Back in April 2020, as Covid-19 sent everyone into a panic, essentials started flying off the shelves faster than stockers could keep them filled. For weeks, toilet paper and hand sanitizer were in seriously short supply. While cleaning and personal hygiene products were understandably in high demand, other more surprising products were also quietly disappearing from grocery store shelves.
Whether driven by panicky hoarders preparing for the end times or bored, housebound professionals filling their hours with botched baking attempts, America experienced a serious yeast shortage. Even today, if you stumble down the baking aisle at the local Kroger, you may not find a single envelope of basic baker’s yeast, even if you follow the one-way signs and wear a proper face mask.
If you bought up more yeast than your flash-in-the-pan baking interests required, or you have a stash you want to keep for the next panic-fueled yeast shortage, you need an effective long-term storage solution for your surplus. We’ve got you covered. Keep reading to find out exactly how to store your instant or active dry yeast for the long haul.
What Exactly IS Yeast?
Yeast is actually a fungus (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Just like all living organisms, yeast needs a few basic things to survive and thrive – namely food, warmth, and water.
The yeast you buy at the grocery store usually comes in a dry, granular state. This yeast goes through a high-heat, drying process that causes some of the live cells to die. Those dead cells create a protective crust that keeps the live cells inside safe and cozy until you’re ready for them to do their magic.
When you’re ready to make bread, you first dissolve the yeast in warm liquid (this is called proofing). This sloughs off the crusty dead cells, exposing the live ones inside. Once you’ve awakened the living yeast cells with some warmth, food, and moisture, they start chowing down and getting busy. As the yeast does some serious partying in your bread dough, it also releases a bunch of carbon dioxide, which gets trapped as tiny air bubbles. This causes the dough to rise and results in beautifully fluffy baked bread.
What is the Shelf Life of Yeast?
Fresh yeast has a pretty brief shelf life. However, since active dry yeast has that protective coating of dead yeast cells, it lasts much longer. Unopened packages of active dry yeast will last at least two years.
The “Use by” date stamped on every packet reflects that time frame. However, if you keep your unopened packets in the fridge or freezer, they may last even longer. Just be sure to return the yeast to room temperature before proofing.
Can I Use Expired Yeast?
Just like most “use by” dates on packaged foods, that date stamped on your yeast packages is more of a suggestion than a rule. I’ve successfully baked bread using yeast well beyond the stamped date on the package. There are even anecdotal stories of bakers using 13-year old yeast with favorable outcomes.
Using “expired” yeast won’t make you sick, but it could leave you with flat bread instead of fluffy brioche.
Those living yeast cells can only last so long encased in a shell of their dead friends. Once the inner cells die, no amount of warmth or yummy food will revive them. Dead yeast cells won’t make bread rise.
Baking With Expired Yeast
After a time, the live yeast cells will slowly die off. However, they don’t usually die all at once. So, even if the yeast has expired, it doesn’t mean all the cells are dead. You may still get some use out of those tired, stale packets.
If you suspect your baker’s yeast is well past its prime, you can add more yeast than the recipe requires and still get the same rising effect.
You can also give your weary yeast a sugar boost before you begin your baking. Place it in a bowl of warm sugar water to activate it before you add your other ingredients. This gives the few live cells that are present a chance to reproduce before you get down to business.
Long Term Storage Options for Dry Yeast
The secret to keeping yeast ready for baking far well into the future is to keep it away from the things it loves. What does yeast love? Warmth and moisture. That means you’ll need to keep it in a cool, dry place if you want it to last.
Thankfully, yeast packaging is built for long-term storage. The manufacturers have already removed air and moisture from their product and then sealed the yeast in a nice, moisture resistant envelope. (If you want an extra layer of protection, just pop those puppies in a mason jar and you’re good to go.)
You will still need to keep those packages safe from heat. Store them in a cabinet away from your stove, kitchen heating vents, and sunny windows.
Storing Yeast in the Freezer
If you really need to keep your yeast packets fresh for posterity, the freezer may be the perfect option. The low temps of your freezer will keep your live yeast cells in a sort of hibernating state, just like Han Solo’s carbonite deep freeze.
While it’s hard to say just how long yeast packets will last in the freezer, we guarantee it will be much longer than they will in the back of your pantry.
Choosing Yeast for Long Term Storage
Storing yeast can help ensure you’re ready to whip up a batch of warm, nurturing home-baked bread when the SHTF. If you are considering adding yeast to your zombie apocalypse stockpile, avoid buying those mega bulk packages. Although purchasing yeast in bulk is definitely cheaper, it can cause issues during long-term storage. If the packaging is compromised and any air or moisture gets in, you’ll lose the entire container.
Instead, opt for smaller packages. Single use envelopes are perfect. Red Star’s 3-packs are ideal. They are even nitrogen flushed to make them more shelf stable. Slip them in a freezer bag (better yet, vacuum seal them), toss those babies in the chest freezer, and you (or your grandchildren) will be baking fresh bread even when the proverbial poo is flying from the proverbial fan.