Food News

Here's Why All the Yeast Is Sold Out Right Now

Plus, what to do if you can't find it.

March 28, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.


Sarah Jampel, Bon Appétit editor and former Food52 staff writer, tweeted earlier this week about a noticeable lack of yeast in stores, as did food writer Aaron Hutcherson, who also noted an absence of flour.

At the time of this article’s publication, the popular Northeast grocery delivery service FreshDirect was completely out of dry active and instant yeast, as well as all-purpose, whole-wheat, and bread flour.

After reaching out to friends in New Jersey, Connecticut, and Georgia, who noticed either a lack of or significantly reduced amounts of these items (the Connecticut store was limiting shoppers to two bags of flour), it’s clear that this is not just affecting New York City bakers. While Hutcherson did end up locating both yeast and flour later in the week, the mere fact that suppliers were even low is unprecedented.

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Top Comment:
“KAF has a terrific way to ask questions about baking or making a sour dough starter (uses wild yeast in the air or on the flour) for leavening home baked bread. They have several informative blogs about sourdough as well. Breadtopia.com is another terrific source with videos about sourdough. That should help with the lack of yeast questions. Ask KAF about substituting different flours. This is all about substituting nowadays. You can type in the flour that you have in KAF site or Bobs Red Mill.com and see what recipes can be used given the flour that you may already have in the pantry. If you're a senior, call your local stores to find out about senior shopping hours. Our Whole Foods has senior shopping hours every day in the morning for 1 hour before regular shopping hours. I was able to find the 1 bag of rye flour needed to feed my sourdough starter for a tangier end product during the senior hour. ”
— Bikegirl227
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Though the New York Times reported last week that there has been no major disruptions to the American food supply chain, consumers have been stockpiling. This fear-induced behavior has created an environment where grocery stores—which are typically stocked with enough items for daily, not multi-weekly, need—cannot keep up with demand.

Even as supermarkets, warehouses, and food manufacturers add shifts to keep shelves stocked, it’s going to take some time to adjust to this new system. The CDC recommends having a two-week supply of food at home while still limiting trips to the grocery store, which means people need more food, but less often.

While at this point we can hopefully assume that a couple weeks from now the stores will have restocked on these dry goods, one question consumers have been asking is: What do I do if I don't have any right now?

“There has honestly never been a better time to build your own sourdough starter,” NYC-based pastry chef Zoe Kanan told me in an email. Requiring just flour, water, and time, sourdough starter relies on wild yeast naturally present in flour and in the air of your home. As the starter ferments, it negates the need for a packet of yeast to make a loaf of bread. “I like thinking about the bacteria and yeast in my apartment's environment which colonize my starter's mixture,” added Kanan. “In this moment when the entire world is at war with something microscopic, lactobacillus are definitely the good guys.”

Cookbook author and sourdough whisperer Tara Jensen also recommends making starter from scratch, noting that the process can take anywhere from one to two weeks to become active. You can use starter in almost any baked item, she explained to me, but with a caveat: “The key thing to remember is that there is much less yeast, and more unpredictable yeast, in a sourdough starter than in a package of commercial yeast,” adding that a starter can be almost 100 parts bacteria to one part yeast.

“While it improves the flavor of everything it touches, it also works very slowly," she said. "The rise times require patience and attention. Your best bet is to find a sourdough specific recipe for what you want to bake. But since sourdough predates commercial yeast, almost anything you can think of can still be made.” Jensen also mentioned the beauty of baking with sourdough discard, which is the extra starter that is removed from the main starter during feedings.

Experienced bakers may have an easier time substituting starter for commercial yeast, but there are plenty of recipes out there that already call for starter instead of dry active or instant yeast. Try a starter focaccia, like this recipe from cookbook author Alexandra Stafford, or starter cinnamon rolls—I’m partial to this recipe from Maurizio Leo.

Of course, if you don’t feel the need for a starter in your life, simply bake things that don’t require yeast. Kanan recommends breads that are leavened with baking powder or soda instead, like skillet flatbread, Irish soda bread, and cake salé.

And if it’s flour you’re lacking right now, I’ve noticed that many gluten-free flours are still lining the shelves. Though they take a bit of getting used to, they can easily be made into cakes, cookies, and more.

Are you noticing a shortage of yeast (and flour) in your neighborhood? Let us know in the comments.

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Elsbells
    Elsbells
  • Rosalind Paaswell
    Rosalind Paaswell
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    Deidra Hartman
  • Judy Sharnik
    Judy Sharnik
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    Linda Bott
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Rebecca Firkser is a freelance food writer and recipe developer. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, among them Food52, TASTE, Edible Manhattan, Extra Crispy, The Strategist, and Bon Appetit's Healthyish and Basically. She contributed recipes and words to the book "Breakfast: The Most Important Book About the Best Meal of the Day." Once upon a time, she studied theatre design and art history at Smith College, so if you need a last-minute avocado costume or want to talk about Wayne Thiebaud's cakes, she's your girl.

345 Comments

Elsbells May 16, 2020
I just got back from grocery shopping at 2 stores & neither one had ANY type of yeast! Guess I’ll try to make some sourdough starter. Now where did I see that recipe for Friendship bread??? Lol
 
Rosalind P. May 8, 2020
Here's a new comment (I think; I hope -- haven't read all 333) but it may be an answer to the yeast shortage -- if you already have some, want to stretch it, and thus ease up on the demand for it in the market. I saw a baking site Glennandfriends that showed a technique for setting aside a piece of a mixed bread dough (about walnut size), mixing it with a cup of water and a cup of flour, setting it aside to use the next day (or later if you refrigerate the mix). it's gloppy and loose. It acts as a starter but not really a sour dough starter, if you mix it into a new dough. The problem is he didn't give any more details, like do you reduce the flour and water in the new bread you're mixing. Or is it enough on its own to substitute for yeast. And, he said, you can keep doing this indefinitely: using a piece of your newly mixed dough for the next bread. So...anyone know exactly how to incorporate the "old dough" into a new dough?
 
Smaug May 8, 2020
You would use it just like a sourdough starter; in fact, you would probably pick up some lactobacillus and other assorted yeasts (baker's yeast is one of several closely related yeasts likely to be caught in a starter) along the way and end up with sourdough starter. You could look up sourdough recipes, but for the most part they need to be adapted to a particular starter; ie you will need to recognize the consistency of the dough you want, evaluate the degree of rise etc. without any exact guidelines. This does recognize the fact that you can grow your own yeast; you can generally cut yeast in recipes considerably by giving them longer rise times.
 
Rosalind P. May 8, 2020
Yes, that much was clear from his discussion -- well not the technical yeast stuff; that's interesting but, for me, beside the point. It doesn't help me know how MUCH flour and how MUCH water a cup of the starter would displace, if any. Or maybe none at all. That's the guideline I was looking for. I know there are many variables in yeast/flour/water combos. I'll experiment and it will all be edible but I hate to waste flour with a bad bread.
 
Jenny May 9, 2020
This is called a sponge, poolish or biga, depending on how it is handled. Old technique which is written up in many baking books. Rose Levy Beranbaum has a good description in "The Bread Bible". My Mother originally taught me to bake bread using a sponge back in the early 1950's. It developes a nicely full flavored loaf.
 
Smaug May 9, 2020
In my experience, anyway, a sponge or polish is made of fresh flour, yeast and water, given a slow ferment, but then used up completely in the bread dough, not carried over. As far as amounts- it's going to be difficult to get much of an idea by volume measures as your starter is going to be bubbled up and it's hard to guess exactly the volume of a flour/water mix; this stuff will be sticky, weird and difficult to measure. Weights would be a little easier; a lot of starter recipes call for equal weights flour and water (yours will be a bit drier, and you'd have to calculate it based on how you're measuring the flour) so it's quite easy to figure how much flour and water is in the part you use and subtract it from your total. It should be all the leavening you need, but it's actual yeast content will vary quite a bit depending on temperature, water chemistry etc. etc., and your final rise times will vary a lot too, so you'll still need to depend on observation. Of course you could add some commercial yeast when you make the dough to speed things up, but it's kind of out of the spirit of the whole thing.
 
Jenny May 9, 2020
The Bread Bible has almost 10 pages covering all this.
 
Smaug May 9, 2020
Poolish poolish poolish- why do my fingers not want to type that correctly?
 
Rosalind P. May 9, 2020
Yes, to your observation on sponge/poolish/biga -- make it, use it. At least in my experience. And I am used to starter a/la sourdough. I thought this particular concept was a little different and potentially very, very useful when yeast is so hard to come by. What intrigues me is how succeeding "generations" of it, as you continue to take a piece from each dough, will change in flavor, getting closer and closer to sourdough. But my original question was do I reduce flour or water in the bread dough to make room for this offspring? I'm going to try it without changing anything. As everyone here as noted, at one time or another, it's part science, part art. And the result will be edible even if not great. Thanks to the Food52 community for the interest and help.
 
Deidra H. May 4, 2020
It's not available In stores, online, anywhere... May the 4th, 2020 ..
 
MomAwesome 5. May 5, 2020
Deidra, back in late April, I posted my email and offered yeast to those who can't find any. So far, I haven't seen anyone take me up on my offer. I'm STILL nervous about posting my email, but I'm going to offer again. [email protected] If you need yeast and can't find it, email me and I'll send some. I'm in Oregon, I've been able to find yeast at reasonable prices, and since I'm considered "essential" to my job, I won't be out of work any time soon, so it's no hardship to me to send some to fellow bakers in need. Email me if you need yeast.
 
topol May 10, 2020
you can find any kind of flour or yeast on Ebay
 
MomAwesome 5. May 12, 2020
Maybe. But mine is free.
 
Judy S. May 4, 2020
I have been looking for yeast since March. My grocer said not to expect it any time soon.
People bought it but haven’t been buying it lately. There isn’t any.
 
Judy S. May 17, 2020
I ended up ordering online at an outrageous price. Now I have to clear enough space to bake!
 
Linda B. May 2, 2020
Please don't advise people to use gluten free flours right now. Save those for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance. My daughter has celiac disease and CANNOT consume regular flour or bread. I have had trouble finding gluten free flour lately. I think it's because people are turning to gluten free now that regular flour is in short supply. I didn't have this problem when the quarantine first started. Store bought gluten free breads are expensive and not as good as homemade. Also all other gluten free store bought cookies and brownies, etc are not as good as homemade. Save the gluten free flour and baking mixes for those who really need it. I already see plenty of wheat bread at the store.
 
Cheryl May 3, 2020
Most people are not going to go through the trouble to buy a special flour when they can't find AP flour especially since it costs more, even if the author did suggest this back in March. The gluten-intolerant and celiacs are most likely hoarding it.
 
Tashy&Mame April 28, 2020
Here's a google doc of bread/flour resources, including discounted goods and places to obtain free sourdough starters, in many states (and Canada) as well as online: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P8Lxo95T0ss9MpppwTXm8TSOs6o5_6l3EGuDXtASTgs/edit?usp=sharing
 
Tashy&Mame April 28, 2020
Here's a google doc of bread/flour resources, including discounted goods and places to obtain free sourdough starters, in many states (and Canada) as well as online: (I can't put the full link or the comment won't post so...) put docs dot google dot com followed by /document/d/1P8Lxo95T0ss9MpppwTXm8TSOs6o5_6l3EGuDXtASTgs/edit?usp=sharing
 
Tashy&Mame April 28, 2020
Here's a google doc of bread/flour resources, including discounted goods and places to obtain free sourdough starters, in many states (and Canada) as well as online: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1P8Lxo95T0ss9MpppwTXm8TSOs6o5_6l3EGuDXtASTgs/edit?usp=sharing
 
Linda April 27, 2020
Spolutnik -- Really, try sourdough starter. I was skeptical, but I made some and it has been working very well. I use rye flour in the starter and it grows like crazy! i admit, the first loaf was rather condensed, but I attribute that to me not waiting long enough for it to mature. Although some recipes use starter plus a small amount of yeast, I use recipes for starter only and have had success with breads, crumpets, waffles and I even made chocolate chip cookies.
 
Cheryl April 27, 2020
Sourdough makes the best tortillas because they are pliable and don't break when folded around warm filling like other homemade tortillas do.
 
Smaug April 27, 2020
Never heard of a leavened tortilla. Flour tortillas are generally flour, water, salt and some sort of fat. They should be quite pliable when fresh.
 
Spolutnik April 27, 2020
I have searched for yeast in the north suburbs of Chicago since March 14 at Heinen’s, Whole Foods, Sunset, Mariano’s, Aldi, Jewel, Walmart, and Menards.... nothing but empty shelves. I’m considering purchasing bulk on-line, even though the package count is ridiculous.
 
trvlnsandy April 27, 2020
If you buy the big bag -- freeze most of it. Lasts, well, not forever that way -- but seems like it
 
Flannelone April 26, 2020
So what exactly do I do??
FO
 
Smaug April 26, 2020
If you have flour you could start a sourdough starter. Or you could keep looking. Or you could make flatbreads or baking soda breads. Or you could buy some bread- the stores seem to be pretty fully stocked, at least around here.
 
trvlnsandy April 23, 2020
When you think of it, this makes sense. The article (not sure if the link will come through) indicates there was as much as a 600% increase in demand for yeast -- and since yeast is 'grown', so to speak, supply can't be built overnight. So, they'll catch up, but not as quickly as possible. Also, if you use fresh yeast rather than dried, there should be a surplus. Don't know where to find that. https://slate.com/business/2020/04/yeast-shortage-supermarkets-coronavirus.html?fbclid=IwAR2IGFJTiopY-zXFHk5XDMO5dSe4ngHgY67qeGRiDAvq9wkw4Kxx2rzJuWQ
 
Smaug April 23, 2020
I don't think that overall supply is a real problem; professional bakeries seem to have plenty, but the home baking market has become so small that supplies packaged for retail sale are tiny.. Professional materials are starting to find their way into the home market, but it's a completely separate supply chain so it's an awkward transition, especially as it's likely to be temporary.
 
trvlnsandy April 23, 2020
just summarizing what the article indicated
 
Gemdgal April 23, 2020
I have noticed a Shortage of yeast of any kind. I asked at the Publix Bakery In Lakewood Ranch, Florida and they sold me some of their bulk yeast. I got about 1/2 cup for $8. That will last a while for us. I am not sure they will always do that, but it was the day before Easter and I must have put on my most pathetic look and I am sure he was being compassionate.
 
Cynthia H. April 23, 2020
I was not able to find it for weeks in Orlando for delivery. I found it on eBay for about $15 same day shipping. Here's a link to the one I used. Even though I ordered in afternoon, they still got the ball rolling with a tracking number and I will get it in a few days. Better than frantically checking all stores every day.
https://www.ebay.com/itm/1x-SAF-Instant-Dry-Yeast-1-Lb-Pound-SAME-DAY-FREE-SHIPPING-EXP-1-22-Jan-2022/333576950623?ssPageName=STRK%3AMEBIDX%3AIT&_trksid=p2057872.m2749.l2649
 
Rosalind P. April 23, 2020
That's not a bad deal, considering the scarcity. The "normal" price from King Arthur Flour is $8.95 for the 1 lb bag but you pay for shipping, and if you're only getting the yeast, the shipping brings it to about $15. So credit to the e-bay vendor for not taking advantage of the scarcity.
 
Sharon B. April 23, 2020
I haven’t seen a package of yeast in almost a month. And all-purpose flour is almost as bad. The grocer said they sold more of both of these in two days than we normally sell in 3 months. My husband does look for both of them anytime he goes into a grocery store. He’ll get lucky one of these days.
 
Jenny April 22, 2020
My local Weis here in NW New Jersey had an almost normal supply of flour this AM. I even resupplied my favorite...King Arthur whole wheat white.
 
Rhonmont April 22, 2020
I could not find yeast locally so I ordered some from Amazon. I bought a pound for $18. That does work out to almost the same as Walmart or Kroger. It will last 2 years unopened or in the freezer. I would have bought a smaller amount but the prices are so high, I just couldn’t do it.
 
Michele H. April 21, 2020
April 18th I found plenty of yeast at my Walmart. The only flour was self-rising however.
 
trvlnsandy April 21, 2020
for really puffy bread (yeast AND self-rising)
 
Eleanor S. April 21, 2020
I have been able to find flour but no yeast, anywhere. Except for the price gougers online who are charging $6. For one (3 pack), plus shipping of course.
 
Shannon G. April 20, 2020
I have been unable to find bread flower and yeast since this all started. Omg the price in amazing is thievery. This hoarding is ridiculous.
 
Cheryl April 21, 2020
Yep. This is a ME time for sure for many people. Not caring about others.
I am mandated to wear a mask now at a grocery store...so someone was selling them locally and he set up a time to meet them from his car...a woman beat me there and bought every one of them..and he let her.