Yeast Of Eden: Should you be making homemade pizza with plain old commercial yeast, or the most expensive, Italian-born sugar fungus?
Have you begun traveling online in the realm of homemade pizza? If so, you’re probably finding much holy blather about the most blessed of ingredients of the pizza-making religion.
One such dictate of the blindly righteous is “Thou shalt use only Caputo 00 flour.” While Caputo has its place, that dictate is untrue. It really depends on what kind of pizza you’re trying to make.
Other such assertions include wood fire as the only worthy source of BTUs, fresh mozzarella as the only worthy cheese, and DOP San Marzano tomatoes as the only worthy fruit of the vine.
Poppycock, codswallop and fiddle faddle! (None of which should ever be used as a pizza topping. Unless, of course, you can find any of them in the proper artisan organic version.)
One of the more arcane arguments of the pizza cognoscenti involves a certain single-celled organism that gives all pizza people a rise.
This organism’s proper name is born of Latinized Greek: Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Close friends call this creature S. cerevisiae. Its name translated to English is “Sugar Fungus.” Mmmmmm, sugar fungus!
But most of us know this tiny creature as “yeast.”
Some months ago, I bought a can of Antimo Caputo brand Lievito Active Dry Yeast (Made in Italy). This yeast costs anywhere from 100% to 400% more than other options for Instant Yeast. (Unless you're buying packets of Fleischmann's on Amazon. Then, at current rates, Caputo's is a bargain.)
And yes, above I said, “other options for Instant Yeast.”
Yet the labelling on Caputo’s package says it's “Active Dry Yeast.”
But the instructions on the back of Caputo’s can indicate that the product is to be used as instant yeast, to wit: tossed directly into the flour without first activating it in water.
I suspect this "active" name is some manner of loss in translation from Italian to English. But cross-culture mangled marketing mayhem aside, I’ve been tossing this yeast problem around generally, and have come to a conclusion…
As long as you’re using Instant Dry Yeast, it just doesn’t matter what yeast you use. But if you’re curious, you might enjoy experimenting with other yeasts.
And I undertake many of these ludicrous pursuits so you don’t have to.
I was digging around and asking questions of Chef Google with no satisfaction. I finally said to myself: “Look, it’s yeast. It’s a single-celled organism. And commercial yeast, by definition, is a mass-produced product. It's made in giant tanks.
"How different can one brand of cell be from another brand of cell?”
I did some more digging. As I suspected would happen after asking the right question, the late, great Tom Lehmann was one of the top results.
Known as The Dough Doctor, Tom Lehmann was a food scientist at the American Institute of Baking. He was also renowned as a baking and dough consultant.
Someone had asked if all brands of yeast are the same. Tom replied, “There are different types of dry active yeast, such as active dry yeast (ADY) and instant dry yeast (IDY) and even protected active dry yeast (PADY) and within the IDY spectrum there are various strains for specific applications such as high sugar, and freeze tolerant and a new one that is extremely temperature sensitive.
“However, if you are asking if there is a significant difference in the same yeast types between the different manufacturers, the answer is no.”
Finally! A partial solution to my quandary. Yeast is yeast is yeast.
Wait. That last sentence sounds familiar. And that’s because…
Nathan Mhyrvold and/or Francisco Migoya said it, too. When in doubt, turn to the index in Modernist Pizza.
And within Modernist Pizza, Volume I, there it was: “Despite all the differing opinions, we can assure you of this: yeast is yeast is yeast. We choose to use instant yeast rather than fresh yeast or active dry yeast.”
The crew at Modernist Cuisine prefers Instant Dry Yeast because, “It mixes into the dough better than active dry yeast and has more active yeast cells (frankly it mystifies us that active dry yeast stays on the market).”
In case you care, Active Dry Yeast was a product developed by Fleischmann’s during World War I. Unlike fresh yeast, which is high in moisture, Active Dry Yeast was made to travel well, thus making it possible to bake fresh bread in the field. It's an antique product of food science from a century ago.
Instant Yeast is a more modern product, and is generally preferred among professionals. I’ve been making pizza with IDY for over 20 years, and I’ve used Active Dry Yeast exactly once.
I was at a friend’s house, didn’t realize I was out of Instant Yeast, and didn’t feel like driving to the store. My friend had Active Dry Yeast handy, so I worked with it after learning to increase the yeast measure by 25%, and account for the water used in blooming the yeast as part of the full measure of water for the dough recipe. Science!
However, here's the thing about Instant Dry Yeast: there are various strains of it. You’re never going to taste the difference between the yeasts in the final product. But you will notice different performance in your dough.
For instance, I mentioned to a truly pizza-geeky acquaintance that I was trying Caputo yeast. She told me I was going to love it. “The yeast smell and taste is the same as other instant yeasts. It's the flour, ingredients and method (poolish, direct, cold ferment, amount of time, etc.) that makes the difference in taste.
“But this yeast makes perfect dough no matter what recipe I use it in. I've even added a pinch and some flour to seven day old refrigerated dead flat dough and had the dough come back to life and make amazing pizza. Just my experience with it vs. Red Star, Fleischmann’s, and Saf-Instant yeasts in packets, jars, bulk bags, etc.” I’ve seen similar comments in Amazon reviews.
Of course, you also have to be careful with Amazon reviews. Some of them can sound like they’ve been written by a shill.
Others are written by people who clearly have no idea what they’re talking about.
And worst of all, some sound like they were written by a drunk. Or by me.
And know that (Caputo’s can labeling aside) we’re talking about Instant Dry Yeast. Period.
We are NOT talking about yeast with additives designed to make other things happen. Like Fleischmann’s Pizza Yeast. Do Not Use.
If you care about making a superior pizza, this is not the way to go about it. The crust ends up with a flavor that seems designed to appeal to someone who’s grown up on frozen pizza and wants to try and make a pizza just like it. Blech.
(Sorry, Fleischmann’s. I can taste this product a mile away. My brother-in-law made some pizza, and I couldn’t figure out what about it tasted off. I finally asked him, “Did you use Fleischmann’s Pizza Yeast?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Stop.” He did. His pizza is much better now.)
I also have a suspicion that the freshness of the product is a factor in the challenge of Caputo’s vs. the competitors’ products. I have no evidence to back this up. But the kinds of things that are happening—like better oven spring and more activity during the dough-making process—seem to suggest a happier, healthier Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Anyway, here’s my skinny on yeast. For the time being, I’m using the Caputo’s product. I’ve also used Red Star, Flesichmann’s, Saf-Instant, and even “store brand” with success. If you’d like to know more about Antimo Caputo brand Lievito Active Dry Yeast (Made in Italy), you can find it here. (Yes, that’s an Amazon affiliate link. If you go there and buy it, they’ll pay me some pathetic commission that makes me embarrassed to even say I’m in the program. But hey, every 7 cents is 7 cents.)
If you’d like to know more about getting your hands into the pizza game (much of it is in your head), check out my simple, silly guide on how to make pizza in your home oven, called (oddly enough), Free The Pizza: A System For Making Great Pizza Whenever You Want With The Oven You Already Have.
Blaine Parker is the award-winning author of the bestselling, unusual and amusing how-to pizza book, Free The Pizza. Also known as The Pizza Geek and "Hey, Pizza Man!", Blaine is fanatical about the idea that true, pro-quality pizza can be made at home. His home. Your home. Anyone's home. After 20 years of honing his craft and making pizza in standard consumer ovens across the nation, he's sharing what he's learned with home cooks like you. Are you ready to pizza?
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