a valuable lesson!! 😭

  2. Penny

    Most of my recipes start with dissolving yeast in warm water and then adding flour. Do I follow the directions and dissolve the yeast or mix it with the flour and add the liquid. Thanks for the help.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Penny, it used to be that active dry yeast was not only a slightly larger granule than instant yeast but also less porous, which is why it benefited from hydrating before being mixed with the other ingredients. These days, active dry yeast is just as porous as instant yeast, and we typically find that the pre-hydration isn’t necessary. That being said, if you ever have any doubt as to the freshness of your yeast, “proofing” it with a portion of the water and a pinch of sugar can help to determine whether or not it’s usable. Mollie@KAF

  3. George H

    OK. Feel a bit confusing.

    Title is “WHICH YEAST TO USE: CHOOSING THE BEST TYPE FOR ANY RECIPE”, most tests are done for sweet dough.

    For bread, especially whole grain type, or pizza etc, will the same apply?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi George,
      Sorry for any confusion. The tests done at the beginning of the post were on regular sandwich loaves, not specifically sweet dough. PJ also mentions that SAF Red is perfect for your all-around baking, including breads, no-knead dough, and even frozen dough. Hope this helps. ~ MJ

  4. Mweh Bergen Cty

    I made the No Knead bread (Jim Leahy’s recipe) years ago with regular yeast I purchased at the supermarket and it always came out wonderful. all of a sudden the past two years, I’m not getting good results. I’ve even tried adding more yeast and omitting the salt at first (because salt inhibits yeast) and adding it after it rises and still I’m not getting a good rise. I will purchase the SAF yeast you are talking about, but, it’s such a large amount of yeast. Should I keep it in the freezer, and how long will it last?

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      For best results, store yeast in an airtight container in the freezer for 12 months or longer. There’s’ no need to thaw the yeast before using. Irene@KAF

  5. Mike

    Last weekend I tried making Swedish cardamom coffeecake – our local bakery that was the only source just closed, so now I’m on my own! Anyway, the bread came out looking beautiful – but it was way too dense, not light and airy like the bakery version. I’ve read on the blogs that this might be because there was too much flour (although I used the recipe amount), or perhaps because I used bread flour rather than all purpose flour. I also had problems getting the dough to rise, it never made it to “double the size”. I suppose any or all of these could be my problem. Any thoughts or suggestions? I plan to try again soon, hopefully with more success next time!

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Mike,
      It sounds like a combination of things. We’re recommend using the all-purpose flour, and sprinkling the flour into your measuring cup rather than scooping. If you can, weighing the ingredients will be the most accurate. You’ll want your dough to be soft and somewhat sticky, so that it can get a nice high rise.
      Hope this helps! ~ MJR@KAF

  6. Ms. Pris

    I have a question: this test shows that SAF Gold performs better than SAF Red in a sweet dough, but what about in a non-sweet dough? Can I expect good performance from SAF Gold in a normal dough where otherwise one might use SAF Red?

    Reply
    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Great question, and one we asked the last time we had a session with the nice folks from SAF. The answer is not really, as there isn’t enough sugar in a regular dough. So, Red for the basic breads and Gold for the sweeties. MJR@KAF

  7. Ang Lee

    Thank you Ms. Hamel for a most informative post on yeast. Your KAF blogs have provided me with vital and practical information time and time again. The photographs really clarify the instructions. I bake bread every now and again, and have done so for years, usually in the winter months using only KAF flour, mixing and matching whatever I have available ( not very scientific I know). In addition, I use the leftover whey from my weekly Greek yogurt making as the liquid gives my bread a nice tang and saves the nutrients drained from my yogurt. However, based on MY research, sweet whey from draining yogurt does NOT contain a great deal of protein. It does contain carbs, lactose, fats and vitamins. The entire KAF website is an absolute gold mine for both experienced and inexperienced bakers and I see it and your flour, cited frequently in reputable cooking literature. Thanks again and please keep baking and sharing!

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thanks for being such a loyal reader, Ang! We’ve shared your kind comments and words of encouragement with PJ herself. We’ll keep the recipes and baking inspiration coming — you can count on that! Kye@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lisa, when using instant yeast (like SAF) you don’t need to add it to water in order to activate it ahead of time, but you will need to let the dough rise as instructed in your recipe. It may just move along quicker than expected, so keep a close eye on it. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  8. Sue Glass

    I have a recipe from France that calls for “un sachet de levure de boulanger” or one package of Baker’s Yeast. Is this the same as Active Dry Yeast or Instant Yeast? Is it ok to substitute these? Thanks

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Go ahead and use one packet of Active Dry yeast, Sue. It should be a pretty close substitute. Bryanna@KAF

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