Although yeast has been used for thousands of years, its true nature has been known only for the last two centuries. Yeasts are single-celled fungi. About 1,000 species are recognized, but the most common species is Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is used in bread making. Other species are used for the fermentation of alcoholic beverages. Some species can cause infections in humans.
Yeasts live primarily on sugars, such as glucose (C6H12O6). They convert glucose into carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethanol (C2H6O) in a redox reaction that is represented as follows:

C6H12O6 → 2 CO2 + 2 C2H6O

Bread making depends on the production of carbon dioxide. The gas, which is produced in tiny pockets in bread dough, acts as a leavening agent: it expands during baking and makes the bread rise. Leavened bread is softer, lighter, and easier to eat and chew than unleavened bread. The other major use of yeast, fermentation, depends on the production of ethanol, which results from the same chemical transformation. Some alcoholic beverages, such as champagne, can also be carbonated using the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast.
Yeast is among the simplest life forms on Earth, yet it is absolutely necessary for at least two major food industries. Without yeast to turn dough into bread and juice into wine, these foods and food industries would not exist today.


This page is based on “Chemistry 2e” by Paul Flowers, Klaus Theopold, Richard Langley, William R. Robinson, PhDOpenstax which is licensed under CC BY 4.0. Access for free at

This page is based on “The Basics of General, Organic, and Biological Chemistry” by David W Ball, John W Hill, Rhonda J ScottSaylor which is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0. Access for free at