When Can You Substitute All Purpose Flour for Plain Flour? All Purpose vs Plain Flour ANSWERED

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Can you substitute all purpose flour for plain flour? Possibly! Although there are sharp disagreements on the answer to this question, we’ve set out to get you the correct information about all-purpose flour vs plain flour so you can stay informed when baking. Ready to know all there is to know about the differences between all-purpose flour vs plain flour? If so, then get ready…we’re about to get started right now!

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flour for baking

Table of Contents

Is Plain Flour the Same as All Purpose Flour?

Is Plain Flour the Same as All-Purpose Flour?

You may be wondering if plain flour is the same thing as all-purpose flour. The answer to this is tricky and often receives a variety of answers.

Let’s get to the bottom of why.

In the United States, the words “plain flour” and “all-purpose flour” can be used interchangeably. 

Gold Medal All-Purpose Flour 25.0 lb Bag

To use “plain flour” in a recipe would mean to use all-purpose flour, as the term “plain” is referring to the lack of additional ingredients added to the flour thereby rendering it plain in comparison to other flour types.

On the flip side, “plain flour” is something different from all-purpose flour in the UK. In the UK, plain flour is flour that is made from grinding soft wheat. Soft wheat contains less gluten. Plain flour in the UK is also lower in protein than all-purpose flour made in the US.

Homepride Plain Flour - 1kg (2.2lbs)

Therefore, the technical difference between all-purpose flour and plain flour is that all-purpose flour is higher in gluten and higher in protein. It is made from both hard and soft wheat. Plain flour, on the other hand, is made from soft wheat and is lower in protein and gluten. 

All Purpose Flour vs Plain Flour

Is All Purpose Flour the Same as Plain Flour?

Now that you know the differences between all-purpose flour and plain flour, let’s talk about how these differences fare out in terms of texture and taste.

While you can certainly substitute plain flour for all-purpose and all-purpose for plain, you should know that the results might be slightly different depending on what you are baking. The differences between the two will only be noticeable if you are truly using two different flours. 

Remember that in the US, plain flour may be the same thing as all-purpose. However, if you are substituting the US version of all-purpose flour with the UK version of plain flour, then you may end up noticing differences in taste and texture in your end result when baking.

Since true plain flour is made from soft wheat, you can expect the final result of anything made with such flour to have a soft and tender crumb. On the other hand, since all-purpose flour is made from a combination of soft and hard wheat, you’ll notice that goods baked with all-purpose flour may have more structure, more chew, or may be a bit firmer in comparison.

If you need to compensate for this difference, consider removing ¼ of the weight of your APF. Replace with an equal amount of cornstarch in your baked goods. This will produce a less glutinous flour and more tender crumb which is similar to that of what you’d get if you were baking with true plain flour. 

apf vs plain flour

What to Use Instead of Flour: Other Flour Types

Did you know that besides all-purpose flour and plain flour, there are other flour types? Whether you are looking for an alternative to plain (or all-purpose) flour, or want to nix traditional flour completely, we’ve listed the most commonly used all-purpose flour alternatives you need to know about to make your next baking recipe a step above the rest. 

Self-Rising Flour

Self-rising flour refers to flour that already comes studded with baking powder and a bit of salt. This type of flour is often milled from soft wheat grain, much like plain flour, making it lower in gluten and able to produce a more tender crumb.

But the most important thing to remember about this type of flour is that it already contains a leavening agent (baking powder). Therefore, recipes that call for self-rising flour rarely call for additional leavening agents to help the dough to rise. 

White Lily Self Rising Flour, 5-lb bags, 2-Pack

Cake Flour

Cake flour is a flour that is low in protein (only 7-8% compared to 10-12% in the case of all-purpose flour). It therefore contains less gluten than other flour types.

Cake flour is made from soft wheat and is finely milled to produce a light and airy cake-like texture when used for baked goods. Cake flour can also go by the name “pastry flour”. 

Swans Down Regular Cake Flour, 32 Ounce Box

Bread Flour

Bread flour (not to be confused with baker’s flour) is flour that has a higher protein content, even more than all-purpose flour. It is used in order to create additional gluten and structure when baking bread.

When baking bread, gluten is what gives bread its chew and distinct texture. In order for the gluten to properly form, it will take a higher protein amount.

Bread flours typically contain about 11-13% protein compared to the 10-12% protein typically found in all-purpose flour. And though you can technically use all-purpose flour to make bread, you’ll want to avoid using bread flour as a substitute for all-purpose. Bread flour certainly won’t work well for certain recipes such as cake, dessert, or pastry goods. 

Artisan Bread Flour 5 Pounds 1-Pack

Whole Wheat Flour

Whole wheat flour is flour that has been made by mashing the entire wheat grain. It is incredibly nutritious. But when substituted for all-purpose flour and other flour types, you will find this grain to be very dense. For some, this is a major turn-on. But for others, depending on the recipe, it may be a major turn-off.

To improve the density of whole wheat flour without sacrificing too much in terms of nutrition, consider swapping out 25-50% of your whole wheat flour for all-purpose. Or try using white whole wheat flour instead. 

Bob's Red Mill, Organic Flour, Whole Wheat, 5 lb

Non-Wheat Alternatives to Flour

If you are looking for gluten-free replacements or simply need wheat alternatives for other reasons, consider the following flour alternatives:

Oat Flour

Oat flour is “flour” that is made by finely milling oats into a powder that can be used as flour.

Note that oat flour cannot be substituted at a 1:1 ratio for all-purpose flour. Instead should be substituted by weight using a scale when utilized as a replacement.

This is because oat flour is much lighter than regular flour. So it should be substituted according to weight rather than by volume for an accurate swap. 

Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Oat Flour, 20-ounce (Pack of 4)

Almond Flour

Almond flour is almonds that are crushed and made into fine “flour”.

To substitute almond flour for regular flour, you’ll do so at a 1:1 ratio. But you may need a little extra binder (eggs or otherwise) to help hold everything together.

Almond flour is a favorite flour substitute among those on low-carb diets. It enables them to enjoy the formerly high-carb foods they once loved without experiencing excessive weight gain. 

Blue Diamond Almond Flour, Gluten Free, Blanched, Finely Sifted 3 Pound bag

Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is made from dry ground coconut meat. It is often used in low-carb baking much like almond flour, however, there are differences between the two. Not only is coconut flour more flavorful than almond flour (it will impart a strong coconut flavor to your baked goods which may or may not be appealing to you) but it also absorbs a lot of liquid. Because of this, you only need ¼ to ⅓ cups of coconut flour per cup of all-purpose flour

Rice Flour

Rice flour is often sought out by people seeking to be on a gluten-free diet. They come in several varieties, including brown rice flour and white rice flour, with brown rice being preferable because it is less processed and more nutritious.

Rice flour is often made into noodles and is used in desserts and other gluten-free baked dishes. It can also be found blended with other flour in many gluten-free flour blends.

Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free White Rice Flour, 24 Ounce (Pack of 1)

Cornmeal

We wouldn’t recommend replacing the flour in a baking recipe with cornmeal (different from cornstarch). But we will say that cornmeal works well as a replacement for flour whenever you intend to fry something.

Whether you are on a gluten-free diet or are simply out of flour, using cornmeal in its place will lead to a tasty (and very crunchy) fried coating. 

Arrowhead Mills Organic Yellow Cornmeal, 22 Ounce

What About Gluten-Free Flour?

As previously mentioned, some non-wheat flour can be deemed safe for individuals following a gluten-free diet. But this isn’t always the case. 

In case you don’t already know, gluten is the compound contained in cereal grains that has the ability to trigger certain symptoms in individuals that are sensitive to gluten or have Celiac Disease.

Gluten is associated with the amount of protein in flour as gluten itself is a wheat protein. Therefore, the higher the protein in a flour (such as in bread flour) the higher the amount of gluten that is also present. 

Remember that it is gluten that gives dough its structure and elasticity. So gluten plays a very important role in the development of baked goods we love and enjoy.

The problem with gluten, however, is that it harnesses the ability to make people very sick. For those with Celiac Disease, eating anything containing gluten may give way to gas, constipation, migraines, fatigue, skin breakouts, anemia, hives, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and a plethora of other symptoms.

Bob's Red Mill, Organic Flour, Whole Wheat, 5 lb

Thankfully, there are gluten-free flours out there that can replace “plain” or all-purpose flour in most scenarios. Just be sure to double-check the ratio to which you should replace regular flour with your gluten-free flour. Usually these swaps won’t always be cup for cup. Using a flour that must be adjusted according to weight or volume at a cup for cup ratio for all-purpose flour may lead to disaster. You may then wonder what went wrong with your recipe.

Can You Substitute All Purpose Flour For Plain Flour? The Answer Is Yes!

Although plain flour and all-purpose flour are not always referring to the same thing, the two can be swapped for each other in a recipe without too much difference being noticed. 

Remember that in the United States, most people referring to “plain” flour will likely be talking about flour that has no other added ingredients, otherwise known as “all-purpose” flour. 

In the UK, however, there may actually be a difference between all-purpose flour and plain flour. Plain flour in the UK is made from soft wheat. It is lower in protein and gluten than the average all-purpose flour used in the United States. The taste and texture of the two grains aren’t remarkably different when used. But there may be slight differences in the outcome just because the two flours aren’t the same thing.

We hope this has served as an informative read! Thanks for stopping by! 

Substitute all purpose flour for plain flour – FAQs

Can I substitute plain flour for all purpose flour?

Yes, plain flour can be substituted for all-purpose flour, however, depending on your location on the globe, the two flours may differ only slightly in texture as can be observed after having baked the final product. True plain flour will produce a lighter and more tender crumb than will all-purpose flour, but the difference isn’t enough to ruin a baked good or dish containing either flour.

Can I substitute cake flour for all purpose flour?

It isn’t recommended that you substitute cake flour for all-purpose flour at a 1:1 ratio because cake flour is lighter in density and will have less protein and gluten than all-purpose flour. Therefore, cake flour would not be ideal for making bread when substituted for all-purpose flour. Having said that, if you are making a dish or baked good that calls for all-purpose flour when all you have is cake flour on hand, you may wish to simply substitute your cake flour for all-purpose flour at 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of cake flour for every 1 cup of all-purpose flour. This will give you better results than replacing cake flour to an all-purpose flour cup for cup. 

Can I substitute bread flour for cake flour?

We don’t recommend substituting bread flour for cake flour. Because bread flour is very high in gluten and protein, your final product when baking something that calls for cake flour with bread flour will be tough and dense. 
On the opposite end, using cake flour for bread flour when making bread will lead to disaster because there isn’t as much protein and gluten in cake flour as there is in bread flour, leaving your bread less chewy and voluminous as it should be (instead it will likely be dense and flat). Therefore, it is best to use bread flour for bread recipes (especially pizza crust, pretzels, and bagels) and leave cake flour for pastries and cakes. 

Can plain flour be substituted for bread flour?

All-purpose flour and plain flour can both be good substitutes for bread in most cases. For optimal chewiness and gluten development, however, opt for bread flour when you can, especially when making dense crusts and pretzels. 

Is whole wheat flour the same as white whole wheat flour?

Whole wheat flour isn’t the exact same thing as whole wheat flour, but both types of flour are prepared the same and offer exceptional nutritional value. White wheat flour and whole wheat flour differ in that white wheat flour is made from hard white wheat berries whereas whole wheat flour is not. White whole wheat flour is often less dense than whole wheat flour which is why it is often preferred over whole-wheat flour when used in recipes for pancakes, cakes, and muffins. Bear in mind though, that despite its white color, white whole wheat flour is not bleached white flour. 

Is oat flour safe for Celiacs?

Oat flour can be safe for those with gluten sensitivities or Celiac Disease, but it isn’t guaranteed. Many types of oat flour are cross-contaminated with wheat and thereby cannot technically be considered gluten-free (even though oats are naturally free from gluten). Still, there are many varieties of oats sold today that are specifically marked as being gluten-free. These varieties are safe for Celiacs and those with gluten sensitivities to consume. Therefore, any oat flour that you buy must be marked as gluten-free. Otherwise, the chances are high that your oat flour has been exposed to gluten. 

By Anna

Hey, I’m Anna; writer, editor and amateur cook extraordinaire! Food has been my life and my passion for the most of my life – it’s crazy to think I didn’t pursue a career in cooking. I’m obsessed! However, keeping cooking as an obsessive hobby has worked for me – my passion grows as the years pass by – maybe I wouldn’t say the same if it was also my day job! I hope you find cooking inspiration, entertainment and “stop and think interesting tid-bits” throughout my writing – and I’d love to hear from you if you’ve got anything you want to share. Food feeds the soul – so get eating!

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