10 Things You Might Not Know About Pancakes

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Honestly, every day should be pancake day, but today is the day that gets the official designation. For National Pancake Day, here are 10 facts you might not know about the lovely, fluffy breakfast favorites.

1. The Romans invented proto-pancakes from scratch.

While some suggest that Ötzi the Iceman was eating einkorn wheat in an early sort of flatbread form, most food historians say that the earliest pancake-like dish, known as Alita Dolcia ("another sweet" in Latin), was made by Romans in the 1st century CE from milk, flour, egg, and spices. They were sold hot from vendors on the corners of the new market squares—the first version of our modern-day crepe stand, you might say. Rather than slathering them in syrup, they'd use honey to sweeten their pancakes.

2. You say pancake, I say pannenkoek.

Student chefs learn how to flip a pancake
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

By the 15th century, many European countries made their own types of pancakes from scratch using a wide range of ingredients such as wheat, buckwheat, occasionally alcohol like wine or ale, and herbs and spices like cloves, cinnamon, and nutmeg. In 18th-century Friesland (a province in the Netherlands) the traditional wedding breakfast was pannenkoek with milk and honey. Pancake recipes from around the world create various forms, from the wafer-thin, buttery French crepe to the savory, crispier Japanese okonomiyaki.

3. Pancake Day is about more than just IHOP.

In the UK, Ireland, and Australia, Pancake Day (also known as Pancake Tuesday) is celebrated on Shrove Tuesday (which you might know better as Fat Tuesday). It's the last day before Lent, the traditional 40 days of abstinence before Easter practiced by Christians. The custom was to empty the pantry of all sugar, fats, and eggs to avoid temptation and reduce waste. These ingredients were put to good use by making and consuming large batches of pancakes made from scratch.

4. Pancake races have been around for centuries.

Women race while holding frying pans with pancakes
Fox Photos/Getty Images

The all-female annual Pancake Race began in the town of Olney, England in 1445. Legend says it was inspired by a harried housewife arriving at church on Shrove Tuesday still clutching her frying pan, complete with the pancake. Since 1950, the race has become an international event, with the Olney racers competing against the women of Liberal, Kansas. Unfortunately, this year's Olney leg suffered from a technical glitch, meaning no official time was recorded for its winner and making a showdown with Liberal impossible. As it stands, the ladies of Liberal are leading with 37 wins to Olney’s 29.

5. Pancakes haven't always been in vogue.

In 1935, Vogue told its readers that "pancakes are frankly difficult and not worth eating at all unless they are of paper thinness and succulent tenderness." These days, they seem to have changed their tune—they at least offer a recipe for gluten-free chocolate banana pancakes online.

6. Aunt Jemima was the first lady of pancake mix.

A magazine ad for Aunt Jemima pancake mix, 1934
Classic Film, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

The world's first pancake mix was made by the R. T. Davis Milling Company, who hired storyteller, cook, and missionary worker Nancy Green as a spokesperson for their Aunt Jemima mix in 1890. Green was born in Montgomery County, Kentucky, and she played the Jemima character until her death on September 23, 1923. In 1937, the Quaker Oats Company registered the Aunt Jemima trademark.

7. One man holds numerous pancake-flipping records.

The flipping-a-pancake-while-running-a-marathon award goes to Dominic "Mike" Cuzzacrea, who completed a 1999 marathon at Niagara Falls in a time of 3 hours, 2 minutes, and 27 seconds—all while battling wind from the falls. Of course, he had to have some specialty gear, considering he was estimated to have flipped the pancake once every 1.8 seconds for the duration of the race. "There’s a special technique for the pancakes," Cuzzacrea told a local newspaper while reminiscing about his pancake-flipping runs. "When you make them for a marathon, they have to be wrapped in Saran Wrap with weather stripping because they have to go through 5000 to 6000 flips over 26.2 miles, plus consider the elements of wind and rain."

And, that wasn't Cuzzacrea's first time setting that particular record, nor would it be his only pancake-related record. He also holds the record for the highest pancake toss at 31 feet, 1 inch, which he set in 2010.

8. Pancakes are flat, but several U.S. states are flatter.

A boy flips a pancake in a frying pan.
Orlando/Getty Images

A tongue-in-cheek study from the Annals of Improbable Research used polynomial equations to figure out that Kansas was flatter than a pancake, but six states are flatter, namely Florida, Illinois, North Dakota, Louisiana, Minnesota, and Delaware. Incidentally, according to the American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, the phrase "flat as a pancake" has been used since the 1500s to describe everything from flat-chested women to the vast Australian outback.

9. The world's largest pancake weighed more than an average hippopotamus.

Measuring over 49 feet in diameter and weighing 6614 pounds, the world's biggest pancake was made in Manchester, England in 1994 by the Co-operative Union, Ltd. And yes, in order to qualify for the record, the giant pancake must be flipped and be edible.

10. The world's most expensive pancake cost more than a transatlantic flight.

Woman flips a pancake from a plate
Keystone/Getty Images

The Radisson Blu Edwardian Hotel's Opus One restaurant in Manchester, England holds a place on the culinary map for inventing the "most expensive pancake in the world." Created in 2014, it set you back a solid £800 (around $1050 today), but at least that included lobster, caviar, and Dom Perignon champagne.

The Great Tryptophan Lie: Eating Turkey Does Not Make You Tired

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bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

While you’re battling your cousins for the best napping spot after Thanksgiving dinner, feel free to use this as a diversion tactic: It’s a myth that eating turkey makes you tired.

It’s true that turkey contains L-Tryptophan, an amino acid involved in sleep. Your body uses it to produce a B vitamin called niacin, which generates the neurotransmitter serotonin, which yields the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate your sleeping patterns. However, plenty of other common foods contain comparable levels of tryptophan, including other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.

Furthermore, in order for tryptophan to produce serotonin in your brain, it first has to make it across the blood-brain barrier, which many other amino acids are also trying to do. To give tryptophan a leg up in the competition, it needs the help of carbohydrates. Registered dietitian Elizabeth Somer tells WebMD that the best way to boost serotonin is to eat a small, all-carbohydrate snack a little while after you’ve eaten something that contains tryptophan, and the carbs will help ferry the tryptophan from your bloodstream to your brain.

But Thanksgiving isn’t exactly about eating small, well-timed snacks. It’s more about heaps of potatoes, mountains of stuffing, and generous globs of gravy—and that, along with alcohol, is more likely the reason you collapse into a spectacular food coma after your meal. Overeating (especially of foods high in fat) means your body has to work extra hard to digest everything. To get the job done, it redirects blood to the digestive system, leaving little energy for anything else. And since alcohol is a central nervous system depressant, it also slows down your brain and other organs.

In short, you can still hold turkey responsible for your Thanksgiving exhaustion, but you should make sure it knows it can share the blame with the homestyle mac and cheese, spiked apple cider, and second piece of pumpkin pie.

[h/t WebMD]

How Mammoth Poop Gave Us Pumpkin Pie

MargoeEdwards/iStock via Getty Images
MargoeEdwards/iStock via Getty Images

When it’s time to express gratitude for the many privileges bestowed upon your family this Thanksgiving, don’t forget to be grateful for mammoth poop. The excrement of this long-extinct species is a big reason why holiday desserts taste so good.

Why? Because, as Smithsonian Insider reports, tens of thousands of years ago, mammoths, elephants, and mastodons had an affinity for wild gourds, the ancestors of squashes and pumpkin. In a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Smithsonian researcher and colleagues found that wild gourds—which were much smaller than our modern-day butternuts—carried a bitter-tasting toxin in their flesh that acted as a deterrent to some animals. While small rodents would avoid eating the gourds, the huge mammals would not. Their taste buds wouldn't pick up the bitter flavor and the toxin had no effect on them. Mammoths would eat the gourds and pass the indigestible seeds out in their feces. The seeds would then be plopped into whatever habitat range the mammoth was roaming in, complete with fertilizer.

When the mammoths went extinct as recently as 4000 years ago, the gourds faced the same fate—until humans began to domesticate the plants, allowing for the rise of pumpkins. But had it not been for the dispersal of the seeds via mammoth crap, the gourd might not have survived long enough to arrive at our dinner tables.

So as you dig into your pumpkin pie this year, be sure to think of the heaping piles of dung that made the delicious treat possible.

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