When exploring the science of food it’s important to analyze both your own creations as well as the ones you buy in the store. It’s more interesting that way. So, I did that little exercise for Dutch pancakes, comparing my own version with a microwave pancake and a mix for batter, looking at time required for preparation, effort, costs, ingredients and the nutritional value. Since Dutch and American pancakes are pretty different, I decided to do the same thing for American pancakes.
Let’s catch up quickly. I find it fascinating in this world that one the one hand people swear with homemade fresh food and on the other hand also want very easy, fast to prepare, well tasting food. In some cases, those two are pretty hard to both fulfill at the same time. In order for something to be fast and easy, it might be hard to keep it fresh without using some sort of method to do it. Additional ingredients are added, packaging is used to preserve, etc. In these posts I’d like to show that. I don’t think one or the other is necessarily better or worse, but it’s good to see the differences.
American pancake recipe
An American pancake in my opinion is a thick, fluffly, slightly sweet pancake, with a lot of air bubbles. The recipe I always use is the one below and is the one I’ll be using for this post comparison.
- 200g flour (or a mixture of plain and whole wheat flour)
- 200g milk
- 1 egg
- 1 tsp baking powder
- sugar (if you like, I often don't add any)
- Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar.
- Whisk in the milk and egg until all clumps are gone, it's easier to not add all milk at once to remove the clumps.
- Pre heat a frying pan with some fat (oil or butter) and add a large spoonful of mixture. Heat the pancake on one side until the top has dried. Flip the pancake and brown the bottom.
Just as in my previous post on Dutch pancakes I’ll be comparing three different ways to get your hands on pancakes:
- Home made pancakes
- Store bought pancake mix from Aunt Jemina
- Ready to eat pancakes, this time from the freezer from Krusteaz
Of course, the differences in required time and effort are the same as for the Dutch pancakes. It’ll probably take you at least half an hour to whip up the first two pancakes, whereas you’ll be finished within five minutes for the ready to eat pancakes. That’s the easy part. Just like for the Dutch series, I’ll zoom into the ingredients to discover the differences.
Time to compare ingredients of the three again.
- Home made: flour, milk, egg, baking powder, sugar
- Pancake mix: flour (enriched with vitamins, but that’s more of a standard in the US than here), sugar, leavening (sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminium phosphate, monocalcium phosphate), dextrose, nonfat dry milk, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, wheat gluten, calcium carbonate, corn syrup solids, sodium caseinate, mono- and diglycerides, lactic acid
- Freezer pancakes: flour (again enriched), water, buttermilk, whey, sugar, dextrose, soy flour, soybean/canola oil, leavening (sodium bicarbonate, sodium aluminium phosphate, sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate), eggs, salt, soy lecithin (emulsifier)
In the US, enrichment of flour is pretty normal I found and even stated in legislation as to how flour should be enriched. The reasons flour is enriched is to make up for losses during production. Removal of the germ and bran (which are still present in whole wheat flour, which is why I often make pancakes with both plain as well as whole wheat flour) results in the loss of a range of vitamins, but also fibers and several other nutrients. However, only some of the vitamins and minerals are put back in enriched flour.
Salt, sugar and milk
It strikes me how much longer the ingredient lists are for the American style pancakes, than for the Dutch versions. We require some simplification. Let’s start with sugar. The pancake mix and freezer pancakes both contain more than one type of sugar, they also contain dextrose and corn syrup solids. These also sweeten the pancakes. I’ve discussed leavening agents before, so won’t go in the details here, to not let this get too long.
Next up, salt, I don’t use salt in my pancakes, but it’s pretty common to do. Salt can increase taste perception, not only of salt, but also flavour in general.
Last but not least, let’s look at milk. I use milk in my pancakes, one to add water and two to add flavour and enrichment with proteins and some fat. In tha pancake mix we see milk powder is used (non fat dry milk) to take over this function. There’s also sodium caseinate, which has been derived from the milk protein casein. In the freezer pancakes, water, buttermilk and whey are used. Whey is a milk protein. The use of water and whey instead is milk could well be a cost saving.
So, once we cross out all the ingredients we just discussed. There’s only a short list left of ingredients we’d have to discuss.
- Home made:
flour, milk, egg, baking powder, sugar
- Pancake mix:
flour, sugar, leavening, dextrose, nonfat dry milk, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, wheat gluten, calcium carbonate, corn syrup solids, sodium caseinate, mono- and diglycerides, lactic acid
- Freezer pancakes:
flour, water, buttermilk, whey, sugar, dextrose, soy flour, soybean/canola oil, leavening, eggs, salt, soy lecithin (emulsifier)
Both pre-made pancakes contain soybean oil. The freezer pancakes will need this to be baked in. But both also need the fat for the mouthfeel of the pancake. Since both use low/non-fat milk products and very little to no eggs, there’s no fat in the pancakes yet. But fat is important for texture of the pancake, which is what the soybean oil does. The mono- and diglycerides in the pancake mix serve the same function.
The freezerpancakes also contain soy lecithin and soy flour. The lecithin is used as an emulsifier, it prevents water and fat from separating. There’s no reason for soy flour to be there, except for substituting (more expensive?) regular flour.
What we’re now left with are just three ingredients:
- wheat gluten: used to strengthen the structure
- calcium carbonate: can help the leavening
- lactic acid: serves as a preservative
Where are the E-numbers?
Good question, no E-numbers here in the ingredient declaration. No, it’s not as if this is an E-number free product or a very natural one, no. The explanation is a lot more easy (and boring). These products are products which are sold in the United States. In the United States additives are regulated slightly differently than in Europe and don’t get an E-number. So, no E-numbers here.
It’s hard to compare nutritional value if you still have to bake your pancakes where you’ll be using fats of some sort, so contributing to the nutritional value. So I’ll only have a quick look at the two store bought versions. It’s pretty confusing that both packs use a different serving size for their nutritional value, which makes it harder to compare the two. I noticed quickly though that the freezer pancakes contain half the amount of sugar from the pancake mix pancakes, but both contain a similar amount of fat.
Understanding what’s in your food, helps you decide which foods you’d like to eat. I hope this helped you understand food a little more to allow you to make those decisions that fit you best.