What's Really In Your Store-Bought Pancake Mix

A handful of everyday ingredients make up the base to almost every homemade pancake recipe: flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, milk, eggs, and butter. Some use vegetable oil as the source of fat, while others may add buttermilk, but a simple combination of wet and dry ingredients come together to create the fluffy flapjacks we know and love. However, it's a slightly different story for pancakes made from an instant mix.

When you make light and fluffy pancakes at home, you know exactly what ingredients will end up on your plate. But what if you're whipping up breakfast from a box? Some of the ingredients in leading brands of pancake mix look pretty familiar: things like enriched bleached flour, sugar, salt, and a leavening agent (like baking powder or baking soda). However, most store-bought pancake mixes also contain other ingredients that you may not recognize. The ingredient list on popular pancake brands can include anything from saturated fats like palm oil, to sweeteners like corn syrup solids and dextrose, to additives and preservatives like modified food starch and lactic acid.

Pancake mix ingredient breakdown

Many popular pancake mix brands — including Bisquik, Jiffy, Pearl Milling Company, and Krusteaz — include ingredients that you might wonder about. Here are some definitions of the most common culprits. To start, dextrose is a simple sugar similar to glucose, while corn syrup solids and maltodextrin are more complex carbohydrates. All of these ingredients are derived from corn and used to sweeten and stabilize processed foods. 

Mono- and diglycerides are fatty acids commonly used as emulsifiers, which help to hold ingredients containing fat and water together without risk of separation. These are typically derived from plant-based oils or animal fat. Palm oil is a vegetable oil or shortening that comes from oil palm trees, and is often used as an alternative to other trans fats that are thought to be more unhealthy, like partially hydrogenated oils and lard. Modified food starch is any type of starch, such as potato, corn, wheat, or tapioca, that's been altered to enhance certain abilities of the ingredient, which may include withstanding certain temperatures or thickening up certain foods — such as pancake batter.

All of these ingredients are FDA-approved, but if you're wary of additives, know that not all pancake brands are the same. Some brands like Bob's Red Mill and King Arthur stick to more basic ingredients that you'd find in homemade pancake batter, opting to use powdered versions of items like buttermilk, eggs, and butter, without relying on a synthesized additives or preservatives.

Elevate your boxed pancakes with these ingredients

If you're hoping to stay away from some of the food additives or confusing ingredients in lots of processed or packaged foods, the good news is that it's extremely easy to make your own pancake batter at home and whip up a delicious breakfast. Everything you need is most likely in your pantry already. You simply mix together a dry ingredient base (flour, a little salt, a small amount of sugar, and a leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder) with wet ingredients (eggs, milk or buttermilk, and melted butter) until everything is well-incorporated, then pan-fry yourself some tasty flapjacks. 

You can throw other ingredients into your batter to help enhance the texture, tenderness, or flavor of your pancakes, from yogurt and sour cream, to applesauce and pumpkin puree, to oatmeal and flax. To amp up your pancake batter for irresistible flavor, try using vanilla extract, almond extract, warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cardamom, or even some citrus zest or cocoa powder. And don't forget the mix-ins: bananas, chocolate chips, nuts, peanut butter, Nutella, coconut, and blueberries will all taste delicious.