The Secret Ingredient You Should Be Adding To Your Pancakes

Pancakes are one of America's favorite breakfasts – just ask IHOP, since according to owner Sunshine Restaurant Partners, the chain sells more than 700 million of them each year. In fact, as anyone even vaguely familiar with IHOP's international menu can tell you, pancakes are a worldwide phenomenon – after all, they didn't just make up those French crepes and Swedish pancakes for marketing purposes.

The trouble with pancakes, however, is that for such a deceptively simple dish, they can be surprisingly hard to make, which is why so many people resort to seeking a little help from the Aunt Formerly Known as Jemima or similar purveyors of boxed pancake mixes. Whether you make your pancakes from boxed mix or from scratch, add-ins are always welcome. Blueberry pancakes are a classic, chocolate chips make for a sweet treat, and of course, everything goes better with bacon. If you want to add just one ingredient that no-one will ever guess is in there, but that will make your pancakes super-soft and fluffy, we've got one word for you: mayonnaise.

Why mayonnaise makes pancakes better

Is your first reaction upon finding the words "mayonnaise" and "pancakes" cohabiting in the same sentence a resounding "yuck!"? Yes, the idea of mayonnaise slathered onto a pancake doesn't sound too appealing at all. But when mayonnaise is used as a secret ingredient in baked goods (even cake), it takes on an entirely different character.

So what makes mayonnaise work its magic? Let's first take a look at what goes into mayonnaise: eggs, oil, and an acid (usually vinegar in most commercial versions, though in homemade recipes lemon juice may be used instead). Taste of Home says that the egg helps to make pancakes more tender, while the oil works by coating the flour and preventing it from forming the glutens that can make your pancakes too dry and dense. Since most pancakes already call for both eggs and oil, mayonnaise just adds a little boost to both, but the most important element is the acid. This reacts with the baking soda that's somewhere in your pancake mix (even if your recipe calls for baking powder, this is partly made of baking soda), and if you remember your elementary school science experiments, you know what happens when vinegar meets baking soda – a volcano! While adding mayo to your pancake mix won't produce such dramatic results, it will kick off a little CO2 production which will give your batter a boost and make your cakes light and airy.

How to add mayo to your pancake recipe

So how do you go about incorporating mayonnaise into your pancakes? Taste of Home suggests stirring a few spoonfuls into the batter along with the egg and oil. If you'd prefer that your directions be a bit more precise than that, Hellman's (of course) has a recipe for "American Pancakes" on its UK website that makes use of their product.

While this recipe is given in British English, i.e. calling for grams of flour and milliliters of milk, running it through the top-secret translation device (okay, Google) reveals that their recipe calls for 1 ¼ cups of flour, 2/3 cup milk, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, and I egg. For this, or a similarly-sized, recipe, you whisk 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise together with the milk and the egg, then stir them into the dry ingredients. Add a tablespoon of oil to your frying pan, heat it up, and get ready to start flipping those flapjacks.

Fluffy Japanese pancakes with mayo

When it comes to perfecting super-fluffy pancakes made with mayo, the Japanese are way ahead of us. While not all Japanese souffle pancake recipes call for mayonnaise, quite a few of them do. Food 52 tried one viral recipe making the rounds on Twitter in Japan, a recipe calling for 1 1/4 cup pancake mix, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons mayo, and one additional unexpected ingredient – 2/3 cup carbonated water. With this last-named ingredient, they used plain seltzer, but flavored would work. You could probably even use soda for a slightly sweeter pancake, or even spiked seltzer if you really want to get crazy.

As for the mayo, Food 52 went with plain old Hellman's, but said that in Japan the mayonnaise brand of choice was probably Kewpie. If you want to try to recreate the Japanese recipe as closely as possible but you can't get your hands on any imported mayo, Bake It With Love provides a DIY Kewpie knockoff recipe: mix 1/4 cup plain mayonnaise with 1 1/2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar and ¾ teaspoon sugar. They also suggest cooking these Japanese-style pancakes inside ring molds in order to have them come out tall and symmetrical and, you know, photogenic in case you get an urge to post a snap of what's for breakfast. (Just maybe don't mention the mayo, that way it stays a secret ingredient!)