The Science of Pancakes

Stay curious when school is out with a hands-on and highly tasty science lesson. A chemical change is a usually irreversible chemical reaction resulting in the formation of at least one new substance, in this case: pancakes. Learn about the science and nutrition concepts behind making pancakes and take time to digest what you have learned.

Try this tasty scientific experiment at home this summer using Martha Stewart’s Easy Basic Pancake recipe.

What scientific concepts can we learn from breakfast food?

Pancake batter is composed of two crucial parts: dry ingredients (usually flour, sugar, baking powder and salt) and wet ingredients (usually milk, eggs and oil).

Gluten formation is the step that gives pancakes their texture. You may have already learned the hard way that too much mixing makes for tough pancakes. Leaving the batter barely mixed and still lumpy creates the ideal gluten formation for fluffy pancakes.

The leavening agent fills the gluten with air. Double acting baking powders contain baking soda with two powdered acids in the mix. When dry, the mixture is inert (not reactive). When you add a liquid, the baking soda and the first acid react to make carbon dioxide bubbles. When the mixture is heated, the second acid is activated and creates additional carbon dioxide bubbles. Carbon dioxide bubbles trapped by the gluten mixture when your pancake solidifies creates fluffiness!

The Maillard Reaction is the step that gives pancakes their aroma, and that gorgeous golden brown color. When you raise the heat on your pancake mix, it causes a chemical reaction between amino acids in the proteins and the carbon and oxygen atoms from sugars. The end result is a complex mixture of molecules responsible for a range of aromas and flavors. Each type of food has a very distinctive set of flavor compounds that are formed during the Maillard Reaction.

Recommended pancake science resources

The scientific concepts behind your typical breakfast pancake is a popular topic for education websites.

View complete list

Lissa Staley

Lissa Staley helps people use the library. She is a Book Evangelist, Health Information Librarian, Trivia Emcee, Classics Made Modern book group leader, NaNoWriMo Municipal Liaison, Community Novel Project leader, HUSH podcaster, and frequent library customer. She reads a new book every few days, but recently enjoyed Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley.