What makes a simple lump of dough rise to a delightful loaf of bread? The same thing that makes a pint of beer so bubbly and delicious and gives a glass of wine its character and aroma: yeast.
A tiny, live organism that has been "domesticated" through centuries of bread and beer-making, the humble yeast plays a key role in creating some of our favorite foods and drinks even today.
If you're curious about different types of yeast and how they're used to make bread, beer, wine, and more, keep reading because, in this blog post, we explore the fascinating world of this superhero of the culinary world.
What is Yeast?
Yeast is a live microorganism, more specifically, a unicellular fungus. And as you may have guessed from the title of this article, it's not just one type – there are actually countless varieties of yeast found in nature.
In fact, yeast can be found everywhere: on plant leaves, the skin of fruits, in the soil, and even in the air we breathe.
Different Types of Yeast
As mentioned, there are many types of yeast, but for the purpose of this article, we'll focus on the two most commonly used varieties: baking yeast and brewing yeast.
The primary yeast used in baking is known as "baker's yeast." This is a strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae specifically selected for its ability to leaven bread and other baked goods. You can get it in a few different forms, including:
- Fresh Yeast: This is yeast in its most natural form. It's a moist, creamy substance that's often sold in small cubes. It’s highly perishable, so it needs to be used within a short time frame, making it less common in home baking.
- Active Dry Yeast: Active dry yeast is a granulated form that is widely available and easy to store. However, it needs to be rehydrated in warm water before being added to the dough.
- Instant Yeast: Quick rise or instant yeast is very similar to active dry yeast, but it's finer in texture and can be added directly to the dry ingredients in your recipe. It also doesn't require the rehydration step, so it's great for quick baking projects.
Brewing yeast is specially cultivated to produce alcoholic beverages like beer, wine, and spirits. The strains of yeast used in brewing are different from those used in baking, as they are selected for their unique ability to produce alcohol and specific flavor profiles.
- Ale Yeast: Ale yeast is a top-fermenting yeast, so it's used in brewing brown, pale, mild and other ales. It ferments at warmer temperatures, resulting in a quicker fermentation process and a wide range of flavors.
- Lager Yeast: Lager yeast is used in making lagers, which are bottom-fermented. It also ferments at cooler temperatures. to a clean and crisp taste, typical of lagers.
- Wine Yeast: Wine yeast strains are tailored to ferment grapes and other fruits for winemaking. They help preserve the natural flavors and aromas of the fruit while converting the sugars into alcohol.
- Distillers Yeast: Distillers yeast is used to produce spirits like whiskey, vodka, and rum. It's selected for its ability to produce high alcohol content and specific flavor characteristics.
- Thiolized Yeast: While yeast's crucial role in brewing has always been to convert sugars into alcohol, in recent years, craft breweries have been experimenting with thiolized or engineered yeast. This type of yeast has undergone a process to enhance its thiol production, which is responsible for the characteristic flavors and aromas in certain beer styles, particularly in hoppy beers like IPAs.
Other Uses for Yeast
While bread and beer are two of the most well-known products that rely on yeast, these microorganisms are as versatile as can be, so they have multiple applications. For instance, yeast is also used in the production of:
- Flavor Enhancers
- And even biofuel!