What is the difference between yeast and baking powder?

In this brief article, we are going to answer the question,”What is the difference between yeast and baking powder?”, and discuss what yeast and baking powder is along with the  nutritional profile and health benefits of nutritional yeast.

What is the difference between yeast and baking powder?

The difference between yeast and baking powder is that yeast is a natural leavening agent, whereas baking powder is a chemical one.

Another difference is that, in general, yeast allows the bread to rise outside the oven, while yeast is activated inside the oven (1).

What is the role of yeast in dough rising?

The role of the yeast in the fermentation of the dough is to produce carbon dioxide (CO2) which is trapped in the dough, causing it to rise and forming cavities typical of the crumb of bread (2).

Yeasts consume starch sugars present in flour for their growth, reproduction, and maintenance of cellular functions (2).

The consequence of this is the production of some substances, such as carbon dioxide and ethanol as the main products. This gas allows the gluten proteins in the flour to expand and allow the dough to rise. In addition, yeasts, in addition to increasing the dough, are also responsible for good texture and flavor (2).

There are two types of natural leavening agents:

  • Fresh yeast (also called compressed cakes): At the end of yeast production (fermentation), the fermented broth/yeast is concentrated to a solid concentration of approximately 20%. Cream yeast is practically a liquid product. Therefore, due to its high water content, it needs to be kept in the fridge (2).

It must be kept refrigerated until it is used (at temperatures between 1 and 8 degrees Celsius or 34 and 46 degrees Fahrenheit). It should not be frozen, as this would damage the yeast cells and reduce its fermentative activity.

  • Dry yeast (also dry powder): it is a form of compressed yeast that is filtered to remove water, raising its solids content to approximately 30%, so it is still wet. This, in turn, is dried using dryers, generating a granular powder. Its advantage over compressed yeast is that, as its water content is very low, which reduces the chance of microbial contamination, it does not require refrigeration (2).

Dry yeast has the following advantages over fresh yeast: higher yield (use of smaller amounts); longer bench time (which allows manipulation of the dough while the yeast is activated); it does not need to be refrigerated and has a longer shelf life (two years versus a few weeks for fresh yeast) (3).

It is interesting to remember that, during yeast growth, not only carbon dioxide is produced, as well ethanol. Ethanol also helps the expansion of gas and ultimately the loaf rise (4).

Due to the low evaporation temperature of ethanol (about 78 degrees Celsius or 173 degrees Fahrenheit), it evaporates when the dough is put in the oven, which is why we do not consume it in the final food (4).

​​What is the chemical reaction of baking powder in baking?

The chemical reaction of baking powder in baking is an acid-base reaction that produces carbon dioxide.

A blend of baking soda and cornstarch eliminates the need to add the acidic components needed to activate the baking soda. Two reactions take place. The first occurs when a liquid reacts with baking soda. The second occurs when the temperature increases (inside the oven) (5).

Baking powder is mainly composed of sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO₃) and smaller amounts of ammonium bicarbonate (NH₄HCO₃) and potassium bicarbonate (KHCO₃). There is also the addition of a pre-mixed weak acid in proportions defined by each manufacturer. During chemical fermentation, CO2 is produced by KHCO₃ and sodium bicarbonate during dough resting and by NH₄HCO₃ during oven heating (6).

Unlike fresh yeast, it is not recommended that baking powder be refrigerated. It must be kept in a dry environment and away from moisture, that is, out of the refrigerator (7).

It is worth noting that sodium bicarbonate can replace baking powder. However, there is a need to add some acid, such as citrus juice, sour cream, and buttermilk, to create the required acidic environment for the reaction to occur (8,9).

Sodium bicarbonate reacts with any acidic material to liberate carbon dioxide gas (10). Baking powder already contains an acid component no need to add an acidic ingredient (9).

Which is better, yeast or baking powder?

Both yeast and baking powder are good. However, each of them has advantages and disadvantages, which will be discussed below.

Baking powder is much faster in action (11) as yeast takes longer to become active (12).

To prepare gluten-free breads, the use of baking powder is the most suitable for the production of gluten-free bread, as it acts during the mixing process when it comes into contact with the liquid in doughs and doughs, and, again, in the cooking process. , when heat is applied. For gluten-free doughs, an “extra yeast” is needed to create good air pockets (16).

Fresh yeast and also dry yeast are usually gluten-free. If gluten is present in the final product, this must be declared on the list of ingredients (13).

The special property of yeast is that it is a collection of living organisms and its capacity for growth is malleable and gigantic. Yeast can be manipulated and grown in your baked goods in many different ways and amounts (16).

Is there any harm in consuming foods that use baking powder or yeast?

No, there is not any harm in consuming foods that use baking powder or yeast.

Baking powder is recognized as safe by regulatory authorities such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (14). Likewise, the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae (used in bread-making) is categorized under GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) by FDA safe for human consumption without toxicity or side effects (17).

Nonetheless, baking powder can contain gluten, which is a concern for celiac individuals (15).

Other FAQs about Yeast and baking powder that you may be interested in

How to make fresh yeast from dry yeast

How much yeast is in a package?

Can yeast metabolize maltose?

What can I substitute for yeast?

What does baking powder do?

How to test baking powder?

5 Substitutions for baking powder in pancakes


In this brief article, we answered the question,”What is the difference between yeast and baking powder?”.


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13. Shelton T. Gluten-Free Baking: Perfect Gluten Free Bread, Cookies, Cakes, Muffins and Other Gluten Intolerance Recipes for Healthy Eating. Essential. Independently Published; 2019.

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