Updated: Oct 13, 2022
What is the difference between whole wheat and white flour pancakes?
Whole wheat pancakes can still be just as light, tender, and fluffy as the traditional white flour version. A popular preference for a whole wheat pancake recipe is to use half whole wheat and half white flour. Many home cooks and chefs hesitate using all whole wheat flour due to the possibility of a dry, thick, tough, or bitter pancake.
According to an article in Cook’s Illustrated magazine number 135, a bitter pancake may be the challenging result of using whole wheat flour. The bitter flavor is from the flour not being stored properly. Whole wheat flour contains a small amount of fat. Over time, the bitter flavor develops from the oxidation of the fat when the flour is exposed to air. Too much exposure to air of the whole wheat flour can happen when the bag has been sitting out on the counter or in the pantry for too long or the bag is expired. The white flour may not have much risk for a bitter flavor, but proper storage of the whole wheat flour can easily resolve this problem. The fat oxidation process is slowed considerably when the whole wheat flour is stored in the freezer. Whole wheat flour has more fat content, as seen on the nutrition facts label, than white flour making white flour more shelf stable than whole wheat.
Gluten gives flour products its favorable tender elasticity such as with yeast-rising breads. But for pancakes, gluten has a less significant role. For white flour pancakes, the recommendation is to not overmix (no more than 25 stirs) to maintain the desirable fluffy pancake. Over stirring causes gluten to form too strong of a network leaving pancakes flat and dense. But with whole wheat flour, gluten does not form too strong a network when over stirred. Fluffy whole wheat pancakes are largely consistent in fluffiness from either 25 stirs or 100. Another reason why the whole wheat flour is able to endure more stirring is because whole wheat has less gluten when compared to the same amount of white flour. White flour has had all the bran processed out of it, so it has a greater concentration of endosperm, the starchy part of the wheat kernel, which is gluten dense. Whole wheat can handle more stirring and less subsequent gluten formation because of the bran. Wheat flour contains all the components of the original wheat kernel: the germ, the endosperm, and the bran. The fibrous bran is harder and sharper than the fluffy endosperm, and its presence weakens the formation of a gluten network around it.
The unnecessity of gluten formation in pancakes refutes the idea that pancakes should be made with white flour. And if bitter taste is ever a fear in a whole wheat pancake, be sure to use improved storage techniques of the flour to prevent fat oxidation. These techniques are to store wheat flour (especially an already opened bag) in the freezer up to 12 months and use wheat flour within its expiration date. I think most nutritionists can agree on opting for whole grains over processed which ensures good vitamin retention and fiber in the flour. I hope you will look forward to trying whole wheat buttermilk pancakes very soon! I recommend topping your whole wheat pancake or waffle with real organic maple syrup and wholly grass-fed butter such as kerrygold butter or melted coconut oil.
100% Whole Wheat Pancakes (or Waffles)
Electric Griddle set to 350°F
Recently purchased whole wheat flour or flour stored in freezer
Serve with maple syrup and butter.
11 oz weighed whole wheat flour (or 2 cups)
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt
2 ¼ cups buttermilk (can substitute 1 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1 1/4 cups milk)
5 Tablespoons oil (I like to use melted coconut oil)
2 large eggs
1. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt together in medium bowl. Whisk buttermilk, 5 T oil, eggs together in second medium bowl. Make well in center of flour mixture and pour buttermilk mixture; whisk until smooth. (Mixture will be thick; do not add more buttermilk.)
2. Grease waffle iron with oil using a paper towel to wipe it around. Make waffles using about 1/4 cup batter for each waffle and following your waffle maker instructions.
2. Heat non-stick skillet over medium heat or electric griddle set to 350°F; add 1 teaspoon oil and wipe oil around with a paper towel. Add more oil throughout cooking process as necessary. Use about 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook until edges are set, first side is golden brown, and bubbles on surface are just beginning to break, 2 to 3 minutes. Using wide non-scratch spatula, flip pancakes and continue to cook until second side is golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes longer.
Serve pancakes (or waffles) immediately, or transfer to oven at 200°F to keep warm.
Nutrition tip: Serve with berries and a protein of your choice to balance the carbohydrates in this meal. Did you know? Buttermilk is a probiotic, similar to yogurt, and promotes gut health!