Shrove Tuesday is supposed to be a chance to use up all those tempting store cupboard ingredients before the Lenten period of fasting and abstinence begins. For those who don’t have time to Marie Kondo their kitchen, however, the supermarkets have filled the gap with mixes and readymade pancakes that can be popped in the toaster.
Pancakes look like the simplest thing in the world to make. If you only do it once a year, though, the results can be oddly crumbly or gloopy.Mixes sound like they are more convenient, but often aren’t much simpler than whipping up a batch from scratch despite the price.
Traditional Irish pancakes are made using flour, butter, eggs, milk and a pinch of salt. Check out a packet of Odlums pancake mix and you will see it has nothing more than wheat flour and raising agents in the form of sodium bicarbonate, acid calcium phosphate, acid sodium pyrophosphate and salt. This mix costs about 50 per cent more than a bag of the same flour – and you still have to add butter, eggs and milk. So it’s more expensive and not particularly convenient.
Odlums Crepe Style quick pancake mix is even more expensive for an unimpressive mix of ingredients, but it does qualify as convenient as only milk needs to be added. It contains wheat flour, sugar, fat powder, whole egg powder and salt.
That “fat powder” is made up of palm oil, glucose syrup, milk derivatives, pentasodium triphosphate and silicon dioxide. This unappetising mix is there instead of butter, which is harder for manufacturers to work with given its sensitivity to temperature, and is therefore more expensive.
The “milk derivatives” it lists could be anything made from milk, such as whey, casein or lactose. Silicon dioxide, which is also known as silica, can be made from sand and is added to prevent clumping. The European Food Safety Authority expressed concerns about silicon dioxide (E551) last year as it may contain nano-sized particles and it has recommended some modifications of the EU specifications for E551. Pentasodium triphosphate (E451) is used to prevent spoilage. Odlum, which has been milling and packing flour here since 1845, is now part of the growing Valeo group.
Homecook, which is based in Drogheda and is part of the Boyne Valley Group, has a more appealing pancake mix, though it does use powders. This mix contains wheat flour, baking powder (diphosphate, sodium bicarbonate, maize starch), whole egg powder, whey powder, glucose syrup and salt.
Harried cooks need simply add water and follow the comprehensive directions. It is also low in sugar at 0.7g per 100g, where some brands have 10 times that amount.
For those who don’t have time to cook, there are plenty of ready-made pancakes, lots of which are Irish.
Galberts, which is based in Dublin 8, offers traditional pancakes that are a lot heartier than most mixes thanks to the buckwheat and rye flours. They have skimmed milk, wheat flour,egg, buckwheat flour, rapeseed oil, sugar, butter oil, vinegar, rye flour, salt and flavouring and preservative (E202) which is potassium sorbate. Buckwheat flour is what the French favour in their savoury pancakes so these are ideal for a meal. Galberts snowed by PRM Brands, which is based in Northern Ireland, hence the pack directs enquiries to Lisburn.
Galberts American-style pancakes differ mostly in that they have quite a lot of sugar and more raising agents to get that fluffy puffiness. These ones are about 18 per cent sugar, which is a lot considering most people will add sweet toppings such as honey, bananas or Nutella.
Pat the Baker’s pancakes are also from Northern Ireland, according to the packaging, even though the baker is based in Granard, Co Longford. These are made with fortified wheat flour, buttermilk, whole egg and sugar. They have almost as much sugar as the sweet American-style ones, as well as raising agents and sorbic acid, as a preservative.
Lidl’s buttermilk pancakes are “produced in Northern Ireland”, though that does not necessarily mean they are made there. They have a very similar list of ingredients to Pat the Baker’s, simply lacking the addition of sugar syrup.
Among the sweetest readymade pancakes are the Genius gluten-free ones, which are from Scotland. The ingredient list is long as it uses many necessary processing agents.
Those with time would be better to make their own from buckwheat flour, which despite the name has no gluten, yet works well.
It’s worth checking the back of the packet before buying either a mix or pancakes. They may look the same, but can be quite different.