Instant Yeast vs. Active Dry Yeast

I have always been a bit nervous when it comes to recipes involving baker’s yeast. The terms “proofing” and “activation” are a bit daunting and I always go into a yeasted dough recipe sure it won’t turn out. With the new year comes new resolutions and  this year the goal is to go outside my culinary comfort zone, starting with yeast.


The first thing when going into a baked recipe is to know the science behind why the bake turns out the way it does. With yeast, understanding what gives it the power to raise a loaf of bread is crucial. If you don’t know why you are kneading, and proofing, and incorporating the exact amount of sugar at the right time, you may skip a step and your bake will not turn out the way you planned. With knowledge comes understanding and eventually the steps you take to achieve the perfect rise will have a purpose and you will begin to bake by touch and feel rather than reading off of a recipe card. 


So what is yeast? The webster simplified version is “a single-celled fungus that ferments sugar to produce alcohol and carbon dioxide.” In this article we are discussing dry baker’s yeast, which is different from brewer’s yeast used to make beer. The dry yeast feeds on the sugar in your dough and through fermentation converts that sugar to carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide gasses become trapped in the gluten structures that have been kneaded into the dough and expand when the dough becomes hot in the oven. This is what creates the beautiful rise that we see in yeasted recipes. The yeast also imparts a delicious flavor and texture that you expect in risen breads. 



Purchased dry yeast comes in two forms. Instant yeast and active dry yeast. They both have a longer shelf life than a wet yeast because of the drying process, which is done for preservation. You should store them in an airtight container in the refrigerator for the longest shelf life. 

Both of these forms of yeast require a liquid for activation and a sugar for fermentation. They differ however in their activation times. While active dry yeast can take a while to raise a loaf of bread, instant yeast claims to work in half the time. The packages for instant and active dry yeast claim that each can be substituted for the other in a 1:1 ratio. I was doubtful of this fact because of the difficulty in raising yeast to begin with and that is where my experiment comes in…


The Experiment:

Instant yeast claims to activate a lot faster than active dry yeast. Using the same recipe, are the same amounts of yeast, liquid, and sugar required to raise equal amounts of flour?



I chose cinnamon rolls for this experiment because it is a fairly straight forward yeasted dough and also, who doesn’t want to start the new decade off with cinnamon rolls? My final perfected recipe is linked at the bottom of the page but if you want to see how I came to this conclusion keep reading!

To start I looked at the steps required to make cinnamon rolls and the alterations I would need to make for the different yeast types. All steps are the same except for the first rise. While the active dry yeasted dough requires two “proofings” to completely raise the flour, the instant yeast only requires one, which knocks an hour and a half off of your total time. This seemed like a huge bonus however, I was curious to see how much flavor was imparted to the dough during the active dry yeast’s extra rise time.

The first step in each recipe is to warm the milk to around 100°F and then whisk in the milk and yeast. This mixture then needs to rest for 10 minutes. This is to activate the yeast and make sure it is working properly. In both recipes the yeast had foamed and dissolved after 10 minutes. This is a good sign!

The next step is to finish making the dough, which is the same in both recipes. I incorporated the butter, then the eggs and salt. I finished the dough by kneading in the flour and mixing with a dough hook for 5 minutes.

Active Dry Dough After Kneading
Active Dry Dough After Kneading
Instant Yeast Dough After Kneading
Instant Yeast Dough After Kneading

As you can see from the pictures above, the dough with the active dry yeast is wetter than the instant yeast dough. This is the first big difference. I had to add a little more flour to get the active dry yeast dough to the right consistency while the instant dough was just right. 

The next step is where the difference in technique occurs. While the instant dough is ready to be filled and rolled directly after kneading, the active dry dough requires two rises so will need to sit in a warm environment for 1-2 hours until it is doubled in size. Since the instant yeast is formulated to require only one rise period for the dough, making it seems like an overall easier recipe. 

After filling the instant yeast dough with the cinnamon mixture, rolling it out and finally cutting, I covered the dough with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator to wait out the active dry dough, which was rising on the counter. The one thing I will say about the instant yeast dough at this point is the amount of effort required to roll out was double that of the active dry yeast dough. The gluten structure is tougher in the instand dough due to no rest time. This made it very difficult to get a long roll and therefore leads me to my first conclusion:

1. The instant yeast dough will make fewer yet larger rolls

Once the dough was risen I removed the instant yeast dough from the refrigerator to thaw while I worked with the active dry dough. After cutting, filling, and covering the active dry dough with plastic wrap, they both will require another hour of rise time. To help this process along I heated up the oven to 200°F. When at temperature I immediately turned the oven off, placed the doughs inside and cracked the oven door. After the hour was over the instant yeast dough was perfectly risen.

Instant Dough After Rise
Instant Dough After Rise

The active dry yeast is having trouble with its second rise while the instant dough is perfectly fluffy. I believe this is due to the sugar content. The active dry yeast is not as active in the second rise because of the high amount of sugar. This leads me to my second conclusion:

2. When using Instant Yeast, to ensure flavor you should slightly increase your sugar content.

The next step is to bake in a 400° oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Both of my doughs were browning too quickly so after 15 minutes I covered with foil and baked 7 minutes longer, total in oven time of 22 minutes.

Baked Active Dry Dough Rolls
Baked Active Dry Dough Rolls

In the end the instant yeast rolls took half the time and were just as flavorful and fluffy as the active dry rolls. While the instant yeast did not produce as many rolls, their texture was in my opinion better than the active dry because of the shorter rise and the sugar content. Going forward I will always make my life easier and use instant yeast for my dough recipes!

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