The way we look at food changes continuously and has especially changed a lot in the last few decades. Nowadays we’re so used to food being present all the time, we start worrying about other things. Trends come up and people start avoiding certain foods. One very interesting trend to me is that people want safe, fast, wholesome food, but don’t accept any kind of additives. It’s interesting since (as you might know) a home made bread simply doesn’t keep that long, nor does a pancake or a home made soup. That’s why I’ve decided to look into this in an as objective way as possible. What’s actually in our (processed) foods and why is it there?
Today, it’s all about pancakes, pancakes, pancakes. I like pancakes, both making and eating them. I tend to make pancakes from scratch myself, but just in case you can’t or don’t want to, I’ll be exploring homemade versus store bought pancakes. What’s the difference in time, costs, effort and ingredients? So, what is your best choice?
This post analyzes homemade versus store bought Dutch pancakes. However, as you might know as well, Dutch and American pancakes are pretty different. So I decided to do an American comparison as well in a separate post.
Three different ways to get a pancake
When you want to eat your pancakes at home, there are roughly three ways to get this pancakes:
- Make them yourself, from scratch
- Use a pre blend from the store to bake your own
- Buy ready made pancakes which only have to be heated (in a microwave for instance)
So, what’s the ‘best’ way to get your pancakes? Of course, this differs per person, so I’ll be zooming in on various aspects: time, knowledge, ingredients, nutrition and costs.
Consideration 1 + 2: Time & Knowledge
Of course, the first method takes longest and requires most knowledge (look up/know a recipe, weigh all ingredients, mix them, bake pancakes), whereas the last is the fastest and requires least knowledge (read label, heat pancakes in microwave, ping!, ready)! So if you’re in a hurry, go for the last option. If you’re not and you have a cookbook, go for the first. If you don’t have a recipe? Go for the second.
Consideration 3: Ingredients
The three different options have slightly different ingredient declarations (I used a pre-blend and ready-to-heat pancake from a Dutch supermarkt chain: Albert Heijn):
- Home made: milk, flour (plain, whole wheat, buckwheat), egg, sugar, salt, baking powder (= disodiumdihydrogen phosphate E450, sodium hydrogen carbonate E500, wheat flour) + oil to bake in
- Pre-blend: wheat flour, whey powder, buckwheat flour, egg powder, salt, raising agent (E341, E450, E500), glucose syrup, wheat starch + water (to make it a batter) + oil (to bake in)
- Ready-to-heat: water, flour (wheat, rye), egg, vegetable oil, sugar, skimmed milk powder, whey powder, fractionated butter fat, raising agents (E500, E575), salt, emulsifying agent (lecithin), conservation agent (E202), thickening agent (xanthan gum)
Dry vs. wet – Egg and milk
One interesting difference is that the store bought versions both contain dried egg and/or milk. For the pre-blend this is a necessity, it’s a dry pack with powder, so of course, all water has to get out. As a consequence, dried powders have to be used.
The ready-to-heat pancakes do seem to contain ‘wet’ eggs, but no ‘wet’ milk. Instead, they contain skimmed milk powder and whey protein. Whey protein is a protein naturally present in milk, and serves to increase protein content.
The most important reason for doing this is has to do with flexibility in a factory. Milk contains a lot of water, so takes up a lot of space and it spoils easily. Powders on the other hand can be stored in a more compact manner and for a significant longer amount of time.
Simplifying the list
The basis of all three pancakes is the same: flour, a liquid (to create a batter), egg (to strengthen the pancake structure), salt and raising agents. In a previous post on making pancakes I’ve already discussed the role of all these different ingredients. The role of raising agents has already been discussed before.
Since this post is about finding the differences between homemade vs. store bought pancakes, I’ll simplify the ingredient lists by taking out all overlapping ingredients:
- Home made:
milk, flour (plain, whole wheat, buckwheat), egg, sugar, salt, baking powder(= disodiumdihydrogen phosphate E450, sodium hydrogen carbonate E500, wheat flour) + oil to bake in
wheat flour, whey powder, buckwheat flour, egg powder, salt, raising agent (E341, E450, E500), glucose syrup, wheat starch + water + oil to bake in
water, flour (wheat, rye), egg, vegetable oil, sugar, skimmed milk powder, whey powder,fractionated butter fat, raising agents ( E500, E575), salt, emulsifying agent (lecithin), conservation agent (E202), thickening agent (xanthan gum)
See how many similarities there are between the home made and not 100% home made pancakes? We’re only left with a few ingredients. Two of these don’t require that much explanation. There’s glucose syrup, with is a sweet syrup. It is used as a sweetener, the same way sugar could be used when making pancakes. The other ingredient is wheat starch. Wheat starch is part of wheat flour, reason it is used separately as well could be to reduce costs or to make a sturdier pancake.
So we’re only left with the ‘scary’ ingredients now! The ingredients that people might go, “I don’t know what it is, so it’s probably bad for me”, or anything related. Let us zoom in on those now. I won’t be able to go into all details (that would give you another couple hours of reading), but I hope these quick explanations help you on as a start. If you’d like some more background on E-numbers before you dive into this, have a look at my post from a couple of days back!
- raising agent (E341):
- For a baking powder to work an acid has to be present. E341 is a calcium phosphate which serves this role, similar to disodium dihydrogen diphospate.
- raising agents (E575)
- This is glucono-D-lactone and is also used as an acid to trigger the raising of a pancake. E575 will influence the taste of the pancake slightly different than E341, it can give a slightly sour taste.
- fractionated butter fat
- emulsifier (lecithin)
- Fat and water do not mix naturally, they will split. Adding an emulsifier will prevent the two from splitting, in your batter for instance. This will probably make it easier to mix all ingredients.
- conservation agent (E202)
- E202 stands for potassium sorbate. This salt is very effective in preventing growth of a lot of yeasts and moulds, which are often a problem for bread products.
- thickening agent (xanthan gum)
- Xanthan gum is a large polysaccharide and is very good in thickening a batter or preventing separation of oil from water.
Consideration 4: Nutrition
First of all, when you make your own pancakes, either using a pre-blend or your own home made mix, you will probably use fat (butter or oil) when baking your pancakes. Keep that in the back of your mind when comparing them with the ready-to-heat microwave pancakes.
As expected, the ready-to-heat pancakes contain a lot more fat than the pre-blend pancakes (11g vs. 1,5g /100g). If you decide to bake your pancakes without any fat (you’ll need a good non-stick pan though), this is an easy ‘gain’. My home made recipe (with semi-skimmed milk) contains a little under 2g/100g of fat (excluding the fat you use to bake in).
Sugar content is not influenced by the baking process, so is easier to compare. Both my own as well as the pre-blend pancakes contain less than 2g of sugar per 100g of pancake, whereas the ready-to-heat pancakes contain 7,5g, quite a bit more. I do assume that you decorate your pancake with the same amount of sugar syrup or icing sugar, regardless of the way you made your pancakes, this will probably contribute a whole lot more than the sugar in the pancake it self.
Of course, there are several other nutritional values of importance, such as protein, fiber and vitamin content. However, these are slightly harder to compare. It is always easy to tweak your own recipe, adding more whole wheat flour for instance will give you a higher fiber content and more vitamins. I’m not a nutrition expert (and don’t want to be), so I’ll leave it with these.
Consideration 5: Costs
A ready-to-eat pancake costs 2 euro for 8 pancakes (=0,25/pancake). 400g of pancake mix costs you 1,09, it’s estimated that this box will make you 11 pancakes (0,10/pancake).
Using my recipe, which will make you about 8 pancakes, will cost you 0,95 euro cents (0,12/pancake). Of course, if you decide to buy more (or less) exclusive eggs, flour or milk, you can easily increase or lower this price further.
All in all, the price of making pancakes yourselves or using a pack to make them barely differs. Being a little more lazy/time efficient by buy pre-made pancakes will cost you a little extra.
Conclusion: store bought or home made?
Really, it all depends on your situation. Are you home late, do you have kids to feed quickly? Are you tired, have your eggs just finished or don’t you like cooking? There are so many reasons to choose one or the other. Of course, choices come at a cost. Making them yourselves requires more time and thought of yourselves. Buying pre-made pancakes will feed you more sugar and will give you more E-numbers, at a higher cost as well.
I do hope this post has helped you in making a decision and understanding labels and food making principles. I’d love to hear what you thought and what you’d like to know more about.
The pre-blend that was chosen as a reference is: the “AH mix voor pannenkoeken compleet”. The pre-made pancakes were “AH pannenkoeken naturel”. For both products the ingredient list was found on the website ah.nl.
Want to look up a complete list of E-numbers? Here’s part of the legislation.
When comparing nutrition I use the Dutch NEVO tabel which gives the nutritional value of a lot of basic ingredients. For costs I used the ah.nl website for basic ingredients such as milk, eggs and flour, as well as the pancake mixes.