Safe Types of Gluten-Free Yeast

Three types of yeast are almost always safe, while two types may not be

yeast on a teaspoon
 Lucy Lambriex / Getty Images

In most instances, yeast is safe on the gluten-free diet:

  • Yeast that you use to make your bread rise—known as baker's yeast—is gluten-free (except for one product, which I detail below).
  • Yeast that's listed as an ingredient in commercial baked goods and other products that are labeled "gluten-free" also is gluten-free.
  • Nutritional yeast—which some people take as a nutritional supplement—generally is considered gluten-free.

However, there are two types of yeast that may not be gluten-free:

  • Brewer's yeast, which many people also take as a nutritional supplement, most often contains gluten. There are a few brewer's yeast products on the market that are gluten-free (see below).
  • Yeast extract may not be safe when it's included as an ingredient in foods that aren't specifically labeled "gluten-free."

Yeast is a one-cell fungal organism that grows (multiplies) on sugars and other carbohydrates. It originated hundreds of millions of years ago (long before humans appeared on Earth), and there are some 1,500 different species. Yeast is used in cooking and for brewing beer, and as a source of several important nutrients. Read on for more information about the gluten-free status of yeast, and where to find safe yeast products.

Baker's Yeast

Yeast is quite important in baking. When bread dough rises, it's because the yeast is multiplying and producing carbon dioxide as a result.  When yeast in bread produces carbon dioxide, that gas is trapped in the dough, and makes the bread rise and become less dense.

The yeast used for baking is appropriately called "baker's yeast." You can purchase baker's yeast in little packets in the grocery store or in larger quantities. As it turns out, there are only a few manufacturers of baker's yeast in the United States. Here's what the various companies have to say about the gluten-free status of their yeast:

  • Bob's Red Mill. Bob's active dry yeast comes in an 8 oz. package, and is considered gluten-free. The company processes its gluten-free grains and other products in a facility that's separate from its gluten-containing products. If you're also sensitive to oats, note that Bob's does process its gluten-free oats in its gluten-free facility.
  • Fleischmann's. This familiar brand of yeast comes in yellow and red packets and jars. Fleischmann's Active Dry yeast, Rapid Rise yeast, Pizza Crust yeast, Bread Machine yeast, and Fresh Active yeast all are considered gluten-free, according to the company. Be aware that Fleischmann's Simply Homemade baking mixes are not gluten-free.
  • Red Star, SAF, and bakipan. These three brand names all are produced by Lesaffre Yeast Corporation. According to the company, all products are gluten-free except for Red Star Platinum, which contains enzymes derived from wheat flour. If you prefer Red Star yeast products, the company suggests substituting Red Star active dry yeast or Red Star quick rise yeast. Lesaffre also makes bulk yeast that's marketed to food service companies.

    Brewer's Yeast

    Yeast is also used to brew beer, and that's where gluten can creep into what's called "brewer's yeast." As you might gather from the word "brewer" in the name, brewer's yeast traditionally has been a byproduct of beer-making, and conventional beer is not gluten-free. Many people take brewer's yeast as a nutritional supplement because it is a rich source of trace minerals, particularly selenium and chromium.

    Brewers making beer typically mix barley (or sometimes wheat) with hops and water and then use brewer's yeast to convert the sugar in the grains into alcohol and carbon dioxide. This process is what makes beer both alcoholic and fizzy.

    The brewer's yeast that's a byproduct of this process is sold as a nutritional supplement. However, people with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity need to steer well clear of brewer's yeast produced in this manner, since it's not gluten-free—it contains enough traces of the gluten grains in the beer to make it unsafe on the gluten-free diet.

    It's possible to find gluten-free brewer's yeast that was grown on sugar beets instead of beer. In fact, this type of brewer's yeast is preferred by some, since it's less bitter than the more typical beer-derived brewer's yeast. Here are two possible brands:

    • Bluebonnet Super Earth brewer's yeast. This product, which comes in 1 lb. containers as powder and 11.6 oz. containers as flakes is "carefully grown on certified non-GMO sugar beet molasses instead of the typical grain-derived brewer’s yeast that is recovered from the beer-brewing process." In addition to being gluten-free, Bluebonnet is soy-free, non-GMO, vegan, and kosher.
    • Lewis Labs brewer's yeast. Lewis Labs says it "searched the world" for a product that was gluten-free, non-GMO, and 100 percent natural. These sugar beet-based yeast flakes come in a 12.35 oz. tin. It's allergen-free, but note that it's produced in a facility that also processes peanuts.

    Since sourcing gluten-free brewer's yeast can be a problem for companies, always double-check the label before consuming a new package of brewer's yeast, even if it looks like the same product you've been buying for years.

    Nutritional Yeast

    Nutritional yeast is grown on sugar beet molasses or cane sugar. It's considered less bitter than even sugar beet-based brewer's yeast; instead, it has a cheesy, nutty flavor. It's high in B vitamins, selenium, and zinc, but unlike brewer's yeast, it does not contain chromium. Some people use nutritional yeast as a substitute for cheese (it's vegan) or as a topping for popcorn.

    Here's a sampling of gluten-free nutritional yeast options:

    • Bob's Red Mill large flake nutritional yeast. Like Bob's baker's yeast, the company's nutritional yeast flakes are gluten-free. They come in 8 oz. bags.
    • Bragg nutritional yeast seasoning. A favorite with vegetarians and vegans, Bragg nutritional yeast seasoning and plain nutritional yeast flakes are gluten-free. They're also sugar-free and kosher.
    • Foods Alive nutritional yeast. This brand notes that because the nutritional yeast "doesn't come in contact with barley (like brewer's yeast), it is gluten-free and safe for people with celiac disease." It's also non-GMO, vegan, and kosher.
    • NOW nutritional yeast flakes. Note that these are considered "no gluten ingredients" as opposed to "gluten-free." NOW states that they are not manufactured with gluten-containing ingredients, but they are produced in a facility that uses gluten ingredients.
    • Nuts.com nutritional yeast. This online outlet specializes in gluten-free nuts but also carries other products. This nutritional yeast is grown on an enriched purified cane and beet molasses. Nuts.com's gluten-free products are handled separately from their gluten-containing products.

      Yeast Extract

      Some foods, such as cheese, canned soups, and salty snacks, utilize the ingredient yeast extract to create a unique, tangy taste. However, yeast extract may not be safe on the gluten-free diet, since it can be derived from brewer's yeast.

      In fact, expert gluten-free dietitian Tricia Thompson tested several samples of the yeast extract spread Marmite (popular in the United Kingdom) using sensitive tests for gluten, and found it contained gluten above the legal limits. In Canada, where food laws require manufacturers to declare barley on food labels if it's an ingredient, some yeast extracts are listed as containing barley.

      Therefore, Thompson advises not to consume foods with "yeast extract" or "autolyzed yeast extract" listed as ingredients unless the foods are labeled "gluten-free." Alternatively, you can contact the manufacturer to ask if the yeast extract is sourced from the beer-brewing industry.

      A Word From Verywell

      As you can see, if you're gluten-free because you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity and you want to take yeast as a supplement for its nutritional benefits, you have numerous potential choices in gluten-free products. In addition, you don't need to worry about baker's yeast or yeast extract when they're listed as an ingredient in gluten-free-labeled foods.

      However, you do need to steer clear of most brewer's yeasts (except for those made from sugar beets, like the two I list above), and you need to be careful with yeast extract when it's listed as an ingredient in foods that aren't specifically labeled gluten-free.

      You should be aware that the different types of yeast are not interchangeable. Both brewer's yeast and nutritional yeast are "deactivated," or washed and then dried with heat to kill the organisms. Because of this, you can't substitute brewer's yeast or nutritional yeast for baker's yeast—they won't make bread rise.

      View Article Sources
      • Celiac Disease Foundation. What Should I Eat? Fact Sheet.
      • Thompson T. Update on the Gluten-Free Status of Yeast Extract. Gluten-Free Watchdog. July 29, 2014.