The Fresh Loaf

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The Great SAF Red vs: Gold Smackdown

ehanner's picture

The Great SAF Red vs: Gold Smackdown

This is a semi scientific study of the effects of SAF Red Yeast compared to SAF Gold Yeast. I mixed up three types of dough at 64-65% hydration that loosely resemble the three bread types (Straight, Sour and Sweet). I know there are other flour combinations that might be interesting to experiment with but this will be a start to see if there is any difference between the standard SAF Red and the “Osmotolerant” Gold in terms of how well they work as leavening agents. King Arthur has been selling the Gold as an option for over a year and it is widely available to commercial bakeries. The company line is that the Gold is better when the dough is “Sweet” (improved with additives such as a sweetener, fat and eggs or oil). Many sweet dough recipes for example, call for more Yeast because of the negative effect of high sugar levels and spices on yeast activity. Actually KA and SAF have said little about the Gold product other than it is better for sweet dough. As a consumer I’m surprised they haven’t done some testing and marketing. That may be a message in itself.

After having used both products side by side for over a year, I decided to test the Theory that the Gold product would in fact perform better in terms of rising power over a given time. The Hypothesis being that the Gold will rise faster than the Red in the Sweet and Sour mixes. My secondary Hypothesis is that the straight dough test will show an equal rise with both types of yeast. If that secondary result is proven true, there is little need to stock 2 kinds of yeast. As it happens, I just received a fresh package of both products from King Arthur Flour last month that have been resting in the freezer which I will now open and use. So, on to the process I used.

I started by weighing out 300 grams of AP flour to which I added 6 grams of salt. I then mixed these two ingredients well and removed 6 grams of the mix to again have 300 grams of flour and salt. I set out 6 glasses and marked them for Straight, Sour, Sweet each with a red or gold marking. Then I measured 32 grams of water and 1/16 teaspoon of the respective yeast and 50 grams of flour and mixed well. Each glass was covered with plastic wrap and set aside at room temp. The water temperature was 76F for each mix.

For the sour test I used 1 Tablespoon (10g) of liquid sour that has been aging for 12 hours and an additional 3 grams flour to compensate for the additional water in the starter. This is way more starter than I would use to inoculate so little flour but it should create the environment that will make the standard yeast struggle.

The Sweet mix included 4 grams sugar, ½ teaspoon oil, 6 grams of egg and 27 grams water. I did add another 2 grams of flour to adjust the consistency to be similar to the other test samples.

Note: I don’t have a way to accurately measure the small amount of yeast so I used the best system I could think of to arrive at 1/16 tsp. First I started by measuring a ¼ tsp leveled and placing on the counter. I then drew it on the counter to a line about 3 inches long and divided it in half, twice. Each pile of grains looked to be equal in size. I understand that the scientist out there are discounting my methods as un-scientific and sloppy thus lowering the expectations for accurate results. My decision to use 1/16th of a teaspoon in 50 grams of flour is based on the scale of 1 teaspoon in 800 grams of flour. I thought the percentage of yeast was low enough to make it perform over time to develop the rise I was looking for. Let’s see what the outcome is before you hang me for witchery. At the end of the first hour they all look about the same.

Test Results: 3 Hours time elapsed

After three hours, the sweet dough shows little activity in both samples. They have expanded some and show signs of puffiness. Perhaps they have risen 20%. I’m wondering if I didn’t over do the sweetening quantities and stunted the test.

The sour dough shows the largest difference in activity between the samples. The mix with the Red is much more active than the Gold as you can see in the photo.

The Straight dough also shows better activity in the Red mix.

Note: I just realized that the labels were not all at the same level and it is affecting the visual appearance. Since I didn’t have measured beakers available, I will align the labels for the next photo

Test Results: 4 Hours elapsed

While I waited this last hour I recalculated the amounts of the additives I put into the sweet batch. The ratios I used were excessive and I believe stunted the activity in that test. I’ll redo that in the future to create a more real world scenario.

The straight dough mix with the Gold Yeast is clearly higher than the Red product. It looks like maybe 20% higher after 4 hours.

The Sour dough mix is the opposite result. The mix with the Osmotolerant yeast (gold),did not perform as well as the standard Red yeast. This is a surprise to me.

I should say first that I am not a scientist. While I have tried to be as careful as possible, there are areas where even a small mistake could skew the results. I know that my sweet mix is too sweet. I added the equivalent of 5 eggs, 5 T of sugar and 2-2/3 T of oil to an 800 gram batch, which is way too much.

I decided to redo the sweet dough test alone and post everything together. I lowered the egg to 2 grams, sugar to ¼ teaspoon and oil to ¼ teaspoon in 50 grams flour and 30 grams water at 74F.

Sweet dough comparison:

The second test of the sweet formula as corrected above worked much better. As you see the SAF Red indicated by the R on the label is more active and has doubled in 3 hours. The one marked G is expanding but at a slower pace. The G would be the SAF Gold that is supposed to be designed for sweet and sour mixes.

Unless I am completely misunderstanding the purpose of the Gold product, I would say that it doesn’t seem to be working out the way it is intended.



Yeast Trial
Yeast Trial--Straight Dough G=Gold R=Red
Sour Dough Mix
Sour Dough Mix with a Yeast spike

Sweet Mix Redo
Sweet Mix Redo
Eli's picture

Eric, thanks for sharing. I haven't heard or seen the G yeast. Is it a smaller more condensed version or another strain? I will have to look the next time I am at the food wholesalers and see if they carry any.



ehanner's picture

It's supposed to be for sweet dough according to the manufacturer. It's called an Osmotolerant yeast that tolerates the spice and sugars better than a normal yeast. I don't know if anyone else in the US makes it but this is from SAF. I don't think it is available in any smaller quantity than 1 pound cubes.

From the testing I did I don't think I could say it's better at raising sweet or sour doughs. Maybe I got a bad batch, I don't know what to think about it at the moment.


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Eric.

First: Thanks for running these experiments.

Second: Do you know if the OT yeast has the same yeast density as the red label? In other words, is it correct to use exactly the same amount of either one in a formula?

Hmmm ... I wonder if I have the answer in Suas. I think AB&P is the only book I have that even mentions osmotolerant yeast.


ehanner's picture

I am puzzled by the results of my tests. I would have bet real money that the Gold would do better in the sweet and sour samples. And the fact that the Gold did better than the Red in straight dough blows me away. I'm going to get in touch with SAF and see what they say about this. We have the parent company here in Milwaukee so it shouldn't be too hard to find someone to talk with.

Your question about density is a good one also. As far as I know they are identical. I read somewhere that it's a 1:1 swap of either product.

The sour results were impressive, for the Red. Maybe it's a bad batch if that's even possible.


Judon's picture

Synchronicity - I was considering buying the Gold SAF for the holidays but I checked with our local market and they are going to stock fresh yeast for the season.

Just yesterday I read in Hamelman's Bread on pg.57 "Fresh yeast has a moisture content of about 70%. During the production of dry yeast, the percentage of moisture is reduced to about 5 to 7%. There is tremendous stress put on yeast cells when they are dehydrated to these levels, and the stress makes the dry yeast more sensitive than fresh yeast to high sugar or highly acidic dough environments. Yeast manufacturers have responded to this by developing different strains of yeast that, when dried, are more tolerant of sweet and acidic conditions."

After reading your results and then Norm's comments on this thread I thought I might try fresh yeast in bread formulas that I make regularly and compare the results to the SAF instant I normally use.



plevee's picture

I recall a correspondence involving Mike Avery and the SAF people stating that a large proportion of instant yeast cells would rupture & be ineffective if exposed to cool water. The recommendation was to mix the yeast with flour.

Intersting that Hamelman says that fresh yeasts work better with sweet doughs. If I can find any locally, I'll try this next time - I have no success with wild or dry yeast in enriched doughs.

This site is unique; artists, scientists & artistic scientists all conducting experiments yielding information I've seen nowhere else. Thank you all!


holds99's picture

I want to thank you for taking the time and effort you spent testing and comparing the two yeast products.  If I had a supply of the Gold I would have attempted to determine whether the Gold or Red performs better in sourdough.  You did a much more thorough test than I would have done.

I too am surprised, considering KAF's ample resouces, knowledge and accumulated data, that, as you stated: "...[have] said little about the Gold product other than it is better for sweet dough. As a consumer I’m surprised they haven’t done some testing and marketing."  This is particularly peculiar in light of the fact that one on KAF's bakers posted a thread stating that they had "great" results, presumably in their test kitchens, using the Gold product in sweet doughs...and sourdoughs.

Thanks Dougal, your points are well taken.  You have sold me on the idea of a pocket scale for accurately measuring grams.

Thanks again,


ehanner's picture

It's not KA Flour that should be providing the test results in my opinion. SAF should be saying why they are making this product and what to expect when using it. I have been using it for over a year and thought I knew what I was doing suggesting trying it out. At this juncture, I don't know what to think. Maybe the folks at KA that read here will comment or do their own tests.

Thinking about this subject, there really isn't any expectation that 2 cubes of yeast will perform equally, even the same product side by side on the shelf. You would like to think they would be similar but they don't really say they will. I'm not sure that it's fair to compare the two in a side by side comparison. I know I'm the one who brought this subject up but now I'm thinking that maybe it's not a fair comparison. The live yeast density is probably a variable number that can be affected by many things. Time, humidity, heat and age among others I'm sure. In the end you find a product you like and learn to adjust your quantities for the situation in your kitchen.

So there, that's my story and I'm sticking with it!


holds99's picture

I think if KAF is making statements, through their advertising and their bakers, as to the benefits of a product they're selling, with no disclaimer(s), they have an obligation to their customer base and prospective customers to provide this type information.  Rightly or wrongly, I believe if SAF doesn't or isn't willing to "step up" to providing the information, then KAF has an obligation to back up statements in their advertising and by their personnel with statistics.


dmsnyder's picture

I've followed this discussion with great interest, as I have recently been making more sweet and otherwise enriched doughs. I have used SAF red label instant yeast with these and have not found it to under-perform in any way. But, if the osmotolerant yeast would be "better" in some way, I was ready to try it.

At this point, thanks to Eric's negative findings and the ambiguity in SAF's information, I'm sticking to what is working for me now.

I'm still open to new data and awaiting any with interest.


davidg618's picture


These doughs are identical in quantity and composition, with the exception of 1/4 tsp. yeast (1%) SAF Osmotolerent Instant (Gold), SAF Instant (Red). The dough approximates, with the exception of small quantities of spice, and flavorings, the Seven Sisters sweet dough dmsnyder and I made the last few days (June 26 - 28, 2010) This dough is 25% sugar, 40% fat, and 30% Egg.


The photo was taken 3 hours after simultaneously mixing each dough. The osmotolerent yeast has nearly doubled, while the non-osmotolerent yeast has barely budged.

I'm not doubting Eric's work, but clearly, in this case, the osmotolerent yeast is more active. Temperature was 74°F.

I know the glass jars could me cleaner, sorry.

Another hour has passed, here's a second pic: at 4 hours.

David G

P.S. (Added next day) Expansion continued until 7th hour. G quadrupled, R doubled, both peaked and collapsed between 7 - 8 hours. (I've got pictures.)

Christina E's picture
Christina E

I'm with you, David G. My sweet doughs rise so much faster with the SAF gold. I actually only use SAF gold yeast now, whether or not I'm making sweet doughs. I'm baffled by the original poster's experience with the gold. 

EvanTheEngineer's picture

I realize this is a very old thread, but the reason the Gold didn't perform particularly well in the original experiment described is because the "sweet" dough wasn't nearly sweet enough. The sugar level used was about 7-8%, SAF Gold is specifically designed for 10-30% sugar, it's a different species of yeast that works optimally in this range and will perform poorer if the sugar level is below this. As some of the later posts and pictures in the thread show, Gold is far superior to red when the sugar gets up into the ~20% range, at which point the sugar significantly stifles conventional (Red) yeast.