Yeast: answering the questions that also arise

Yeast for Baking:

Baker’s Yeast, Brewer’s Yeast, Nutritional Yeast, Instant Dry Yeast, Active Dry Yeast, Yeast Cakes, Compressed Yeast, Fast Rise Yeast, Rapid Rise Yeast, Quick Rise, Bread Machine Yeast, Wild Yeast … how are you supposed to know what to use when baking gluten free bread??! And what if you can’t have or don’t have yeast?

Good questions, all! Luckily I have answers for you!

First things first — what is “yeast?” Simply put, yeast is a living micro-organism that converts sugar and starch into carbon dioxide and alcohol, making it the perfect ingredient for beer brewers, wine makers and bread bakers — anywhere you need bubbles.

Yeast can be divided into 4 general categories:  Dried Yeast; Fresh Yeast; Wild Yeast; and Brewer’s Yeast.

For basic, at-home gluten-free bread baking purposes, we’re sticking with the first category, but in case you are curious, I’ll give you the nutshell version of the other three kinds of yeast (it’s great trivia to impress your friends!).

(And in case you’re wondering, the yeasts we’re going to be talking about are all gluten free unless otherwise noted.) 


 fast rise yeast

Baker’s/Dried Yeast:

This form of Baker’s yeast is alive but inactive due to lack of moisture. 

Quick Rise, Rapid Rise, Fast Rise, Instant Dry and Bread Machine Yeast are all basically the same, but are different from “Active Dry Yeast” in that they are more finely granulated and are dried to a lower moisture level, so these quick rise yeasts need not be dissolved in water to become hydrated before mixing (i.e. no proofing!). Specific brand package directions will indicate the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer to allow for rising.

What does the name mean to you? It means that these instant dry yeasts can be added to the dry ingredients during mixing or can be added last, on top of other dry ingredients in a bread machine. Furthermore, these fast rise yeasts usually contain ascorbic acid which increases the height you’ll achieve with most baked loaves.

Gluten free loaves do not need — and in fact, should not be punched down and given a second rise (find out why in this article) — so these instant yeasts are the perfect choice for your gluten free bread baking needs. Do not proof these yeasts or they will lose some of their fast rising properties.

Active Dry Yeast has larger granules and must be dissolved completely for the yeast to become “active,” so it must be dissolved in warm water (100° to 110°F) before using.  This process is called “proofing” or “proving” the yeast.

It also typically requires more Active Dry yeast to rise a bread loaf than it does Instant Yeast, so those recipes can smell and taste more “yeasty.”

Dried yeast of either kind is most often sold in 3-pack strips or in 4-ounce jars.  Three-pack strips each contain a 2 1/4 tsp. of yeast per packet — the amount typically required for one loaf of bread.


To proof active dry yeast or cake yeast …

add 1 packet of yeast plus 1/4 cup warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. By warm water, I mean 100-110F, or an easy trick is just to stick your finger in the water and if it feels a little warm, it’s probably just right. Cold water won’t activate the yeast well and if the water is too hot, it could kill the yeast organisms. Think Goldilocks.

Stir the mixture together in a bowl like pictured here and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. The yeast should start bubbling, which means it is fermenting into alcohol and carbon dioxide — the bubbles you want inside your breads to give them rise and lightness.

Always store yeast away from moisture and at room temperature, and use by the expiration date; it does keep longer if refrigerated or frozen, but bring it to room temperature before using. Almost all of these types and brands (Red Star; SAF, Hodgson Mill, Fleishmann’s, …) of yeast are gluten free and many say so on the packaging. 

Of note: Red Star PLATINUM and Red Star SOURDOUGH STARTER are NOT GLUTEN FREE. As with anything else, always read labels!

Red Star Platinum Yeast products are NOT safe for those who eat gluten free.
Red Star Platinum Yeast products are NOT safe for those who eat gluten free.

Baker’s/Fresh Yeast:

This yeast (also called “Cake Yeast”) is alive and extremely perishable since it has not been dried. You may, but you don’t have to, proof this yeast. To work with fresh yeast, soften the yeast cake in warm water or just crumble it into the dry ingredients.

Fresh yeast requires two rises, so it is not ideal for gluten free breads, which require only one rise. To substitute fresh yeast in a recipe calling for active dry yeast, use one cake for each package (2 1/4 teaspoons) of Active Dry or Instant Yeast called for in the recipe.

Wild Yeast:

Ever made a sourdough starter? That’s Wild Yeast. Starters are comprised of a mixture of equal parts flour and water, “colonized” by yeast and friendly bacteria (and yes, you can make a gluten free sourdough starter using my gfJules Flour!).

One way of making your own starter is to simply sprinkle 2-3 teaspoons of active dry yeast onto 2 cups of warm water and let sit for 15 minutes, then whisk in 2 cups of gluten free all purpose flour.  Cover loosely, and let the mixture sit. You need to “feed” it, as my friend Amy says – “like a pet!” Read more about how Amy has perfected the gluten-free sourdough starter on her blog.

The more authentic way of making sourdough starter is to follow the recipe below by mixing in a non-reactive container like glass, glazed pottery, stainless steel, or food-grade plastic.

  • 1 cup sifted gfJules Gluten Free All Purpose Flour (135 grams)
  • 1 cup filtered water
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • either 1 teaspoon gluten free dry yeast OR 2 Tablespoons yogurt (dairy-free works fine)

Whisk together until no lumps are present and all the flour is incorporated, then set aside with a loose cloth covering the top. The room should be at least 70F, or place it in a warmer location like near your oven or in a warmer room.

gluten free sourdough starter

Once active, the sourdough starter will bubble and grow, exceeding the capacity of your bowl if you’re not careful! This starter is covered with cheesecloth and sat on my counter at room temperature for 1 1/2 weeks while I fed it before covering and refrigerating.

Allow the starter to sit, loosely covered, for 24 hours then whisk in another 1 cup of gfJules Flour and 1 cup filtered water. Repeat every 12 hours until the starter begins to bubble and rise (becomes active). If it does not seem active after a few days of this feeding cycle, stir in another 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar and move it to a warmer location. If it still does not bubble and smell tangy after 12 more hours, add 1 teaspoon more yeast.

Once it seems to have come alive, begin feeding the starter 2-3 times a day in the same way, but when it becomes too voluminous for your container, halve the starter volume and discard or separate into another container in order to give the yeast proportionately more food to digest each time it’s fed.

Continue this process for 7 days, or until the starter doubles in volume or looks very bubbly and active within 6 hours after feeding. At that point, use the starter or transfer to another container that can be covered and placed in the refrigerator until ready to use. If the container has a lid, do not tighten it completely.

Traditional methods say to feed the starter and then discard all but 1/2 – 1 cup of starter; most of the time, I simply divid it into another container (a couple times, actually!) and then gift the starters to ambitious gluten free friends. You could also use excess starter (once active) for other recipes like coffee cakes, scones, muffins … just use your gluten free starter in place of yogurt or sour cream or even milk in many recipes.

Every time you use the starter for baking, pull it out the night before to allow it to come to room temperature and feed it again. Ideally it would be fed and sit for 12 hours before using. Once you’ve added the starter to your recipe, feed the remaining starter again and return to the refrigerator. 

Even if you’re not using your starter every week, try to remember to feed it once a week and then return to the refrigerator after discarding or gifting some.

gluten free sourdough dough with gluten free board
Homemade gluten free sourdough bread.


Brewer’s Yeast/Nutritional Yeast:

To confuse things further, there are two kinds of Brewer’s Yeasts: one used to produce alcohol and bubbles in beer; the other used as a nutritional supplement.  The latter is what is used in cooking — it is deactivated, and will not produce any alcohol or bubbles.

While there is a difference between the Brewer’s Yeast used for cooking and Nutritional Yeast, they are actually made from the same strain of yeast. Brewer’s Yeast for cooking is a by-product of beer production and thus, retains some of the bitter flavor from the hops; Nutritional Yeast is not as bitter because it is grown on molasses.

nutritional yeast | gfJulesOne would assume that people eating gluten free would need to avoid “Brewer’s” yeast, opting for “Nutritional” yeast instead; however, one brand I have used takes confusion to new heights by calling itself “Brewer’s Yeast: High Potency Instant Natural Nutritional Yeast.”

At first, I passed it by, but the product rep assured me it was gluten free. How could this be? Apparently because this particular “Brewer’s Yeast” product is grown on beet molasses, rather than being a by-product of gluten containing beer processing. Right. I wish they could get their terminology straight! (Yet another reason to read labels thoroughly in every case!)

As a nutritional supplement, this yeast offers a cheesy/nutty flavor that vegans love to use in recipes where the cheese is not used — it’s even great on popcorn!  It is also full of protein and B vitamins, and thus is highly prized, particularly in the vegetarian community.  

I have a great recipe for gluten free crustless (vegan) quiche in my newest cookbook, Free for All Cooking.  It’s fun to make something so simple and easy for your family’s dinner, and know it’s chock full of yummy good-for-you goodness — you really should give nutritional yeast a try in some of your recipes, too!

gluten free bread on Words with Boards board with knife

Gluten Free Bread Baking — which yeast and why?

So by now you’re probably asking why gluten free yeast breads require only one rise, and therefore work well with the instant yeast varieties.

Well, we have come to the point in this program where we can celebrate the fact that gluten free yeast breads are actually faster to make and to bake because they do not contain gluten. Obvious, I know, but that means that there is no “punch down” step, no second rise, and no kneading required. In fact, all those steps are done just to “exercise” the gluten, which is totally lacking in our breads (right?!). 

So actually, not only do you not need to take those steps, you don’t want to do them either, or you will kill your precious gluten free bread! For more on they why and how of making great gluten free bread … easily, read my top tips to Great Gluten Free Bread.

Trust me: when making gluten free bread, simply mix/beat well; cover & rise; bake; enjoy.  That’s it. Easy as can be.  You can even do it with a wooden spoon and bowl, although I’ll admit I use my stand mixer every time I have a choice.

gluten free yeast free dinner rolls in basket - gfJules
Gluten Free Yeast Free Dinner Rolls

What if I can’t have yeast or can’t find yeast?

I have lots of gluten free bread recipes that don’t require yeast. 

Many breads can still be yummy when you use chemical leaveners like baking soda and baking powder in place of yeast. Typically you’ll use the same amount of double acting baking powder in place of yeast, so if a recipe calls for one packet of yeast, you’ll use 2 1/4 teaspoons of baking powder.

If you don’t have baking powder, you’ll need to add baking soda plus an acid, so use an equal amount of baking soda and lemon juice or white vinegar in place of yeast. Either double acting baking powder or the baking soda + acid trick will replace the yeast needed to create the bubbles that give the dough lift and create air pockets that make bread, well, bread. What will be different is that there will be no yeasty smell or taste and there will be no need to allow for rise time. 

Gluten Free Bread recipes where I offer options for chemical leavening in place of yeast:


gfJules gluten free pita breads in oven
Gluten Free Pita Bread.


My Gluten Free Flour Tortillas and Gluten Free Pita Bread or Flatbreads recipes are fantastic, already yeast-free recipes that need no yeast to make great bread. I encourage you to give these recipes a try.
Yeast and Gluten Free Baking: your questions answered | gfJules
Yeast answering the questions that also arise

All about yeast: What it is, as well as how, when, and why we use it by gfJules