What Are the Differences Between Fresh yeast, Dry Yeast, and Sourdough Starter?

Here is a question i get all the time. Why should i use a sourdough starrer instead of dry yeast and what are the differences between them?

The differences between fresh and dry yeast and sourdough starter are as follows:

  • Most yeast comes ready to use right out of the packet, whereas with a starter, you must wait several days or weeks before you can use it to bake bread
  • You need to continually care for a sourdough starter, while yeast needs much less tending to
  • Dry and some fresh yeasts are commercially-manufactured, but with a starter, you have to make it yourself ( or you can ask your local bakery for a bit of theirs if you are on good terms with the baker )
  • Sourdough starter dough takes longer to rise

In this article, we’ll elaborate more on the differences between yeast and sourdough starter. We’ll also discuss what the finished product looks like using one over another so you can choose the best ingredients for your bread. You’re not going to want to miss it!

What Are the Differences Between Fresh and Dry Yeast and Sourdough Starter?

Yeast Is Almost Always Ready to Use, but a Starter Isn’t

The first difference between yeast and sourdough starter is that yeast is pretty fast-acting for the most part.

Fresh yeast, also known as compressed or cake yeast, is a block of yeast that you tend to get from a baker more often than not. You might be able to buy fresh yeast at the grocery store, but you’re far more likely to come across dry yeast unless you go to a specialty store.

The moisture content of fresh yeast is 70 percent. Rather than use the whole block of yeast, you break or crumble some of the yeast off and add it to your bread dough recipe. From there, it works the same way as dry yeast does, with the main difference the fashion in which the yeast is produced. Fresh yeast also expires a lot faster than dry yeast.

Active dry yeast, which is one type of dry yeast you might have in your pantry, does admittedly require a bit more care. You need to proof and hydrate it, dissolving it in water that’s between 110- and 115-degrees Fahrenheit. Use about half a cup of water and add a teaspoon of sugar for the yeast to feed on.

Some brands of active dry yeast can be added straight to your recipe without being fed any sugar. In that case, you do want to make sure that you crank up the heat with your water temperature, increasing the temps to 120 to 130 degrees for the best results.

Instant yeast, another type of dry yeast, can also be dumped right into your recipe. It does need a bit of water to activate the dehydrated yeast granules, but since you use water in your bread dough recipe anyway, that makes using instant yeast effortless. 

If you woke up this morning and thought about how you wanted to bake a loaf of bread later, you can’t just decide to use a sourdough starter on a whim. The starter won’t be ready for a while, so you must have a game plan in place before you choose to bake bread with a starter. Otherwise, you can always fall back on yeast, especially dry yeast.

Sourdough Starters Need a Lot More Time and Care

While dry yeast isn’t completely effortless to prepare, you only need to pour the little yeast packet into some water and sugar and then wait for the yeast to begin fermenting. As we said before, that’s not even a necessary step for all brands of dry yeast.

When making a sourdough starter, you have to put in considerably more time, effort, and care. A sourdough starter will require a daily feeding routine in order to keep it active.

This isn’t something you commit to for a day or two, by the way, but for a week or two at a time. It’s a lot like having a pet for a while!

You Can’t Really Buy Sourdough Starters Like You Can Yeast

Okay, so you can’t make a sourdough starter in a matter of 24 hours, but surely you can buy it at the store, correct? No, actually, you can’t. Even if you find sellers online who claim to sell sourdough starters in good condition, steer clear. Traveling with a starter is possible, but you have to be there to feed the starter water and flour during your travels.

You can’t just put the starter in a box or package, ship it across the country, let it travel for days, and expect it to survive. That’s not how starters work.

Your only option is to have a sourdough starter ready or if you are on good terms with your local baker they might be kind enough and give you some active sourdough starter.

Dry yeast though is widely available at stores, so that baking whim of yours can be satisfied if you decide you’d rather bake with yeast than a starter.

You’ll Wait Longer for Sourdough Starter to Rise

If you’ve ever baked pizza or bread dough before, then you know the gist. You cover the bowl of dough, put it in a comfortable environment, and wait for it to double in size. How humid your home is can enhance rising time, but it generally takes an hour to two hours.

Your sourdough starter though, when ready, will rise in at least four hours. Some bakers have reported it takes as long as 12 hours, which is quite a long time! That’s another reason you can’t just use a sourdough starter on a whim.

What Kind of Finished Product Should You Expect Using Yeast vs. a Starter?

If you decide to use dry yeast, fresh yeast, or a sourdough starter for baking your bread, will you notice any differences when the loaf comes out of the oven?

You very well may! Bakers that use fresh yeast have claimed that their loaves of bread tend to have a sweeter taste, so it might be worth trying fresh yeast at least once if you can get your hands on it. Not every baker who has used fresh yeast has noticed a difference in flavor though, FYI.

What about baking with a starter? All that hard work you put into making and maintaining your sourdough starter is rewarded when you take a bite and notice the rich depth of flavor. You get loads of great taste and you didn’t even have to use sugar and oil! Reason for these rich flavors is due to the long fermentation process of they starter and the dough you made with it.

Can You Switch Yeast for a Starter and Vice-Versa? How?

What if you only have fresh yeast but your recipe calls for dry yeast instead? Do you have to find another recipe? Not necessarily. Here’s how to convert fresh yeast to dry yeast.

  • If your recipe calls for 7 grams of dry yeast, use 2/3rds an ounce of fresh yeast and up to 4 cups of flour
  • If your recipe calls for 14 grams of dry yeast, use 1 + 1/3rds an ounce of fresh yeast and 4 to 8 cups of flour
  • If your recipe calls for 21 grams of dry yeast, use 2 ounces of fresh yeast and 8 to 12 cups of flour
  • If your recipe calls for 28 grams of dry yeast, use 2 and 2/3rds an ounce of fresh yeast and 12 to 16 cups of flour

As for swapping out yeast for a sourdough starter, you can do that as well. You want to use a single measure of your starter, then water (two measures) and flour (three measures). This gives you quantities of 3/6ths of flour, 2/6ths of water, and 1/6ths of your sourdough starter.

So let’s use a real example. Going from yeast to a sourdough starter would mean your bread recipe would have 200 grams of your sourdough starter, 600 grams of flour, and 400 grams of water.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Baking Bread with Dry Yeast, Fresh Yeast and Sourdough Starter?

Finally, let’s discuss the pros and cons of baking bread using the different types of yeast

Dry Yeast


  • One of the biggest advantages of using dry yeast for your bread dough is the convenience of it. Instant yeast just needs some water to be woken up, so to speak, so your prep work is next to nothing. Even proofing active dry yeast isn’t hard, not does it take long. Compared to using a sourdough starter, in which you’re spending lots of your time on it, proofing active dry yeast is child’s play.
  • The availability of dry yeast is also great. you can literally find it at any supermarket guaranteed.
  • The fast-acting quality of yeast means you can make dough in the morning, leave it to rise, come home from work, and get to baking on that same day. That’s definitely a huge advantage!


  • Bread made with dry yeast can lack the depth and richness of a sourdough bread. This could be ok if you are making a brioche or a challah bread though.
  • Don’t get me wrong, you will get a good bread when using dry yeast but it just simply does not measure up to a sourdough starter made bread.

Fresh Yeast


  • Fresh yeast like dry yeast is active and ready to go right out of the package. It is a fast acting yeast and the proofing times of your dough will not be very long.
  • Fresh yeast also give you a nice flavor to your bread ( much richer than dry yeast)


  • The lack of availability of fresh yeast is a downside, it can be quite hard to find.
  • Fresh yeast has a shelf life of about a week
  • Fresh yeast is more sensitive to dry active yeast. If you mix it with salt or overmix your dough causing it to heat up you may kill the yeast.

Sourdough Starter


  • The pride you get from making a sourdough starter from scratch is something any passionate baker will want to feel at least once. You also get more flavorful bread for all your blood, sweat, and tears (figuratively, of course!). You might never want to go back to using yeast for baking your bread.
  • It is renewable
  • You can use it for many other baked goods
  • It also makes for a nice gift.


  • We’d be remiss to gloss over that making a sourdough starter is no easy venture. It is a commitment you need to be ready for. Usually feeding it daily. I say usually because there is a way around a daily feeding. You can read our article about a how to make your own sourdough starrer right here. in there ( at the end of the article ) I explain how to go about feeding your started depending on how active you are with your bread baking.
  • The process of making a sourdough bread is quite long. Usually runs between 24 to 48 hours.


Whether you prefer to make your bread with yeast or a sourdough starter, there’s definitely a difference. Although working with a starter is much more effort-intensive, you tend to end up with a more flavorful loaf of bread. You could always save a lot of prep time by using dry or fresh yeast instead.

We’d recommend experimenting with all types of yeast as well as a starter so you can see how your bread turns out and which is your favorite!

I would break it down to your skill level as well.

If you are a novice use dry yeast, if you have a bit of expriance and want to try something new go for Fresh yeast. Once you have your bread baking skill down you can move on to sourdough starters.

Happy baking.


Hi, my name is Amit. I started baking at a young age at my father's bakery. I hope I can answer some of your questions and hopefully you will find some hidden gems to help you out with your home baking skills.

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