Fresh yeast - what is it?

Fresh Yeast –  What’s So Special About It?

Fresh yeast - what is it?
Updated on
November 7, 2022
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

You may notice many bakers and bread-baking websites use fresh yeast, so what can you do with it that you can’t with dried? Well, to spoil this write-up, there’s little difference in the end product, however, there are a handful of reasons many professionals prefer it. Let’s take a look.

What is fresh yeast?

Bread yeast (and brewing yeast for that matter) is the common name for the yeast strain called saccharomyces cerevisiae. There can be slight differences between genres in each brand of yeast but effectively the same single-cell organism in all types of yeast.

Yeast is produced by multiplying bacteria from sugar beet molasses and is sold as a liquid, compressed block (fresh yeast) or dried (instant/active dried). Fresh yeast, otherwise known as baker’s yeast, block yeast, compressed yeast or cake yeast contains around 72% water. 

Fresh yeast vs dried yeast – what’s the difference?

Fresh yeast is sold in a compressed block which crumbles when you remove a portion. It has a more intense yeasty aroma than dried yeast. Unlike dried yeast, fresh yeast remains active when sold, so doesn’t need to be “bloomed” before use. But for this reason, it needs to be stored in the refrigerator to prevent it from going off.

Dried yeast has a much longer shelf life, of 6-12 months, whereas compressed yeast only lasts around 2 weeks. Larger portions are more resistant to drying out so tend to stay fresh for longer than smaller amounts.

Why do bakers use fresh yeast?

The main reason for using fresh yeast is flavour. As moisture content is considerably higher, bacteria multiply which develops a deeper range of flavour and aroma, that is not replicable using dried.

Active dried yeast requires blooming in warm water for 10 minutes, which in a busy bakery is nearly impossible to manage. Instant yeast is the easiest to use and store, but it is more expensive.

Fresh yeast is often cheaper for bakeries, though not when sold in smaller quantities.

Many countries require all the ingredients to be listed on all products nowadays. Because of this large producers follow a “clean label” approach to ingredients used, preferring natural ingredients or undisclosed enzymes to scary-sounding additives. Dried yeasts will contain a stabilising ingredient to form the pellets and prevent them from becoming mouldy. Sodium monostearate is a common additive in the UK. Dried yeast doesn’t contain any further ingredients so fits a clean-label approach.

Also, (this is a bit tedious but worth mentioning) many bakers are a bit slap-dash when weighing ingredients. Because of this, a less concentrated product reduces the risk of adding too much yeast to the recipes!

Do all bakers use fresh yeast?

Not all professional bakers use fresh yeast, some prefer dried yeast as they don’t have to worry about constantly maintaining stock levels. There are few yeast suppliers, so there is often a lag in deliveries arriving so orders are usually placed a week in advance. The aroma of fresh yeast can also be absorbed by nearby items so is often stored in a separate fridge, creating storage issues. 

How to store fresh yeast

Place your fresh yeast in the refrigerator as soon as it’s received. It can be kept in the freezer for a couple of months if you are not going to use it all right away. Unless you are freezing it, it’s best to wrap it in something that can allow it to breathe a little. Water will escape the yeast which can become rancid or mouldy if the container is airtight. If you will use it all in a couple of days, this won’t be a problem so an airtight container can be used and will go some way to prevent your fridge from honking of yeast! Otherwise, store in the packaging it arrives in or with a loose-fitting lidded container.

How to use fresh yeast

Fresh yeast sliced

When using it, either slice the amount you require with a knife or metal dough scraper, or break it off with your fingers. Add yeast to the dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and knead as you would any other dough. Here’s my guide on how to knead dough if you want to learn the best way.

NOTE: Yeast is an active product and will contain bacteria. Please ensure you wash your hands after touching it as can spread infections!

How to convert dry yeast to instant yeast

As fresh yeast contains a lot of water, it’s not as potent as dried yeast, so you’ll need to convert your recipes from active dried or instant yeast so you don’t use too much! If converting a recipe from active dried to fresh yeast, double the weight stated. If the recipe uses instant yeast, triple it.

See my yeast conversion table to learn more.

Conclusion – Is fresh yeast better than dried?

It depends on how much bread you make to whether you should use fresh or dried yeast. If you bake several loaves a day, fresh yeast is worth considering, but if you are a hobby baker I suggest sticking with dried yeast. Let me know your experiences with fresh yeast in the comments below.

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