syrup pouring on a stack of pancakes with a fork and fruit.

A Short Stack of Pancake Facts to Start Your Day

What was the first ready-mix food sold? Yes, you're right if you guess pancake mix – specifically Aunt Jemima pancake flour which was invented in 1889.

The Aunt Jemima branding played off of the ‘Mammy' stereotype in the United States, and in 2020 Quaker Oats discontinued the brand, stating, “We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” and adding that they were making the move as part of an effort “to make progress toward racial equality.”

Pancakes have been a staple since prehistoric times, with evidence of pancake-like foods being enjoyed since the Stone Age. What other trivia can we find about the humble flapjack?

What defines a pancake?

pancakes with oil butter and milk on wooden table.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Yes, we know what a pancake is – but what makes it a pancake? Basic ingredients are usually flour, eggs, and milk- though not always. Some varieties are made without eggs. Some are leavened and some are not. The main defining features seem to be that it’s a starch-based batter bread fried on a hot surface.

Ancient Greek Origins

Small pancakes in a pan on a wooden board.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

The earliest versions of pancakes were made by the Ancient Greeks, τηγανίτης (tagenites) or similar – all words deriving from the Greek word for frying pan. 

Shrove Tuesday – Pancake Day

Shrove Pancake Tuesday pancakes with strawberries and cream on dark blue vintage shabby chic table, and text.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

In the UK and Ireland, pancakes are traditionally eaten on Shrove Tuesday, a day marking the start of Lent, when historically, perishable ingredients were used up before fasting. 

Not Always Flat

Abelskivers round pancakes in pan.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

In the U.S. we may be familiar with the more thick and fluffy disks,  In Denmark, a unique type of spherical pancake called Æbleskiver is popular, often filled with apple slices.

French and Austrian Pancake Similarities 

banana crepe with chocolate.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

In France, pancakes are thin and known as crêpes, typically enjoyed with sweet or savory fillings. 

Austrian palatschinken are similar to crêpes. These thin, egg-rich pancakes, are often filled with jam or sweet ingredients.

‘Plate Cookies’

Cereal or silver dollar pancakes with cranberries and butter on white wooden table.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Smaller ‘silver dollar’ style pancakes in South Africa are called Plaatkoekies, which literally translates to ‘plate cookies’

A Two Ingredient Pancake That’s a Meal Staple

Injera and Toppings.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Injera is a sourdough-risen flatbread made with Teff flour and water. In Ethiopia, Eritrea, and some parts of Sudan and Kenya Injera is a staple, much like rice or bread in other parts of the world. Injera has a unique, slightly spongy texture, and is often used as a scoop for other foods.

Crispy Savory Street Food

Chinese Jianbing pancake being prepared at a Shanghai street market.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Jianbing is a popular Chinese street food. This crispy and savory pancake is often filled with various ingredients like eggs and scallions.

‘Grilled As You Like It’

Traditional japanese savory pancake on plate with avacodo.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Okonomiyaki is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients like cabbage, scallions and meats mixed into a wheat batter and fried. The name Okonomiyaki means “grilled as you like it.”

Welsh Cakes

Griddle cakes or Welsh cakes.
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Unlike traditional pancakes, Welsh cakes are more like scones, cooked on a griddle and often spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg.

Two Meanings for Blini

Crepes on a plate with a spoon and fruit.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

In the West, blini traditionally refers to small savory pancakes. In Eastern Europe however, Blini (Russian) and mlynci (Ukrainian) are thin pan-sized pancakes, somewhat thicker than crêpes, traditionally made from wheat or buckwheat flour, butter, eggs, and milk, featuring yeast in the batter.

Symbolic Significance

Russian traditional pancakes - blini on a plate.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

In pre-Christian times, blini and mlynci symbolized the sun due to their round shape, a belief held by early Slavic peoples.

Blinzes – A Blini Offshoot

Cheese Blintzes - filled pancakes riccota and creame fresh with fresh fruit and mint.
Photo credit: Depositphotos

Blintzes are thin crêpes like Blini, but made without yeast. They are now considered a typically Jewish food and are often filled with sweetened cheese and served with berries or sour cream, especially during Shavuot.

 

 

Author: Alissa Zorn

Title: Trauma-Informed Coach

Expertise: childhood emotional neglect, perfectionism, parenting, journaling, comics, doodling, coaching

Alissa Zorn is the founder of OverthoughtThis.com. She's a trauma-informed coach and cartoonist passionate about helping people overcome perfectionism and shame to build authentic, joyful lives. Alissa has been featured on the Good Men Project, Wealth of Geeks, Motherly, MSN.com and more.