Demystifying the Similarities: All-Purpose Flour vs. Plain Flour

Is all-purpose flour the same as plain flour?

All-purpose flour is a widely used type of flour in North America due to its versatility and long shelf life. It is commonly found in households and is a staple ingredient in many recipes. However, there is often confusion about whether all-purpose flour is the same as plain flour. In this article, we will explore the similarities and differences between these two types of flour and discuss their uses in baking and cooking.

All-purpose and plain flour: interchangeable types

To clarify, all-purpose flour and plain flour are indeed the same thing and can be used interchangeably in most recipes. When a recipe calls for “flour” without any specific descriptors, it is referring to all-purpose flour. Both terms are used to describe a versatile flour that can be used in a wide range of culinary applications.
All-purpose flour is made by grinding wheat into a fine powder, specifically using the endosperm of the wheat grain. This milling process increases the shelf life of the flour and makes it more stable than other types of flour. All-purpose flour typically has a moderate protein content of 10% to 12%.

Understanding flour types

While all-purpose flour can be used in a variety of recipes, it is important to note that there are other types of flour with different characteristics. Understanding these differences can help you choose the right flour for specific culinary purposes. Here are some commonly used flours:

1. Pastry Flour

Pastry flour is often confused with all-purpose flour, but it has a different composition. It is made from soft wheat varieties and has a lower protein content, usually around 8% to 9%. The lower protein content gives pastries, such as pie crusts and cookies, a tender and fine texture. Pastry flour should be avoided when baking bread or pasta, which require a firmer structure.

2. Cake flour

Cake flour is specifically designed for making cakes that need to rise high without the strength of gluten to maintain their structure. It is finely milled and often chlorinated, which weakens the gluten and increases the flour’s ability to absorb liquid. This combination produces light, fluffy, moist cakes. Cake flour typically has a protein content of 5% to 8%.

3. Whole-wheat flour

Whole wheat flour differs from all-purpose flour in that it uses the entire wheat kernel, including the endosperm, germ, and bran. The milling process separates these components, but returns varying amounts of germ and bran to the flour. This inclusion increases the gluten content to about 11% to 14%, resulting in heartier and denser baked goods. Whole-wheat flour also contains more vitamins, minerals and fiber than all-purpose flour.

4. Bread Flour

Bread flour is made from durum wheat and has a high protein content, typically between 12% and 14%. This higher protein content provides the structure necessary for yeast bread to rise and hold its shape. Bread flour is ideal for chewy breads, bagels and pasta that require good elasticity.

5. Self-Rising Flour

Self-rising flour is a pre-mixed flour that contains leavening agents such as baking powder and salt. It is often used in recipes that require quick and easy preparation, such as cookies and pancakes. While all-purpose flour can be used as a substitute for self-rising flour, the addition of baking powder and salt may be necessary to achieve similar results.

6. Gluten-free flour

Gluten-free flour is specially formulated for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease. Gluten is a protein found in wheat that gives dough its elasticity and structure. Gluten-free flours are made from alternative grains or starches and do not contain gluten. There are many gluten-free flours available, each with its own unique characteristics and uses.


In summary, all-purpose flour and plain flour are interchangeable types that are commonly used in baking and cooking. They have similar characteristics and can be substituted for each other in most recipes. However, it is important to understand the different types of flour available and their specific uses. Pastry flour, cake flour, whole-wheat flour, bread flour, self-raising flour, and gluten-free flour each have different qualities that make them suitable for specific culinary purposes. By becoming familiar with these different types of flour, you can improve your baking and cooking skills and achieve the desired results in your recipes.


Can all-purpose flour and plain flour be used interchangeably?

Yes, all-purpose flour and plain flour are essentially the same and can be used interchangeably in most recipes.

What is the protein content of all-purpose flour?

All-purpose flour typically contains between 10% and 12% protein.

Is baking flour the same as all-purpose flour?

No, baking flour is different from all-purpose flour. Pastry flour has a lower protein content and is used specifically for making pastries such as pie crusts and cookies.

Can I substitute all-purpose flour for baking flour?

While all-purpose flour can be used as a substitute for cake flour in certain recipes, the texture and consistency may be slightly affected. For best results, use cake flour when specifically called for in a recipe.

Is whole-wheat flour the same as all-purpose flour?

No, whole-wheat flour is not the same as all-purpose flour. Whole-wheat flour is made from the entire wheat kernel, including the germ and bran, while all-purpose flour uses only the endosperm of the wheat grain.

Can I use all-purpose flour for gluten-free baking?

No, all-purpose flour contains gluten, so it is not suitable for gluten-free baking. Instead, you can choose gluten-free flours that are specially formulated for people with gluten intolerance or celiac disease.