In addition to ethanol, yeasts have the potential to produce many other industrially-relevant chemicals from numerous different carbon sources. However there remains a paucity of information about overall capability across the yeast family tree. Here, 11 diverse species of yeasts with genetic backgrounds representative of different branches of the family tree were investigated. They were compared for their abilities to grow on a range of sugar carbon sources, to produce potential platform chemicals from such substrates and to ferment hydrothermally pretreated rice straw under simultaneous saccharification and fermentation conditions. The yeasts differed considerably in their metabolic capabilities and production of ethanol. A number could produce significant amounts of ethyl acetate, arabinitol, glycerol and acetate in addition to ethanol, including from hitherto unreported carbon sources. They also demonstrated widely differing efficiencies in the fermentation of sugars derived from pre-treated rice straw biomass and differential sensitivities to fermentation inhibitors. A new catabolic property of Rhodotorula mucilaginosa (NCYC 65) was discovered in which sugar substrate is cleaved but the products are not metabolised. We propose that engineering this and some of the other properties discovered in this study and transferring such properties to conventional industrial yeast strains could greatly expand their biotechnological utility.