Alive Or Dead? How to Proof Your Yeast

Mold is so gross.  I once lived in a house that was nasty.  It was rented and it was also in this condition when I arrived, so I’m not embarrassed to tell you this.  When I moved in, I wanted to do a heavy cleaning… but, there was black mold in the shower and suddenly, I was very scared to touch it.  Being the son of my mother, who formed in me fear of filth, I did research on it and found it would probably be less work just to leave it be.  Black mold and I co-existed even though in the shower I often felt like Harry Potter facing Lord Voldemort… one of us must die!!!!


It’s always a bit strange for me to think that when I’m eating bread I’m eating a different specie of the man-eating black mold I had in that shower.  Yeast!  Apparently it comes from a Sanskrit word yas which means, “to boil.”  We all know what yeast does though, right?  It makes our breads grow!  Baking powder and baking soda do this as well, except they rely on chemical means to make breads leavened.  Yeast, instead, is a living thing that actually feeds off of the dough!  Have I turned you off from bread yet?

Peruvian markets are strange.  You can go to a super market and find things close to how they would be in the U.S.A, but you pay the price.  Walk into the Peruvian market place and you are bombarded by strange sights and smells.  The smells are more raunchy than the sights, which makes me wonder every time how the market still functions!  Why do people come here!!!  Besides the smells the strangest thing, to me, is how you receive what you ask for.  Practically everything comes in a plastic bag!  Flour, sugar, eggs, soda!  They hand you this bag and you think… how am I going to get this thing home in one piece?  Well, several months ago we walked into a market and bought yeast and behold, yeast in a bag! 

I’m not quite sure why we bought so much of it, but we have a heaping bag of yeast and I don’t make bread that often.  The problem I ran into was wondering whether my yeast was good anymore!  So, it’s become the common practice in my kitchen to proof my yeast to make sure that it’s still good! 

Proofing is something that some recipes already call for.  You know, the bread recipes that tell you to dissolve the yeast in a cup of warm water, blah blah blah.  But, it’s believed that you don’t have to even do that as the yeast in the States is more reliable.  However, if you are extra cautious, or you just like to feel like you are a super experienced baker and like the feeling of going the extra mile in the kitchen, this is how you proof your yeast.

Imagine yeast is like a kitten instead of a fungus… I think that helps.  Kittens need water, food and a place to call home (a.k.a. my ARMS!).  It’s the same with yeast.  Yeast needs three things to grow: moisture, food and warmth.  By giving it these three things you will know if your yeast is still alive or dead.

Fill a glass with 1/4 cup warm water.  It should feel like a pleasant warm shower to the hand.  What a pleasant warm shower is varies among people.  For me, I like to have my skin boiled off.  That’s pleasant.  But, just remember, if the water is too hot it will kill the yeast.  Think, nurture.  Dissolve 1 teaspoon of sugar in the water.  This is the food.  Yeast loves simple sugars.  Then dissolve 2 teaspoons of yeast in the water and let sit in a warm place.  In five minutes you should have bubbly, beer-smelling, yeasty water!  If nothing has happened, it’s time to call it quits, your yeast is D.O.A.  Shed a few tears, get some closure and go to the store and get yourself some new yeast.

Don’t freak out if your yeasty mix doesn’t overflow like mine in the pictures.  I used a high ratio of sugar and yeast to make it super bubbly. 

This really may not be necessary for you to do at home, especially with how tightly sealed the yeast is in stores you should not have any problems, but if you’d like to experiment and see how this works by all means go for it. 


TIP!  Try this the next time you are baking bread!  Breads need a warm place to rise and here’s a perfect way to give it just that.  Take a microwave safe cup and fill it half way with water and nuke it for 3-4 minutes.  Then, working quickly, scoot the cup to the far back corner of the microwave and place the dough in the microwave and close the door.  Let it rise for the time specified in the recipe.  The cup will continue to let off steam and will keep the dough in a moist and warm climate, perfect for rising!