What Are Yeast Nutrients? How To Use Them Right

by Dane Wilson | Last Updated: September 26, 2022

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If you have been brewing up your own homemade beer for a while, you have most definitely seen mentions of yeast nutrients. For many wine recipes, yeast nutrients are a must. Beer recipes, though, tend to forget that yeast nutrients exist. That does not mean you should overlook them. Yeast nutrients can do a world of good for your beer and its flavor. What are yeast nutrients and why are they so important? Time to get your answer.

Table of Contents

Why Yeast is Important to Your Beer

As a homebrewer, you probably spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about the health of the yeast fermenting your beer. Is the yeast eating well enough? Did you provide enough sugar? Will it go stagnant on you? After all, yeast is the reason for alcohol. Without it doing its job right, your beer is not going to taste heavenly.

During the fermentation process, yeast produces many byproducts that affects the flavor. For example, yeast for wheat beers tend to produce notes of bubblegum, banana, and clove. This is the desired outcome. Should your yeast do something that expected, your wheat beer might taste more like feet beer.

The common off-flavors are apple, which is created by too much acetaldehyde, and butter, which comes from diacetyl. Thus, if you keep ending up with this, you can surmise two things: your yeast is either unhealthy or there was not enough yeast to complete fermentation.

What Are Yeast Nutrients?

So your yeast is not up to snuff. Now what? Well, you grab some yeast nutrient and, viola, problem solved.

Okay, maybe it does not work exactly like that.

Yeast nutrients are more than just some magical powder. Yeast is a hungry bacteria, and it needs constant nourishment. Otherwise, it goes on strike. By offering up yeast nutrient, you ensure that the yeast is getting what it needs so that fermentation completes and no nasty byproducts are introduced.

This interesting video explains yeast nutrients in detail:

Ingredients in Yeast Nutrient

The most common ingredients in yeast nutrient include:

  • Diammonium phosphate (DAP): a water-soluble salt that provides the yeast with phosphate and nitrogen. Generally, the wort is full of nitrogen, but supplementing with diammonium phosphate ensures that your high-gravity beer reaches its peak. Phosphates assist with fermentation when non-malt adjuncts were used.
  • Amino acids: Yeast makes its own amino acids, but there are essential amino acids that have to be present in the wort. When those amino acids are missing or too few, the yeast starts to slow down. Historically, DAP was considered the most valuable ingredient in yeast nutrients, but that holds true only for wine. If you want a decent yeast nutrient for beer, find one that contains amino acids.
  • Vitamins and minerals: Yeast nutrient contains magnesium, calcium, biotin, pantothenic acid, potassium, and other essential vitamins and minerals. Many are catalysts required for fermentation.
  • Yeast hulls or ghosts: Dead yeast cells that are used as fuel by living yeast.
  • Zinc: While zinc should fall under the umbrella of vitamins and minerals it has a unique role. Zinc is required for ethanol production. As such, you will need it when you want a boozier beer.

Are There Any Substitutes for Yeast Nutrient?

If yeast nutrient is more or less food for the yeast, then you may be wondering if there were other ways to give your yeast a winning diet. Keep in mind that by adding some of these ingredients, you are incorporating an adjunct into your beer, and that could alter the flavor:

  • Lemon juice
  • Orange juice
  • Lime juice
  • Black tea
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Rolled oats boiled in water
  • Boiled and mashed bananas

The best substitute, however, is brewer’s yeast. Because the yeast you use for your beer is of the same strain as brewer’s yeast, it bolsters the fermentation rate.

Does Yeast Nutrient Speed Up Fermentation?

No, yeast nutrient is not made to accelerate fermentation. You want your yeast to do its best job, not rush through it. That said, yeast nutrient can be used to boost the performance of the yeast. You get less of those unwanted byproducts that make your finished brew taste foul while also getting a higher ABV.

If you want to speed up fermentation, the best route is raising the fermentation temperature.

Are Yeast Nutrients Essential?

No, it is optional, but that does not mean it will not make your life a bit easier. For your average beer with a mid-line final gravity, yeast nutrient is not needed. A sprinkle is always welcome, as it makes the final taste and aromas more pleasant. However, yeast nutrient is really only required when your yeast eats all the sugars available and still needs more fuel.

As such, high ABV beers will most often benefit from yeast nutrient more than those with a lower ABV.

What is the Best Time to Add Yeast Nutrient?

This is the point where you will find some debate. Different products from different brands will give you a variety of instructions. You have to read each one. Most often, you will find success with some trial and error, but seeing how beer is one the line, you may not want to risk it. Instead, follow the directions of use on the package from start to finish. Only then will you know exactly when to add the yeast nutrient and how.

For example, Wyeast has a yeast nutrient that has to be added when there is 10 minutes remaining to the boil.

Those who use Wyeast nutrients will tell you that is not always the best time. You could add the yeast nutrients during the middle of fermentation to keep the process going strong. However, adding in the nutrients while the wort is boiling ensures that everything remains sanitary. Plus, if you add the yeast nutrient at the beginning or middle of fermentation, there is no telling whether your yeast will get the full advantage.

Should your beer be of a lower ABV, you may be able to get away with adding just a pinch at the start of primary fermentation. It truly depends on the recipe and your needs.

How To Add Yeast Nutrients To Your Beer

Now that you have figured out the answer to what are yeast nutrients?, it is time to figure out how to use them. You know the when from reading the instructions. Turns out, you have an option about how to incorporate yeast nutrients into your process too.

Again, the best method is often the one written on the package.

In most cases, you do the following:

  1. In a container or bowl, add ½ cup of warm water. Note that the amount depends on how much nutrient you are using. Usually, ingredients call for about 1 gram of nutrient per 1 liter of liquid (1 tablespoon per gallon).
  2. Spoon in the yeast nutrient, letting it dissolve into the water.
  3. Pour the solution into the wort when there is about 10-15 minutes remaining to the boil.

At What Temperature Do You Add Yeast Nutrients?

As you already know, adding yeast nutrient before you finish boiling wort is your best option. It sanitizes the ingredients and ensures that no contaminants are getting into your beer. To provide the best environment for the yeast and provide them with enough fuel, add the yeast nutrient to the wort when it is around 65-67 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature is important for both the nutrients and the yeast.

Is It Possible to Add Too Much Yeast Nutrient?

While it is possible to give your yeast way too much nutrients at one time, the chances of it happening are slim. Follow the directions on the package, and you should not have any problems. Even if you happen to go slightly over the recommended portion, the yeast will not mind.

But what happens if you do go overboard? The yeast is eating the consuming the nutrients. When the microorganisms can’t get rid of the yeast nutrient, those ingredients will affect the beer. That could impact the flavor. Furthermore, a very large amount of yeast nutrient has been found to produce something called ethyl carbamate, which is a potential carcinogen.

The same is true for using too little. Your beer might not reach its final gravity or could taste odd.

What About Adding Yeast Nutrient During Secondary Fermentation?

There are a lot of ways you can use yeast nutrient. Secondary fermentation is neither the time nor the place. By this point, your beer is finished with primary fermentation. Most of the alcohol is already present. If you add any more ingredients at this time, the flavor you have worked so hard to develop is going to be influenced by the yeast nutrient. Any yeast that remains could be reinvigorated, which could cause fermentation to begin again, causing any bottled beers to erupt.

As such, the best time to use yeast nutrient when brewing beer is before or in the middle of primary fermentation.

What Are Yeast Nutrients? How To Use Them Right

Yeast Nutrient vs Yeast Energizer: What’s The Difference?

Interestingly, there are a lot of ways to get more out of your yeast. One of those methods is called a yeast energizer and, nope, nutrients and energizers are not related. Yeast nutrients are designed to give the microorganisms that make up yeast all the nutrition they need to do their work right. A yeast energizer is kind of like caffeine. It wakes up sluggish, stagnant yeast and gets fermentation going again.

But what is in yeast energizer that makes it different? There is some commotion pertaining to the ingredients. One source states that yeast nutrient does not contain diammonium phosphate, though yeast energizer does, but that it is not true. Both contain diammonium phosphate.

The main point of difference is the presence of dead yeast cells in yeast energizer. Drop in yeast energizer and the sluggish yeast will cannibalize their dead counterparts, stoking their little metabolic engines. One notable example is Servomyces by White Labs, which is known to contain dead yeast cells. However, Servomyces is a yeast nutrient.

There are too many proprietary blends to really get to the bottom of this conundrum.

So there may not be much of a difference when it comes to what is in yeast nutrients and yeast energizer. It is more about the timing. Pop in yeast nutrient before fermentation. Drop in yeast energizer when your fermentation stalls out.

Keep Your Yeast Nourished

What are yeast nutrients? A collection of ingredients that includes DAP, amino acids, vitamins and minerals to feed the yeast and keep fermentation going strong. While most regular beers will not need yeast nutrients to taste good or fully develop, recipes with a higher final gravity or ABV may require it. Now that you know about yeast nutrients, will you be using them?