Brewing Yeast vs Baking Yeast

Understanding brewing yeast vs baking yeast can be at once simple and complex. It really comes down to preference and utility, but before we explain why, let’s take a closer look at yeast itself. Let’s go all the way back to the beginning of time.


To really understand the difference between brewing yeast and baking yeast, you need to know what yeast is. Because of course, we could say well brewing yeast ferments beer and baking yeast makes bread rise. But why? What’s the difference? And what are the results of those differences.

As far as we know, yeast is one of the oldest living organisms on earth, having evolved from bacteria, which evolved from archaea (a sort of extreme bacteria).

The reality, which few people really take the time to realize, is that all of life on earth began as a single microscopic life form. Over billions of years, we have evolved and branched off to make up different species and organisms, but in the beginning, we were all bacteria.

The first major branch to form from that single common ancestor was yeast. While bacteria are prokaryotic and had no enclosed nucleus of its own, yeast are eukaryotic, with that single, powerful, enclosed nucleus, just like humans.

Yeast, even in those early times, billions of years ago, sought sugar from plants as a source of energy. It would consume those plants and then produce alcohol, carbon dioxide, and hundreds of secondary metabolites as waste products. Those waste products have come to be extremely valuable to humans.

Brewing Yeast

While yeast add incredible nutrients and prebiotics to the human diet, it wasn’t nourishment humans were looking for when they discovered beer; it was safe drinking water.

While for hundreds of years anthropologists and archeologists believed that humans settled down and grew crops of grain for bread, which is what led to the domestication of humans and the civilizations we know today, the reality seems to be quite different.

Since the 1950s, scientists have been unearthing evidence that early grain was used not for bread but for beer. Sure, you might think the focus on beer over bread means early humans were alcoholics, and some experts might agree with you.

After all, a close study of human history shows that once any culture settles down and finds food and builds shelter, the next concern is the production of alcohol.

Test Your Yeast


And of course, alcohol provides a euphoric effect that is undeniable.

But the reality is that from very early times, people have had to worry about safe drinking water. Amoeba in water can strike an entire village with an illness that makes them terribly sick; it can even cause the death of entire populations.

Indeed, cholera, dysentery, and polio are all spread through contaminated water.

Thus, you can see how establishing a safe source of hydration would be a critical component of maintaining a healthy and functioning society.

It makes sense then, that once humans realized they could grow their own grain, a simple crop to produce, boil it, steep it, and allow nature to take its course, they would have safe drinking water.

And that is how brewer’s yeast was discovered.

Brewer’s yeast is a substrain of the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which ferments at relatively warm temperatures, allows for yeast to flocculate on the top of the fermented liquid once it is done consuming all the sugar, and will generally tolerate alcohol levels up to 15% ABV.

It was likely discovered by accident by someone who understood the basics of how wine is made. Think about it — if you know that grape juice left out turns to alcohol, why would the same not be true of a sugary grain water?

All you would have to do is germinate the grain to make it sugary, boil it, and wait.

Baking Yeast

If the discovery of wine and beer were “accidents” then the discovery of bread and baking yeast had to be the accident to end all accidents.

Before we have leavened bread, or bread that rises, cultures that made some form of bread typically had a flat bread like tortillas or pita in their basic recipe box.

But, clearly, at some point, someone left that flat bread out too long, probably in warm temperatures, and came back to discover a mound of dough two or three times its original size.

Upon baking that bread, the baker would have found a lighter, fluffier version than they were used to.

What happened?

Well, the same substrain of yeast that seeks the sugar in beer wort seeks sugar in bread. Especially if you are using germinated grain, those rich sugars in the dough will naturally attract S. cerevisiae. In bread, rather than producing an alcoholic beverage like beer or wine, the yeast will produce a fluffy bread because of the carbon dioxide. Those bubbles get trapped in the dough and cause it to stretch out and hold its form. The alcohol produced burns off during the baking process as yeast and alcohol die at temperatures greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit.

That’s right, brewer’s yeast and baker’s yeast are the same substrain of yeast.

In fact, for hundreds of years, bakers would take the krausen, or barm, off the top of brewing beer and use it for their bread.

What’s the Difference?

So what’s the difference?

Today, commercial manufacturers typically work with yeast that have been bred for hundreds of years to be used either in bread or in beer.

Some baking yeast might create bread-like flavors in beer, which is not necessarily a bad thing.

Also, baking yeast that comes from a manufacturing plant likely tolerates much lower alcohol levels, like the original yeast early bakers and brewers were counting on from the wild. So, beer fermented with baking yeast may bring in only a 2% or 3% ABV. The reality is you can usually get at least 5% ABV.

As such, the real difference between baking yeast and brewing yeast lies not in the yeast but in the way the yeast have been bred, cultivated, fed, and manipulated for certain results. For this reason, you can only find a few dozen baking yeast substrains while you can find a few hundred brewing yeast substrains.

Beer before bread, after all.


Are you still pitching fresh yeast every time? By reusing your yeast, you can save up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per year on just yeast alone!

Join the hundreds of brewers, bakers and vintners from all around the world using the Smartest Automated Yeast Cell Counter! Request a Free Demo Account today and experience firsthand how Oculyze can take your brewery or winery to the next level! 

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