staying at home: more ranting about yeast

summary: empty shelves and once a week supermarket shopping; one-way aisles; viral fatigue; commercial yeast is still in the toilet paper category; differences between active dry, instant, and rapid-rise yeasts; needless additives; ranting and raving again; where IS all the yeast?

yeast salt flour olive oil (april 2007)
bread making ingredients – photo from April 2007

For a long time, I have maintained that there is no real difference between active dry and instant yeast, so have continued to buy active dry. Because that’s what Mum always bought.

Ha! Of course that’s what she bought. It was probably the only kind of yeast she could get easily. Fresh cake yeast?? Were there any shops that sold it in our neighbourhood way back in the olden days?

But now that our Jane Mason starter is serving us so well, I rarely feel the need to use commercial yeast anymore. Still, from time to time, if we haven’t planned ahead and suddenly decide we’d like to have pizza, or naan, or fougasse tonight, it’s nice to have the option of using commercial yeast.

Jane Mason starter - begun July 2017

One of the things I’ve been doing a lot of in these past weeks is to access the wonders of our public library’s e-book offerings. All of the newer bread cookbook recipes call for instant yeast. I’ve pooh-poohed them, assuming it’s simply because they want save themselves a step.

But it wasn’t until I read David Norman’s “Bread on the Table” that I saw a reasonable explanation for why. Aside from the fact that instant yeast doesn’t have to be rehydrated before being added to the dry ingredients.

I trust David Norman. How could I not? Because like me, he prefers hand mixing:

I prefer to both mix and knead with my hands, so I can feel how the dough is coming together, which allows me to make adjustments
I prefer to use instant yeast. It is dried using a more modern, lower-heat process than active dry yeast, so more of the yeast cells are still active. I find that active dry yeast can impart an undesirable, residual yeasty flavor in the final bread.
– David Norman, Bread on the Table, Mixing and Kneading, p.25; Ingredients, Yeast, p.19

Since then, every time we go to the supermarket, I’ve looked for jars of instant yeast. Not just for us, to replace our one third full jar of active dry yeast. And for our neighbours who use their bread machine to make all their bread during this bizarre time (they told us that they have just half a jar left).

So do we….

Active Dry Yeast: […]
    • Active dry yeast is highly perishable; always check the expiration date before use.
    • Potency can vary over time, producing inconsistent results
    • Must be rehydrated before use
    • Easily damaged by liquids above 115°F (46°C)
    • Suitable for recipes that require more than one rise
    • Suitable for cold-proofed doughs
Instant Dry Yeast: […]
    • Extremely stable; can be frozen for several years
    • Consistent behavior over time
    • Tolerant of temperatures up to 130°F (54°C)
    • Suitable for recipes that require more than one rise
    • Suitable for cold-proofed doughs
Fast-Acting Instant Yeast [aka Rapid-Rise]: […]
    • Highly stable; can be refrigerated up to one year
    • Consistent behavior over time
    • Tolerant of temperatures up to 130°F (54°C)
    • Designed to work with only one rise
    • Not suitable for refrigerated doughs
    • Not suitable for doughs with a long, slow rise
– Stella Parks, Serious Eats | All About Dry Yeast: Instant, Active Dry, Fast-Acting, and More, 20 March 2018

Yesterday, masked, we went into the supermarket for our weekly supplies and were amazed to see one lone jar of yeast on the otherwise empty baking shelf!! I got excited. But it turned out to be “rapid-rise” – which is apparently useless for anyone who wants to make slow-rise bread, or cold-rise bread. Once again, we returned home with no yeast….

I reported the fact that we DIDN’T buy the rapid-rise yeast to my sisters. One of them replied:

I’m hesitant to tell you that that’s what I use when I make no-knead bread and let it rise overnight.

Ooops!!! Sorry, J and T!!!

But. One of the reasons I didn’t buy the rapid-rise yeast was because it contained ascorbic acid. I’m not convinced that’s really necessary. And then my sister sent a message:

[The rapid-rise jar] contains yeast, sorbitan monostearate, ascorbic acid. Is that bad?

An interesting question…. Being the suspicious person that I am, I’m thinking: probably. But let’s search, shall we? After all, if it’s on the internet, it must be true!

What is sorbitan monostearate? Sorbitan monostearate is an emulsifier. This material coats yeast cells and protects the cells from damage by oxygen and assists in the rehydration of the yeast.
– Red Star Yeast, Frequently Asked Questions About Yeast
potassium-bromate KBrO3 Potassium bromate (KBrO3), is a flour “improver” that strengthens dough and allows for greater oven spring and higher rising in the oven. Potassium bromate, commonly referred to as simply “bromate,” is a slow-acting oxidizer, contributing its functionality throughout the mixing, fermentation and proofing stages, with important residual action during the early stages of baking. Azodicarbonamide (ADA), potassium and calcium iodate, and calcium peroxide are rapid-acting oxidizers, while ascorbic acid (vitamin C) works at intermediate rates, but all release their activity in mixing and proofing. Bromate, when applied within the prescribed limits (15-30ppm), is completely used up during the bake leaving no trace in the finished product. However, if too much is used, or the bread is not baked long enough or at a high enough temperature, then a residual amount will remain.
      The primary concern regarding the use of bromate in baking is its demonstrated link to cancer in laboratory animals. […]
However, instead of banning bromate outright, the FDA has since 1991 merely encouraged bakers to voluntarily stop using it, with somewhat limited success. Bromate has been banned in numerous countries, including the United Kingdom in 1990 and Canada in 1994.
Doughs made from unbromated flours will require slightly more mixing to achieve the same strength. […] Some bakers find that they don’t have as much fermentation tolerance using unbromated flour. There are two fixes for this. One is to use preferments in your dough. This increases the acidity of your dough giving it more tolerance for longer proof times and overnight retarding. If this doesn’t fit your production requirements then you can consider using ascorbic acid (Vitamin C). Ascorbic acid is a slow acting oxidizer so you won’t get much benefit in the mixer, but your dough will have more tolerance for overnight retarding.
– King Arthur Flour, About Bromate
Some notes on ascorbic acid
    • It is an unnecessary additive, which can weaken the gluten in longer-fermented doughs**
    • One of its functions is to help ‘convey the impression of improved freshness to the customer’ (our italics)***
    • We believe that bakers improving their knowledge and skills to get the most out of natural ingredients is more beneficial all round than falling back on an artificial additive
    • By helping gluten to ‘relax’ it can have the incidental effect of increasing the speed of rising, which is moving in the wrong direction of our aim to encouraging bakers to prolong dough fermentation
* Or using sodium ascorbate (aka E301 or sodium monoascorbate), a related chemical that can be used to perform the same function in baking.
** Ascorbic acid in long-fermented breads could: ‘weaken the gluten structure with subsequent loss of gas retention in the dough. Ascorbic acid is thus best suited to no-time doughmaking systems.’ Baking Problems Solved, p 55, S. Cauvain & L. Young, Woodhead Publishing (2001)
*** Idem p. 54

– Real Bread Campaign, Ascorbic Acid

I took a look at our jar of Fleischmann’s Active Dry Yeast. I see that it expires in September…. I also see that it contains sorbitan monostearate. Eeeek!!

Jane Mason Starter and Fleischmann's ADY

According to the screenshots of Fleischmann’s Instant Yeast, the ingredients are sorbitan monstearate AND ascorbic acid.

Screenshot Fleischmann's Active Dry Yeast

Hmmm… is that why our unbleached ‘no additives’ all-purpose flour bag has “use the lemon juice secret” on it?

Lemon Juice Secret

Next time we buy commercial yeast, I want yeast that doesn’t contain anything but yeast! I know we use hardly any yeast in our bread, so very little sorbitan monostearate would sneak in. But really, why should we be including any of the substance at all?

Back to the internet I went…. It appears from skimming various scientific looking studies (as if I can understand them) that there is very low toxicity from sorbitan monstearate. But still. There’s that word: toxicity. Even if it’s low, do we really want it?

Where on earth has all the yeast (additives or not) gone?

Flour seems to be returning to the shelves (sort of… on the shelf below the lone jar of yeast, we saw one 10kg bag of all purpose flour riddled with additives). But yeast is still a very scarce commodity. I did a search to find out why the shortage continues:

Though the New York Times reported last week that there has been no major disruptions to the American food supply chain, consumers have been stockpiling. This fear-induced behavior has created an environment where grocery stores — which are typically stocked with enough items for daily, not multi-weekly, need — cannot keep up with demand.
– Rebecca Firkser, Food52 | Here’s Why All the Yeast Is Sold Out Right Now, 28 March 2020

John Heilman, vice president of manufacturing for Fleischmann’s Yeast producer AB Mauri, roughly estimates that it’ll take a month or two until shoppers will see a consistent supply of dry yeast on shelves. “I’ve been with the company for five years, and this is by far the highest demand I’ve ever seen,” he said, noting that there’s been as much as a 600 percent increase year over year. […] [T]he supply chain issues may not have anything to do with these ingredients. Instead, a major problem seems to be getting all that yeast packaged. […] The facility in India where the company gets its jars was shuttered, and materials for paper packets have also run low. The extra staff that the plants are recruiting will mostly be aiding this packet packaging effort, as well as drying the yeast.
Aaron Mak, Slate | The Yeast Supply Chain Can’t Just Activate Itself, 15 April 2020
     The Washington Post compares baking supplies like yeast to “other in-demand groceries, such as toilet paper and eggs … stripped off the shelves” by crowds of shoppers who seek to stock up in uncertain times.
     The good news? Experts predict the situation should return to less-dire levels once suppliers increase production, stores have a chance to restock, and frenzied shoppers ease up on their bulk-quantity buying.
– Tracy Morin, Mashed | The real reason you can’t find yeast right now, 16 April 2020

Thank Goodness for the Internet and the Public Library!

Sometime in the 1990s, I borrowed a copy of Laurie Colwin’s wonderful book “Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen”. I read it cover to cover and was so entranced with it that I bought a copy to give to my sister as a Christmas present. But silly me, I didn’t give myself one too!

Mercifully, the library has a copy of the e-book in the system. And the Internet Archive has copies of many other older books that may be out of print and/or difficult to find.

Until I was searching for “Walnut Acres” yeast, I had completely forgotten that Laurie Colwin was entranced by Elizabeth David’s “English Bread and Yeast Cookery” with an introduction to the American edition by Karen Hess. This is the very book that I have just started reading now for the first time! It’s wonderful! (I read much of Elizabeth David’s book, “Italian Food” earlier this year – it’s a fascinating look at how parochial we were – and, I suppose in many ways, still are. But, unlike “English Bread and Yeast Cookery”, I did not feel compelled to read it cover to cover. Nor did it change my life.)

I read a book that changed my life: English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David, with American notes by Karen Hess. I read it as if it were a novel: I took it to bed with me and stayed up late to finish it.
Although perfectly good bread can be made using whole-wheat flour from the supermarket, it goes without saying that the better the flour, the better the bread. […] There are often wonderful flours available at farmers’ markets, and some people are lucky enough to live near a mill.
      Sea salt is purer and saltier than any commercial salt, and it is not a mere nicety to use filtered water.
      As for yeast, I use a preservative-free yeast from Walnut Acres which I guy in quantity and keep in the refrigerator.
– Laurie Colwin, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen, p44-50
Traditionalist that I am, I prefer working with fresh yeast. However, it behooved me to learn to work with the dry. From Elizabeth David I learned that the usual equivalency of one tablespoon (¼ oz or one packet) of dry yeast to ½ oz of fresh yeast is excessive. We Americans are particularly prone to this sort of error. The most striking aspect of the Short-Time Bread recipe on page 267 is that it calls for less yeast than the typical American bread recipe. Our recipes do not call for vitamin C only because standard flours are so full of unannounced ‘dough improvers’ that it would be superfluous.
      The error of overyeasting is compounded by the wretched quality of the dry yeast sold in supermarkets. It is loaded with butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), a preservative that not only is of doubtful safety but interferes dramatically with the healthy growth of the yeast. And whatever for? I buy preservative-free yeast by the pound and it keeps for months; I have never had the least difficulty with it. Pure yeast is also cheaper, costing me less than a penny for a large loaf of bread. The cost of Fleischmann’s yeast, at 11¢ a packet, was a whopping 22¢ for a similar batch made with their own recipes. I have found Walnut Acres and El Molino brands of preservative-free yeast to be especially reliable.
      I recommend throughout the book one scant teaspoon of preservative-free dry yeast in place of ½ oz of fresh. In my own baking, I use only ½ teaspoon, or less; the ideal proportion decreases […] ¼ teaspoon is ample for a basic batch of 4 cups of flour, and more.
– Karen Hess, Introduction to the American Edition (1979), English Bread and Yeast Cookery by Elizabeth David

Well. I remember the 1970s. But they are a long time ago. So it’s no big surprise that neither Walnut Acres and El Molino yeast seem to be available any more.

I did some more searching to find unadulterated yeast and came up with Bellarise (Gold) and Bellarise (Red). I cannot discover how to order yeast from the Bellarise site. If it’s even possible. :stomp: :stomp:

It was also extremely difficult to find an ingredients list for the yeast. I found the following on the tech data sheets (pdfs) that are linked at the bottom of the Yeast page.

BellaRise Yeast screenshots

These things jump out:
Composition/Information on Ingredients Data:
Yeast Components: Saccharamoyces cerevisiae Concentration: 100%
Hazardous Ingredients Data:
Catalyst: None
Vehicle: None
Additives: None

Good luck finding Bellarise in Canada! :stomp: :stomp: (Searching with the word “Bellarise”, the only thing that comes up is SAF instant.)

Maybe by the time our current jar of Fleischmann’s Active Dry is empty (or expires – the due date is September 2020), things will have settled down and be able to get it.

Red Instant Dry Yeast In Stock
Bellarise Red is the premier Instant Dry Yeast for making quality baked products with less than 10% sugar (bakers %). […]
Gold IDY In Stock
Bellarise Gold is the premier Instant Dry Yeast for making quality baked products with greater than 10% sugar(bakers %).
Bellarise Red is the premier Instant Dry Yeast for making quality baked products with less than 10% sugar (bakers %). […] Currently unavailable. We don’t know when or if this item will be back in stock.
Bellarise Gold is the premier Instant Dry Yeast for making quality baked products. Bellarise Gold does not need to be pre-hydrated prior to use, making it superior to active dry yeast, and works well in no-time, short term, and conventional time bread making methods. […] $14.99 In Stock. This item does not ship to Canada. Please check other sellers who may ship internationally.
SAF Red Instant Yeast – 16 oz. (1117) #201264 $5.95
Item is temporarily unavailable.
Ships within US only

But wait… As I was typing this up, I looked around the BellaRise site one more time and found that – EEEEeeeeeek!!! – BellaRise Instant Yeast contains monostearate* and ascorbic acid” too!

This sneaky little pdf is listed separately under “products » product catalogue”. I found it by clicking on the 3 little horizontal red lines at the top right corner of every page, and then expanding the dropdown list beside “products”. As far as I can tell, this link does not appear more prominently.

BellaRise Yeasts Screenshot

Included at the bottom of the image is the following note:
* Serves only as a processing aid and therefore has no impact on final product labeling.

Really?! Wow. Does that mean that if I consider that spitting into a bowl three times before stirring is a processing aid (please note that I don’t do this), I can claim that it has no impact on the final product labelling?


So. Never mind. I don’t want BellaRise Yeast after all. I might as well stay with Fleischmann’s if we decide we need commercial yeast.

In the meantime, I think we’ll stick with raising bread with our trusty Jane Mason Wholewheat Starter….


Lemon Juice edit 20 May 2020: I thought it would be interesting to see more about the Real Bread Campaign footnote on “long-fermenting breads” and Ascorbic Acid. Below is what I found. It’s making me think that the Roger’s Flour lemon juice secret might not be such a good idea after all!

Ascorbic acid (AA) is commonly known as vitamin C and […] is a commonly used oxidant (improver, additive) […] to improve dough gas retention through its effect on the gluten structure. […]
  &nbsp:   The oxidising effect of AA is mainly limited to the dough mixing period because bakers’ yeast will remove any oxygen remaining in the air bubbles by the end of mixing […]. Thus, in dough that leaves the mixer the gaseous mixture of nitrogen (from the air) and carbon dioxide (from yeast fermentation) that remains provides an environment in that AA can act as a reducing agent. If AA is used in doughmaking processes with extended periods of fermentation then the opportunity exists for the reducing effect of AA to weaken the gluten structure with subsequent loss of gas retention in the dough. Ascorbic acid is thus best suited to no-time doughmaking systems.
– S.P. Cauvin and L.S. Young, Baking Problems Solved, Improvers, p54-55


This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, food & drink, rant, whine on by .

* Thank you for visiting. Even though I may not get a chance to reply to you directly, I love seeing your responses and/or questions and read each and every one of them. Please note that your e-mail address will never be displayed on this site, nor will it ever be shared.

"Moderation" is in use. It may take a little time before your response appears. Responses containing unsolicited advertising will be deleted as spam (which means any subsequent attempts will be automatically relegated to the spam section and unlikely to be retrieved). For further information, please read the Discussion Policy.

2 responses to “staying at home: more ranting about yeast

  1. barbara

    Excellent research! Very interesting. I hardly do any baking these days, and haven’t made bread for years. But it’s good to know that I shouldn’t just automatically use active dry yeast, but should consider instant yeast. And I’ll stop raising my eyebrows at Alton Brown when he uses instant yeast.

    edit 20 May 2020, 09:14: Me too, Barbara! Except in my case, I’ll stop sneering…. – Elizabeth

    1. ejm Post author

      It’s fascinating, isn’t it? I am still spinning around in the rabbit hole and felt compelled to add a note at the bottom of the post about the Roger’s Flour lemon juice secret. I’m thinking that it’s yet another “tip” to help people get food onto their tables faster – without really considering whether the faster result will be a better result. -Elizabeth


Post a Response

You must fill in the "response", "name", and "email" fields. Please rest assured that your email address will never be posted or shared. This site uses Akismet to reduce spam; learn how your discussion data is processed. Please note that the optional fields that point to your website URL and website name may be removed without notice. For more information about what can (or cannot) be included, please read the Discussion Policy.