Plain flour vs all-purpose flour

What Is All Purpose Flour? A Guide On Flour Types

Plain flour vs all-purpose flour
Updated on
August 27, 2023
Gareth Busby
Gareth Busby

Flour is a versatile cooking and baking ingredient made by finely grinding wheat, rye, barley, rice or maize. Many types of flour are available, with different countries having unique labelling systems.

If you’re looking for all-purpose flour but can only find plain or baker’s flour, can you use them? What is all-purpose flour? And how about self-raising or self-rising flour? What are the differences?

I’ll help you answer your flour-related questions, just read on!

Types of flour

A guide on the common types of flour

Flour is what gives baked goods their shape and texture. The proteins found in wheat flour bond to produce a gluten network that traps the gas produced in leavened bread, cakes and pastries.

What is all-purpose flour?

All-purpose flour is a type of flour that can be used for almost any type of baked good. Containing between 50-75% of the original wheat kernel, all-purpose flour’s low to medium protein content makes it a perfect all-rounder.

In the UK, All-Purpose flour is called Plain Flour. Both are milled from both hard and soft wheat and have a medium to low protein content.

If you are following a recipe that calls for all-purpose flour, plain flour can be used.

All-purpose vs. plain flour

There are slight differences between all-purpose and plain flour.

In the US, flour is often sourced from Canada and northern states. Wheat grown in these climates generally produces flour with a higher protein content than UK flour.

As US flour usually contains more protein than UK flour, bread bakers enjoy better results with all-purpose flour. In the UK, plain flour is rarely used to make bread.

Bleaching all-purpose flour

In the US, flour is often bleached with a chemical such as benzoyl peroxide, potassium bromate and chlorine gas. Bleaching ages the flour, thus reducing storage costs and lowering production costs.

Whilst the seriousness of the nutritional impact of bleaching flour has long been contested, there are some notable differences in how bleach vs non-bleached flour behaves.

Bleaching whitens the flour’s colour but brightens the baked goods’ colour. The process results in finer and softer textured grain particles.

Products made with bleached flour are softer and have a lighter, more voluminous texture. There is a key trade-off, however, which is being less flavoursome.

All-purpose flour nutrition

All-purpose flour is a fantastic source of protein and other vital nutrients. It’s a good source of selenium, riboflavin, niacin, and thiamine. Traceable amounts of copper, iron, phosphorus, and zinc are also present.

It lacks the healthy fibre that whole wheat flour contains, but it makes up for this in versatility!

All-purpose flour calories

The flour nutrition labels indicate that a single cup provides about 455 calories. It may seem a lot, but you’re not likely to consume that many calories. Because when you mix flour with liquids and other ingredients to make your food or bread, fewer calories are consumed.

Self-raising flour

This type of flour is all-purpose flour mixed with baking powder. Including the leavening agent in the flour makes measuring the perfect quantities for your light and fluffy cakes easier.

Self-rising flour vs. self-raising flour

Like all-purpose and plain flour, self-rising and self-raising are different names for the same type of flour. Self-rising is commonly used in the UK, while self-raising is used in the US.

How do you make 200g plain flour into self-rising?

If your recipe requires self-rising flour, you can easily make your own at home! Add half a teaspoon of baking powder to every 100g of plain flour and dry-mix it. So, if you need 200g of self-rising flour, you can add a teaspoon of baking powder to plain flour. 

What is pastry flour?

Pastry flour is milled to a finer texture than all-purpose. It is made from a softer wheat, often with a lower protein content.

Pastry flour produces a very tender crumb with a fine crumb structure, great for croissants, puff pastry, pie crusts and pound cakes. In France, pastry flour is known as T45.

What is cake flour?

Cake flour is the best for making light and fluffy cakes. It only has around 5% protein content, which is the lowest compared to other flours.

Baked products made with low-protein flour are lighter and less chewy, making cake flour perfect for making cakes.

What makes bread flour, bread flour?

Bread flour has the highest protein content. It’s milled mainly from hard wheat, producing a higher protein flour and developing a more robust gluten structure.

Bread made with higher protein flour will capture more gases during proofing, requiring less kneading. It’s ideal for making quickly-risen bread and ensures the bread rises higher.

How do you turn all-purpose flour into bread flour?

If your recipe calls for bread flour, but you’ve run out, you can substitute it with all-purpose flour for reasonable results.

To increase the gluten content and turn all-purpose flour into bread flour, remove one teaspoon of flour and replace it with one teaspoon of vital wheat gluten.

00 flour – what’s the difference?

00 flour is an Italian-milled flour that’s best used for making pasta and pizza dough. This is a fine flour that creates a dough that’s silkier and light.

It’s perfect for pasta as well as long-fermented Italian bread. Its protein content is about 11-12%, slightly higher than all-purpose flour.

bread made with 00 Italian bread flour

What is ciabatta flour?

Ciabatta flour is a coarse and rustic flour that originates from Northern Italy.

Its super high protein of around 14% supports the large air bubbles that develop during a long, cold fermentation period.

Ciabatta flour is made to be used for ciabatta bread, this flour works well in many high-hydration doughs.

Do I need pizza flour to make pizza?

Pizza flour is a type of 00 flour. This is white bread flour with high gluten content, specifically chosen for its extensibility after a long rising period.

The specific pizza flour chosen determines how long pizza dough can last in the fridge or ferment at room temperature.

The combination of high extensibility and soft wheat produces pizza dough that retains its shape, develops flavour and “puffs up” just the right amount in the oven.

What is “enriched flour”?

This flour has been fortified with minerals. Some minerals, fibres, and vitamins are extracted when wheat is milled. Due to government legislation, some of these minerals are being added back with enriched flour.

What is wholemeal flour?

Wholemeal flour is the UK term for whole wheat flour. It contains up to 100% of the wheat grain, with more fibre, more complex carbohydrates and a higher amount of nutrients than white flour.

Perfect to make brown bread, wholemeal bread, and soda bread.

Typical flour protein content

Flour TypeTypical Protein Content
High strength bread flour13 – 15%
Pizza flour11.5 – 14.5%
Standard bread flour11.5 – 13%
All-purpose flour9 – 12%
Plain flour9 – 11%
Pastry flour9 – 11%
Cake flour9 – 10 %

Frequently asked questions about flour

Is all-purpose flour plain or self rising?
Self-rising flour contains a rising agent that makes baked goods rise in the oven. All-purpose does not contain any raising agents. Bicarbonate of soda, baking powder or yeast will need to be added if you want to use this flour to make bread or cakes.
Can you use plain flour instead of self raising flour?
Yes! If your recipe calls for self-rising flour, you can choose to use plain flour instead. You just have to add a half teaspoon of baking powder for every 100 grams of plain flour you’re going to use.
Is plain flour maida?
Maida is not plain flour. It’s processed flour, also known as bleached flour. It consists of refined carbohydrates that give it a high glycerin index. Food that’s been made with Maida is considered to lack any special health benefits. This is believed to be a hazard and is banned in several countries.
Is all wholemeal flour suitable for bread?
Yes! Wholemeal flour offers a lot of substantial health benefits to your bread. Not to mention that many people prefer having a rough texture in their bread.

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