The Great Pancake Debate
Is "pancake" a flavor? Are plain hotcakes better than syrupy ones? We discuss. (Photo: Yagi Studio, Getty)

Are Pancakes Just Vessels for Toppings?

Outside editors debate: Is “pancake” a flavor? Is syrup absolutely necessary? Are crepes just European pancakes?

Outside Editors

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A seriously sticky debate arose during a daily Outside meeting one morning, though no one can quite remember how the discourse began. Perhaps it was because IHOP just released a line of pancake-flavored coffee, or maybe we were all hungry, but the topic of pancakes came up. The question was posed: Do plain pancakes taste like anything on their own, or are they simply a delivery mechanism for toppings like syrup, banana slices, and whipped cream? Or is “pancake” a flavor in itself?

The Outside team gave their honest opinions and there was certainly no waffling about in their arguments. Below, you’ll find the passionate, controversial thoughts on pancakes.

Mallory Arnold, Outside associate editor: I would rather eat plain pancakes than pancakes with toppings. THERE. I SAID IT. Give me slightly undercooked flapjacks over syrupy or blueberry-topped any day. My mom also used to pack me plain pancakes in a brown paper bag for lunch and they were a hit on the playground.

Tasha Zemke, Outside associate managing editor: I love buttermilk pancakes, because they’ve got tang. That’s really the only kind I make anymore, because I think the regular kind are a bit bland. But it’s the texture that I enjoy most—the fluffiness that just seems perfect for an idle Sunday morning—and with the buttermilk, they’re ideal, topped with hot maple syrup.

Zoë Rom, Trail Runner editor in chief: Pancakes are life (suck it, waffles). Time, and life, much like a pancake, is a flat circle, an eternal recurrence and fluffy breakfast treat that is what you make of it.

Tracey Andronaco, Outside QC content coordinator: Pancakes can easily take on their own flavor depending on the type. There’s buttermilk, wheat, gluten free, etc. You can flavor them with natural ingredients as well, with fruits, etc. Syrup definitely contributes to the flavor that’s already there, an “enhancement,” if you will.

Renee Schettler, Yoga Journal senior editor:  I take my pancakes plain, thank you. Maybe with butter. Usually with coffee. Always with bacon on the side. But hold the maple syrup. It doesn’t complement. It soggifies. It cloys. It overwhelms. You lose the subtle yet sturdy pancake-ness that, for me, is the entire point of the experience. I’ve tried literally dozens of different pancake recipes over the years and sorta geek out over the subtle differences among the different iterations that flour, sugar, egg, milk, and butter can take. Not one was ever made better by maple syrup. Even the rubbery pancakes my mom made when I was a kid weren’t better or easier to choke down with sugar. They were only made, well, wetter. You can have your syrup. Just don’t spill any on my plate.

Adam Roy, Backpacker executive editor: I just want to say—civilly—that I am appalled at how many of my colleagues are out here eating plain cakes. I grew up on Chicago’s North Shore eating Walker Brothers’ apple pancakes—big, lofty conglomerations of fruit, spices, and butter that could feed three people or put one into a daylong food coma. To this day, that’s my baseline for what a pancake breakfast should taste like. It should be a sensual experience: Give me my pancakes so soaked with melted butter and maple syrup that it drips down my chin in sticky rivulets while I eat. I want to feel like a gluttonous 13th-century English aristocrat, feasting at my mansion’s banquet table right before a bunch of peasants with pitchforks and torches burst in. I want it to be decadent.

Sierra Shafer, SKI editor in chief: Like Adam, I’m shocked and sickened by the idea of a plain pancake. If I want to eat something sad and utilitarian for breakfast, I begrudgingly make myself some instant oatmeal. But a pancake?! A pancake is half cake! Made in a pan! It should delight the senses, inspire the spirit, and satisfy the soul. It’s a celebration of life and luxury and should be treated with the utmost respect: filled with chocolate chips, or bananas, or both and absolutely topped with an exorbitant amount of butter and REAL maple syrup. What a joy to live in the time of pancakes!

Frederick Dreier, Outside articles editor: Of course there are situations in which I would eat a plain pancake. If I was marooned on a desert island, and the wrecked hull of an IHOP freighter (I assume that’s how the restaurant handles international distribution) washed ashore carrying bags of flapjacks then yes, I would absolutely eat those boring and tasteless wafers in order to ward off starvation and maintain homeostasis. But c’mon, the whole point of a pancake is to deliver Maple syrup, creamy butter, bananas, or even chocolate into your mouth, so that your tastebuds can do the Macarena while your blood sugar spikes. Dare I ask: do my plan pancake-loving coworkers also indulge in eating white rice, bare slices of Wonderbread, or individual leaves of spinach? Would you ever order a can of plain LaCroix? No, of course not! Life is about drenching the rice in Sriracha, piling a mountain of Mortadella onto the bread, and coating your salad with olive oil and vinegar. The same goes for pancakes.

Alison Osius, Outside senior editor: When I was growing up in Maryland, my father would make pancakes, and never tell us what was in them (nor in the Special Drinks he occasionally concocted for our entertainment). Usually the pancakes contained fruit—mostly normal kinds, though maybe something a little unexpected, like pears (we’d have to guess). We liked fruit pancakes, of course. I still do. He used to try different things, though, in general—he’d cook duck in beer or various leftover sauces—and one Sunday he put oysters in the pancakes. Oysters and maple syrup? I had forgotten all about it until this moment, but over the years we had a lot of laughs about those terrible pancakes.

Susan Lacke, Triathlete senior editor: I just got back from a few months of living in Europe, where I am still traumatized by a restaurant that had “pancakes” on the menu but in reality served rolled-up crepes. Crepes are not pancakes, can we all globally agree on this?

Ellen O’Brien, Outside digital editor: Alison and Adam nail it: It’s all about the pancake experience. The process of making the pancakes (the flipping!) is what makes them taste (yes, taste) so good. The reward tastes so much better when you truly appreciate the steps—whether at a diner or in your kitchen. The same goes for the presentation: they must be served with Vermont maple syrup and lots of fruit. Waffles just don’t give off the same vibe.

Lead Photo: Yagi Studio, Getty