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Active Dry Yeast vs Instant Yeast: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to the debate active dry yeast vs instant yeast, are we going to discover any notable differences between these two types of yeast or are the two dry yeast types actually interchangeable?

Are there instances where active dry yeast should be used instead of instant yeast?

Actually, this last question has one quick answer: recipes should state the type of yeast that should be used.

The other answer that I can offer you is that one of the best yeasts is the instant yeast from SAF. I’ve read quite a few books about bread where the SAF Red Instant Yeast was mentioned as being the one being used for all kinds of breads.

The purpose of this active dry yeast vs instant yeast comparison is actually to underline that the differences between them are pretty much unimportant.

Along the ride, you’re actually going to discover that these two dry yeast types have more in common than otherwise. There are a couple small differences between them. But that doesn’t impact dough rising that much.

Which means that they can be substituted for one another 1:1, without modifying the quantity by a granule.

Types of Yeast: Dry & Fresh

active dry yeast

If we’re going technical there are actually 5 types of yeast:

  • active dry yeast
  • instant dried yeast (fast-acting) – what we call simply instant yeast
  • quick-rise yeast – pretty much the same as instant yeast only called by a different name
  • compressed fresh cake yeast – what we call fresh yeast
  • bread machine yeast – if you’re going to check out my yeast for bread machine post, I actually mentioned that you don’t need to use the special bread machine yeast because it’s more expensive, you should definitely use normal active dry yeast or instant yeast, depending on what the recipe calls for

So, we’re actually left with two main types of yeast:

  • dry yeast – which can be further split into active and instant (they’re both the granulated kind)
  • fresh yeast (cake yeast) – can be used instead of active dry but you need a yeast conversion table and it needs precise liquid temperatures of 90°F – 95°F, that’s the most important thing to keep in mind, it can be added directly to dry ingredients without prior softening in warm water

Active Dry Yeast vs Instant Yeast: What They Do

The word yeast actually means to rise, it comes from the French word levant. So, the role of any type of yeast, whether we’re talking about active dry, instant or fresh yeast, is to make the dough rise.

Yeast is the ingredient that makes the dough double in size. The double in size thing is still the main guideline many of us are following when we’re letting the dough go through the bulk fermentation and proofing (the two rise phases).

In order to achieve that, yeast consumes carbohydrates (sugar and starches) and expels carbon dioxide. Simply put, that’s what makes the dough rise until it’s proofed enough and it’s ready for scoring and baking.

The Differences Between Active Dry Yeast and Instant

When I mentioned above the 5 types of yeast that exist, when it came to instant yeast I also added the fast-acting attribute, which is actually its main attribute.

The fast-acting part is what actually defines instant dried yeast. And that’s where the main difference lies in when it comes to our instant yeast vs active dry yeast debate.

Instant yeast doesn’t need to be dissolved in liquid, it’s added directly to the rest of the ingredients, whether you’re using your own hands to mix and knead the ingredients or you’re using a stand mixer or a bread machine as a dough kneader.

Instant yeast has a higher concentration of yeast cells, which makes the dough rise more quickly.

That’s the main difference in our instant yeast vs active dry yeast debate: active dry yeast makes the dough rise slower.

Active dry yeast is the common yeast, the most popular of all and the most widely used. It’s what most recipes call for.

This is the type we’re used to dissolve in warm water for about 10 minutes and then proceed to mixing all the ingredients together.

However, you can actually skip the dissolving step and the recipe won’t be ruined. If you knead the dough properly and let it rise through both phases as it should, your loaf will be perfectly risen.

The difference is much more noticeable between the two when it comes to bread machines: instant yeast is especially used under the bake rapid/quick/express cycles and this is pretty much the only area where you can’t use active dry instead of instant.

What Active Dry Yeast and Instant Yeast Have in Common

First, we’ve already established that they both belong to the larger category of dry yeasts.

And their role is to make the dough rise.

They’re both granular yeasts. Both also have a granulated composition, the granules for the instant yeast are a bit smaller but they still look pretty similar.

Can You Substitute Active Dry Yeast for Instant Yeast?

Yes, they’re both interchangeable. The same principle applies when talking about all purpose flour vs bread flour.

And you can actually substitute them on a 1:1 basis. Meaning, you don’t have to modify the quantity of active dry yeast or the quantity of instant yeast.

Since I mentioned that active dry yeast is the slower of the two, you should just add 15-20 minutes to the rising time if you’re using active dry instead of instant yeast.

You can subtract the same amount of time if you’re using instant instead of active dry.

The time the dough needs to rest and rise differs. It’s a process influenced by a number of factors, room temperature being one of the most obvious ones.

It’s best to judge by yourself if the dough has risen enough and it’s ready for baking. There’s no actual set time by the minute.

What is really important to remember is the fact that it’s perfectly fine to substitute active dry yeast for instant yeast and vice versa. As you’re going to see in a minute, my first recommendation and the favorite yeast for many bakers is actually the instant yeast from SAF.

The 1:1 substitution can actually have one exception: when using a bread machine.

If you’re using a bread machine to knead and rise the dough, it’s best to use 25% less instant yeast if you’re substituting it for active dry yeast.

But you can experiment with using the same amount in your first substitution experiment and see how that goes.

Best Yeast for Bread

Now that we’ve established what active dry yeast and instant yeast are used for and what makes them different but at the same time quite closely related since they’re both dry yeasts, it’s time to actually see which is the best yeast for bread.

1. SAF Instant Yeast – Best Dry Yeast for Bread & Baked Goods

I’m pretty sure that you’re surprised that the first best yeast for bread that I’m recommending is the instant yeast type instead of going for the active dry yeast, since I said that it’s the most popular yeast type.

However,

The SAF Instant Yeast is not just any type of yeast. It’s the best yeast for bread for a number of reasons, a favorite for both professional and household bakers.

Why is that?

Because it’s a powerful yeast with a high concentration of yeast cells, which can be used to make everything from breads to cakes.

If you’re using a stand mixer or kneading dough by hand, you can use the SAF Instant Yeast in the same quantity that the recipes states, there’s no problem using the same amount of SAF even if the recipes calls for active dry yeast.

When it comes to using a bread machine to make the dough or the bread, you can add 25% less SAF for the recipes calling for active dry. Or you can use the same amount and see how that goes. I would say that both options are good.

The SAF Instant Yeast is also pretty cheap, an all-round pretty perfect baking product that deserves a place in any kitchen.

They also make the SAF Gold Instant Yeast, which is recommended for sweet breads but it’s not necessary to buy a separate pack, I just though I should mention it.

2. Red Star Active Dry Yeast

If you want the get the best active dry yeast, the Red Star is the one to opt for.

The price is excellent, it’s quite affordable and the quality is one of the best.

It does come in a big quantity so, you should definitely freeze a large part of it and you can keep it in the freezer, in an airtight container for up to a year.

There’s really not much to say, this is just one of the best active dry yeasts on the market.

3. Fleichmann’s Instant Yeast

If you have a problem finding the SAF Instant Yeast and you want another good option for instant yeast, there’s Fleichmann’s Instant Yeast.

It also has a good price.

From the same manufacturer, there’s also the Fleichmann’s Yeast for Bread Machine, in case you’re looking for a yeast that bears the yeast for bread machine label. I don’t think it’s necessary, you can use regular yeast since the price is a bit high for those labeled as yeast for bread machine.

How to Store Dry Yeast

Most of us buy our yeast in bulk because that’s how it’s usually sold. So, we definitely need to pay attention to storing dry yeast properly in order to be able to use it for very long periods of time.

Thankfully, storing dry yeast is very easy and it doesn’t involve a lot of preparation.

Unopened packages can be stored in a cool dry place – cupboard, pantry. Once opened, an airtight container is the best storage tool for yeast.

You can place the airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 year. Using a freezer bag for freezing yeast works just as well.

The yeast can be used directly from the freezer. The other option is to let it sit at room temperature for half an hour. Either way works.

Yeast can be refrigerated for up to 4-6 months.

How to Test Yeast for Viability

If you’ve had your yeast for quite a while, whether the active dry or the instant type, there’s a quick viability test to see if the yeast is still capable of its rising capability.

Fill a cup with lukewarm water, add 1 tablespoon yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. Mix them together. If the yeast is active, it will bubble immediately. If there are only a few bubbles, you need to get yourself some new yeast.

Well, that’s about everything you need to know when it comes to the active dry yeast vs instant yeast debate, as you saw there wasn’t much to debate on since they’re pretty similar types of yeast that can be used interchangeably if you lack the one mentioned in the recipe but you have the other.