Various parts of dead yeasts can be used as a source of nutrition / alcohol tolerance for live yeast cells during fermentation. Sometimes they are used in combination with inorganic nitrogen such as DAP and sometimes they are used on their own. Here is a short explanation of the different types:

Inactivated yeast – the whole yeast cell has been killed by heat. It contains the cell wall, the cell membrane and the whole inside of the yeast. Inactivated yeasts are a source of vitamins, minerals and to a lesser extend amino acids. As the alcohol content of the must increases during fermentation the dead yeasts’ cell membranes become more and more “leaky” and more of the inside goodies of the dead yeasts leak out to the must where the live yeasts can take it up. This does not happen to live yeasts since live ones can regenerate their cell membranes. They can keep it together so to speak. Inactivated yeasts are found in products such as Fermaid K and E (Lallemand) and Maxaferm and Nutrivin (Oenobrands).

Yeast autolysate – the whole yeast cell is killed and then exposed to lytic enzymes at 45°C for a certain time period. The result is that the cell wall, that contains glucans, is partially degraded and the cell membrane and the “soluble inside” of the yeast are more exposed, and therefore more available, to the hungry fermenting yeasts (cannibals) lurking around for a bite. Commercial examples are Natuferm (Oenobrands), Go-FermProtect (Lallemand) and Dynastart (Laffort). These products are usually added separately from inorganic nitrogen. They are applied for specific purposes and they are more effective than normal inactivated yeast. Apart from the normal role of nutrition they also do the following: Natuferm = aroma enhancement, especially esters; Go-Ferm Protect = source of sterols and Dynastart = aroma enhancement, especially thiols.

Yeast cell walls /hulls / ghosts – this is the insoluble yeast cell wall fraction of yeast autolysate after centrifugation. Depending on the washing process used during the manufacturing of yeast hulls, they may or may not contain parts of the cell membrane. Commercial examples are Extraferm (Oenobrands) and Springcell (Bio-Springer). Technically they are not nutrients, they detoxify the must from medium chain fatty acids produced by sluggish yeasts.

Yeast extract – the supernatant of yeast autolysate or in plain English: the soluble insides of yeast cells once the insoluble cell walls and cell membranes have been removed. This is found in Superfood (Vinotec).

Specific yeast fractions – e.g. mannoproteins. Mannoproteins are a specific cell wall constituent and production thereof requires further processing of yeast cell walls. Technically they are not nutrients either. They assist with tartrate stabilisation and mouthfeel. Commercial examples are Claristar (Oenobrands) and Mannostab (Laffort).

For more detailed info on the topic go the technical article with the same title.

Karien O’Kennedy is the Online Communications Manager of Oenobrands and knows the odd thing or two about winemaking and fermentation.