NOTE FROM LISA: I’ve received dozens and dozens of questions about how to make yeast and how to use that yeast in recipes. I’ve tried to answer as many as I can but highly recommend the book, The Bread Bible to help you with specifics.
If you’ve been prepping for any length of time, you undoubtedly have a few weeks’ worth of emergency food storage. You may also have experimented with making your own wonderfully delicious bread and plan on making hot, fresh bread in times of an emergency, like a quarantine.
The downside of long-term prepping and bread making, though, is keeping active yeast on hand. The average “best by” date on yeast is 2 years. Once opened, it must be kept cool and dry. In a refrigerator, yeast can remain good for up to 4 months; in the freezer for 6 months.
Occasionally there are people who have had success with older yeast, but the bottom line is that store-bought yeast is for short-term. If you have store-bought yeast, stored longer than the above mentioned time frames, follow this simple test to see if it’s still active.
How to proof yeast
Dissolve 1 teaspoon of sugar in 1/2 C warm water from the tap. Between 110°F-115°F is most effective. The only way to really be sure about the temperature is to use a thermometer. When in doubt, the water from your faucet should be warm but NOT hot to the touch.
Stir in your dry yeast, either one 1/4 oz. packet (7g) or 2 1/4 teaspoons of granulated yeast. Most people say that the yeast should be brought to room temperature first, but I have always had good luck when using it straight from the freezer.
It only takes three or four minutes for the yeast to “wake up” and start to rise. After ten minutes, the surface of your yeast-water mixture should have a foamy top. If so, then congratulations! You have active yeast! It should be used immediately. Most recipes take into account the liquid needed to proof yeast. If yours does not, deduct 1/2 cup of liquid from your recipe if you proof the yeast with this method.
A good way to tell if your yeast has risen sufficiently is to use a 1 C measuring cup. If the yeast foam reaches the top, you’re good to go. If your yeast has an insufficient rise, it will not be any good for baking. Best to throw out the entire container.
Why yeast is important as part of your food storage pantry
Over the years, I’ve found that store-bought flour has a limited shelf life. Old flour can lose its gluten, which is what gives bread dough its stretchiness as you knead it, and your baked loaves might be crumbly — not exactly the best result. So plan in using and rotating stored flour in about a year after purchase.
Developing a balanced food pantry is part science and part art, which you can learn about in this free printable, “Create a Balanced Food Storage Pantry” — perfect for getting started with your own emergency food stash if you’re new to prepping.
Learn how to make your own yeast
If you can’t get to a grocery store for store-bought yeast and you’re really craving that hot loaf of bread, what’s the alternative? Try growing your own yeast by making a yeast substitute! Here are a few methods that should fit most needs and skill levels. Depending on the availability of the items listed below, choose one that best fits you, your region, and your personal stockpile.
Raisin / Fruit Yeast
- Clean Glass jar. (24oz. or larger) Sterilize in hot water and allow it to dry.
- Water. Clean, filtered, or bottled is good. Tap water can be used, depending on your local conditions. Warning: Too much chlorine in your water, or water that is too basic, can kill the yeast.
- Raisins or other fruit. Most fruits have traces of yeast on their skins. Note that you may not get as good of a result with fruit that has been washed and waxed.
- Place three to four tablespoons of raisins in your jar. Adding a few tablespoons of honey or sugar will facilitate the fermentation process.
- Fill the jar ¾ full with water. Place the lid on the jar lightly. Do NOT tighten the lid – you will want to allow some air to escape.
- Place jar at constant room temperature. Do not allow the jar to get cold. This will kill off the yeast and stop the process.
- Stir at least once a day for three to four days.
- When bubbles form on the top and you smell a wine-like fermentation you have yeast. The raisins, or fruit, should be floating.
- Place your new yeast in the refrigerator. Filter the yeast starter before using, according to the instructions below.
Yeast from Grain/ Sourdough Starter
Yeast is already present on grain. All you need to do is to cultivate it in a manner similar to the above instructions. Here is a basic recipe for sourdough starter, and if you’re knew to using wheat, this tutorial will get you caught up with all the basics.
- 1 1/4 C unbleached all purpose flour or milled wheat/wheat berries
- 1 C clean warm water
- 1 sterile jar with cheesecloth or lid
- Mix the flour and warm water, and keep at room temperature.
- After several days, the mixture will start to bubble and will begin to rise.
- Keep your starter in the refrigerator when not in use. Use as you would any sourdough starter.
NOTE: Here is another simple way to make sourdough starter.
Yeast from Potatoes
The starch in potatoes makes it another prime candidate for yeast production.
- 1 unpeeled medium-sized potato
- 4 C warm water
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1-quart jar
- Rinse your potato to remove dirt, but don’t scrub it too much.
- Cut it into pieces to facilitate cooking, then boil until cooked through.
- Drain, and save the water.
- Mash the potato and add sugar and salt.
- Allow mixture to cool until it is at room temperature.
- Add water to the potato mash until the whole mixture equals 1 quart.
- Cover and let sit in a warm place and allow it to ferment for several days.
Feeding the Starter
Once you have created your own yeast, you need to “feed” it regularly. This means adding 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to the mix so that the yeast can keep growing. You will need to feed the starter daily if it is at room temperature, or weekly if it is in the fridge.
If you don’t bake bread that day, you will also need to toss out one cup of the starter after feeding so that the ratios stay the same. This is an important step, and can be a great motivator to bake regularly so that none of your hard work goes to waste! Yeast starters are one thing you will not want to throw in the compost pile, as the bacteria can grow out of control and give you a very unpleasant result.
No matter which method you choose, making your own yeast is a skill that dates back thousands of years.
TIPS from my personal experience
- If your home is typically very cool like mine, you’ll have more success placing your yeast starter outside if outdoor temperatures are warmer. I wouldn’t recommend this for the hottest parts of the country, like Phoenix in the summertime!
- If you’re having a hard time finding a warm location in your home, place the jar next to a lamp or lightbulb. One friend wraps her jars with a string of Christmas lights, non LED.
- Try this to see if your yeast is ready for baking: Take a teaspoon of the mixture and put it in a glass of water. If it floats, there’s enough active yeast to rise a loaf of bread.
- Keep track of everything you do, from the date you started your yeast/starter, what you add to it, what it looks like each day (take pics with your phone), which recipes you used, and what the results were.
- Don’t add all the starter at once when mixing together your bread ingredients. Your recipe may not need the full cup that I suggest in this article.
- Cover the jar with a paper towel or fabric. I use a canning jar ring to secure the fabric, but a rubber band will work just as well.
- For more in-depth info and history about cultivating your own yeast, check out this short article.
How do you use homemade yeast to bake bread?
This is the most-often asked question from people who have found this article. If yeast is in short supply, the ability to make your own is a smart skill to learn unless you want to eat only unleavened bread for the foreseeable future!
But once you have your batch of homemade yeast, what next?
Well, I wish the answer was easy and cut-and-dried, but it not because there are so many different variables to consider. Store-bought yeast is precisely measured into little packets or, if you use a jar of yeast, you know exactly how much to use! Not so when it comes to using a yeast substitute.
I explain in this 7-minute video why using your homemade yeast may be a bit of trial and error and then give my best advice for moving forward.
There are thousands of different bread recipes and the homemade yeast you make has no specific measurement, but here’s a simple way to put it to use.
First, find a very simple, familiar bread recipe, preferably, one you’ve used before. If you’ve made this recipe, then you know what the end result should be — what the loaf should look like, the baking time required for your elevation, and so on. By using a recipe that calls for maybe 5 or 6 ingredients, you’ll have fewer variables that might affect the loaf you’ll be baking with your yeast substitute.
If you don’t have a simple bread recipe in mind, try this one from Taste of Home.
To get started, use 1 cup of your yeast substitute, one of the recipes provided here or another one you find online. If your recipe calls for 2 cups of water and/or milk, for example, this yeast substitute will replace one of those cups of liquid. Be sure to add the remaining liquid as called for in the recipe.
Bake your loaf of bread according to the recipe instructions, but keep an eye on it toward the last 15 minutes or so of the baking period. Because you’ve introduced a variable to the recipe, your homemade yeast, the baking time may vary by a few minutes.
Once your loaf is done and is, hopefully, beautifully risen and golden-brown in color, now it’s time for the big test! Will it taste the same and does it look about the same as the recipe when made with store-bought yeast?
When you’re ready for another loaf of bread, make this same recipe one more time and adjust the amount of homemade yeast according to the results of your first test loaf. Be sure to also adjust the total amount of liquid you add.
I liken this process to using a solar oven. Between the amount of sunlight, the type of food to be cooked, and the varying temperature of the oven, you can’t state flat out, “This recipe will be finished in 45 minutes…” Or 2 hours, or 3 1/2 hours. You aren’t dealing with a kitchen oven that always holds the same temperature over x-number of minutes or hours, so you have to check on the results and know it may take some experimenting to get the cooking time just right.
Hardtack is a very simple bread from pioneer days you might want to try if you are hungry for bread and want an easy option that doesn’t use yeast.
From my own personal experience, I can say that rarely is a loaf of imperfect bread not good enough to eat, even when it’s too puffy, too flat, or not picture perfect! Have fun learning how to make your own yeast and the final results, whatever they may be, and remember, practice eventually makes perfect!
This article, written by Right Wing Mom, was originally published in 2011. It has been updated and revised.
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