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.
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.
Honey Bee Suite