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Brewer’s yeast or baker’s yeast for bees?

Here’s a question that pops up this time of year: “Can I substitute baker’s yeast for brewer’s yeast when I’m making pollen substitute?” Truth is, I don’t know what the “official” answer is, but here’s my take on the best yeast for bees.

Both baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast are the same species, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, but they are different strains bred for the characteristics that bakers or brewers want. Basically, these yeast feed on sugars and produce carbon dioxide and alcohol. In the end, your beer is carbonated and your bread rises. The alcohol remains in the beer but cooks out of the bread.

Dietary brewer’s yeast is dead

The brewer’s yeast that is commonly sold as a dietary supplement is a by-product of the brewing industry. It is the dead yeast that remains after the brewing process is complete, and it is sold as a dietary supplement because it is high in nutrients. Ironically, it is especially high in the b(ee) vitamins. These nutritious, but dead, bodies will not cause fermentation.

The sludge you see at the bottom of an unfiltered beer is made of little yeast skeletons that are super good for you, so always tip up that bottle.

I should mention that you can also buy live brewer’s yeast for brewing, but that is much more expensive than the big containers of dead yeast commonly available. Yeast for starting a batch of beer is usually packaged in small units and sold at specialty stores, so you’re unlikely to buy it by mistake.

Baker’s yeast is alive and well

The baker’s yeast that you find in the grocery store is live yeast, meant for making raised baked goods. If you were to add live baker’s yeast to a pollen patty that contains moisture and sugar, your patty might begin to ferment, producing carbon dioxide and alcohol in the hive.

Nutritionally speaking, both baker’s yeast and brewer’s yeast are essentially identical, and we know that honey bees can withstand high levels of carbon dioxide. But we also know that honey bees can become intoxicated from imbibing too much alcohol.

Most likely not a problem

However, if we assume “the dose makes the poison,” I think we would find the amount of alcohol produced by the pollen patties to be negligible. First off, conditions for fermentation inside a hive are not ideal, and secondly most of the alcohol will evaporate in the warm confines of the hive. If the fermentation really got going, however, the patties might lose much of the sweetness that makes them attractive to honey bees in the first place.

In my opinion, using baker’s yeast would not be a catastrophe. Certainly if you already made patties with it, I wouldn’t pull them out of the hive. On the other hand, I think it makes good sense to use the right ingredient for the job. If you use dead brewer’s yeast, you will save money over buying live yeast, and you don’t have to worry about fermentation or buzzed bees.

Rusty
Honey Bee Suite

Save baker's yeast for baking and use brewer's yeast for bees.
Save your baker’s yeast for baking and use brewer’s yeast for bees. Pixabay public domain photo.

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Comments

Rob
Reply

I’m a long-time home brewer and one of our tricks might be useful to some of your readers. When trying to brew using a source of sugar with low nutrition (barley is complete nutrition for yeast), like using honey to make mead, we typically add what is called ‘yeast nutrient’ or ‘wine nutrient’. If you don’t have any on hand or want to save a little money you can take what you call the dead ‘yeast skeletons’ from the bottom of a previous batch of beer/wine/mead and boil them in a little water for a few minutes. This is a homemade version of what you recommend above.

This may not sound useful if you aren’t a brewer but the same can be done with baker’s yeast. It’s certainly a more expensive option but for people who can’t get to the shops, have expired baker’s yeast, etc. it’s a convenient way to kill the yeast and lyse some cells. Hope this helps someone.

Rob
Reply

On a side note, S. cerevisiae is known as ale yeast or top-fermenting yeast. Lagers are made using a different species, Saccharomyces pastorianus, which prefers colder temperatures and takes longer to do the job.

Rusty
Reply

Rob,

Then there’s wine yeast, also Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Just one home brewer to another.

Rob
Reply

G’day Rusty. Right you are, S. cerevisiae is all of the above, the only difference is which strain you use (and you don’t need to use a given strain for its intended purpose). There are countless strains of it in use around the world for different wines, meads, beers, sake, and more, which is why lager yeast is somewhat unusual by comparison.

I’ve made mead with baker’s yeast, ale strains, wine strains and purpose-bred mead strains. They all bring something to the table which really blurs the distinction between what makes a wine yeast a wine yeast, and so on 🙂

Jon Sumpter
Reply

The protein source soybean are now almost all GMO. What about using peanut butter as a protein source?

Jon S

Rusty
Reply

Jon,

I don’t know. You would have to compare the amino acid profile of the two sources.

Elizabeth
Reply

I believe the dietary brewer’s (dead) yeast you are referring to is called nutritional yeast in my area. It’s what I use. Contains dried yeast, added B vitamins and folic acid.

Elizabeth Belden Handler
Reply

Brewers yeast ad nutritional yeast are different. You can buy brewers yeast at health food stores. It’s much cheaper than nutritional yeast, and works better for the bees. If you smelled the two, you would immediately know how different they are.

Patrick
Reply

As I read this post my mind got to thinking. In the winter, temperatures in the hive is a concern. Another by product of the yeast cells in fermentation is heat. Is there a way to use this as a bee hive heater? I understand there might not be enough but something to kick around. More food for thought.

Rusty
Reply

Patrick,

Interesting thought, although honey bees are very adept at controlling cluster temperature.

donna
Reply

Wouldn’t boiling the yeast also kill the vitamins though? Just wondering.

Rusty
Reply

Donna,

Perhaps. I think some would be affected by boiling and some not.

BeeHappy
Reply

What about the concern that the live yeast make it into the bee stomach and fermenting the bees “food” which has either honey or sugar syrup in it there by creating a reaction inside the bee? Would not the dead yeast be better then?

Rusty
Reply

The bee will digest the yeast along with the rest of the food. Not to worry.

Jason
Reply

Hi Rusty,
What about ash content in yeast? I have read that too high a content is not great for bees as they cannot digest it, but I am yet to find any yeast in the UK that does not contain any.

Thanks,
J

Rusty
Reply

Jason,

Digestion isn’t really the problem, but defecation is. Any ash content in winter fills the intestine and, if honey bees are not able to take cleansing flights, they can end up defecating inside the hive. We call this honey bee dysentery. In seasons when bees can fly, undigested material just passes through with no problem. Pollen, for example, is full of indigestible material, as is yeast.

So the question are 1) how much yeast do they eat? and 2) are they able to fly? If you’re feeding a supplement when they are flying, no problem. If they can’t fly, it’s a consideration. They need a source of protein, however, so the good has to be weighed against the bad.

Andrew
Reply

As a pollen substitute, can I dry the remains of the kettle at the local micro brewer in town and us it as “brewers yeast?” In earlier posts here, home brewers are using their remains to feed their bees, vs store bought brewers yeast or expensive bee supplier’s substitute pollen? Tks!

Rusty
Reply

Andrew,

I don’t see why not. I’ve never tried it, but I might.

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