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What is Self-Rising Flour?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Self-rising flour is flour which has been blended with salt and baking powder, so that the flour comes with its own leavening. This type of flour is especially popular in the American South, where it is commonly used in biscuits, cakes, and various dessert items, but it can be found all over the world. Basically, the feature which distinguishes self-rising flour is the addition of leavening, which cuts a step out of food preparation.

Because self-rising flour is often used in pastries, it is typically lower in protein than other kinds of flours. This has an impact on the way the flour behaves. Foods made with self-rising flour tend to be lighter, fluffier, and more crumbly. This can be a disadvantage for breads, depending on the type of bread one is attempting to make. Some cooks swear by self-rising flour, arguing that it makes the tenderest, lightest baked goods.

This flour can also be slightly saltier than people might anticipate. Self-rising flour can turn a recipe slightly bitter and salty, especially if a cook forgets and adds salt. Conveniently, self-rising flour is also usually sifted, so it has a very smooth, uniform texture.

Some recipes call specifically for self-rising flour, in which case the recipe may not include any added leavening or salt, because these ingredients are already present. This flour can also be used in many regular recipes, as long as cooks cut back or leave out added leavening and salt. Even yeast breads can be made with self rising flour, depending on the recipe, although some experimentation may be required to get the hang of things.

If you have a recipe which requires self-rising flour and you don't have any around, you will need to add salt and baking powder to the recipe for it to turn out right. You may also see recipes which require self-rising cake flour, a low-protein, lightweight flour which has been mixed with leavening. You can use regular cake flour with added leavening as a substitute in these cases.

One thing to be aware of when using self-rising flour is that baking powder is activated as soon as it is exposed to moisture. This means that baked goods should be put in the oven as soon as possible after the wet and dry ingredients are mixed, because otherwise the food will rise outside the oven, and collapse when it gets inside. This is also a danger with any type of quick-leavened food made with baking soda or baking powder, so if you're been struggling with flattened cookies or sagging cakes, this may explain your problem.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By kylee07drg — On Apr 16, 2012

@orangey03 - I feel the same way. All-purpose flour is so finicky, but self-rising is self-sufficient.

If you make something with all-purpose flour and forget to add the salt and baking powder, it will not rise at all. I’m so used to using self-rising flour that this has happened to me before.

I was making pancakes, and I reached for the all-purpose flour instead of the self-rising, without thinking about what I was doing. I noticed after the batter had been in the skillet awhile that it was not fluffing up at all. Once I realized what I’d done, I added the salt and baking powder to the rest of the batter, but the one pancake in the skillet just had to remain flat.

By orangey03 — On Apr 15, 2012

My mother always made everything with self-rising flour, so until my eighth grade home economics class, I never knew there were other types of flour. Self-rising is just so easy to use, because you don’t have to add anything extra to it.

I did have to use all-purpose flour with baking soda and salt in class, but I just didn’t see the point. The taste wasn’t much different, and it was more trouble and more expensive to make.

Even when a recipe calls for all-purpose flour and the extras, I use self-rising flour instead. It always turns out great, so I really don’t see why the type of flour has been specified.

By wavy58 — On Apr 14, 2012

@Mykol - I didn’t know about this either. I usually make my biscuit dough about an hour ahead of time just so that I can concentrate on cooking other things, and I always wondered why I never could get fluffy biscuits.

Sometimes, they turn out hard, but even when they do remain soft, they just look so thin and dense. Weight and texture have a lot to do with taste, and I just don’t think they taste very good.

I’m going to start making the dough right before I put it in the oven and see how that works. Hopefully, that will be the key to making them rise.

By Oceana — On Apr 14, 2012

@LisaLou - I still sift my flour when I’m about to make cakes or cookies. I just pour the self-rising flour right into the sifter and crank the handle until all the flour has poured out into the bowl beneath it.

I love the light, fluffy texture that the sifter gives to the self-rising flour. It goes in kind of compacted and clumpy and comes out like snow.

It really makes a difference in the texture of a cake. Cakes made with non-sifted flour are heavy, but those made with sifted flour have an airy texture, and they seem to be so much lighter.

By honeybees — On Apr 14, 2012

For most of my traditional recipes that I make over and over again, I like to use self-rising flour. Since I don't have to worry about measuring out salt or baking powder, this makes mixing up the ingredients that much faster.

Has anybody ever used chickpea flour? When I was browsing the health food store the other day I saw this garbanzo bean flour that was made with chickpeas.

There was a recipe for some hummus on the side of the package and I thought this sounded pretty good. I was just wondering what other uses there would be for this flour.

It might taste OK mixed in with some other kinds of flour for bread, but I can't imagine using this for something like cookies or pastries.

By LisaLou — On Apr 13, 2012

There are so many more options for flour now than there used to be. When I started baking many years ago I remember using one kind of flour, and I always sifted it with my other dry ingredients like salt and baking soda.

I don't know if anyone sifts their own flour anymore. I have seen everything from all purpose flour, unbleached flour, soy flour and many other kinds of flour in the grocery store.

It is nice to have so many choices, but most of the time I just use regular all purpose flour for my baking. I usually get good results, so I figure I will just keep using the same thing I have used for years.

By andee — On Apr 12, 2012

@Mykol - When I use pastry flour, I always add salt and a leavening agent to it. I really like using pastry flour for most of my baked goods. It gives a lighter, fluffier texture that I don't get with regular flour.

If you don't have any pastry flour on hand, you can mix half cake flour and half all purpose flour with similar results.

You can also buy whole wheat pastry flour for a healthier choice. Many times regular whole wheat flour is too heavy and grainy for baked goods. It is healthier than using white flour, but you still get the advantages of using a pastry flour.

By Mykol — On Apr 12, 2012

I never realized how important it was to quickly get your dough in the oven when you are using a leavening agent like baking powder.

There are many times I have ended up with flat cookies and wondered what the problem was. I thought I followed the directions correctly, but might have waited too long before all of the cookies were baked.

I don't know how you can prevent this when you are only supposed to bake one cookie sheet at a time.

I usually use regular flour and add my own salt and baking soda. If I was making something like biscuits though, I can see why you would want something that was a little lighter in texture.

I have seen pastry flour in the health market and wondered if it also contains salt and a leavening agent, or if you have to add that yourself?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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