Blueberry Flax Pancakes
You probably don’t think of pancakes as a health food, so you might be wondering why they ended up in a healthy eating challenge. Here, we will discuss some of the good things and the bad things about pancakes.
First off, let pancakes be a reminder that it’s important to practice moderation: eating a variety of healthy foods, occasionally having a few treats (like blueberry flax pancakes), and leaving the real bad guys (like fast food) behind. Did you have Blueberry Flax Pancakes in the morning? Maybe hit a nice green salad for lunch. While balance, variety, and moderation are guiding principles, as always, your doctor’s orders should prevail, so please check with your physician if you have any questions about what is right for you. Next, when it comes to pancakes, the worst part about them is often not what’s in them, but what’s ON them: it’s important to make an agreement with yourself upfront that you’re going to skip the butter and the syrup.
All that said, every once in a while, the pancake cravings may creep in. In this recipe, we provide a suggestion to impart some of the texture & taste of a classic pancake, without all the unhealthy fixings. Part of what makes pancakes pancakes, in addition to the butter and syrup, is the fluff.
Pancakes are made by combining a mix of dry ingredients with a mix of wet ingredients and letting the two react. It’s the basic science of this reaction that creates the lift we know as pancakes.
A fluffy pancake depends on one or both of two things 1) Leavening agent like baking powder, 2) Egg. Baking powder, when exposed to liquid and then to heat, creates bubbles in the batter. Egg (along with gluten in the flour) helps provide structure for the bubbles so that the pancake will rise.
The recipe below allows for a very fluffy cake while keeping some of pancakes’ less healthy ingredients to a minimum. The cooking and serving suggestion helps keep your pancake on point.
We substitute flax meal for some of the flour. This imparts both a nutty taste, as well as fiber, and a little extra fluff. (Flax is a fairly high-fat food, so check with your doctor if this is an issue.) Flaxseed typically comes whole or ground (flaxmeal). Whole flaxseed is a little harder for your body to digest, so you may not get all the benefits (protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and lignans, which have antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties) unless it’s ground. If you choose flax seed over flax meal, just prepare yourself for a flatter, heavier cake, particularly because we also use wheat flour instead of white flour, which can weigh your pancakes down.
Wheat flour maintains the bran (yay!) but tends to make a heavier, drier finished product. When purchasing wheat flour, keep in mind that it is less shelf-stable than white flour. Because it maintains the bran (which contains some fat), wheat flour can go rancid faster than white flour. If you’re going to start using wheat flour for the first time, we suggest buying it in small bags and batches rather than large quantities.
Another thing you’ll find in this recipe that surprise you: a tablespoon of sugar. A little sweetness is what makes pancakes. Since we are advocating that you skip the syrup, we’re keeping a little sugar in the recipe.
On the wet ingredients side, we use egg (one egg for 4 servings) to help promote the fluff. The nutritional pros and cons of eggs have been debated for decades. Eggs are a source of several nutrients, including protein and carotenoids (particularly lutein, which is important for eye health). They also contain cholesterol – previously thought to be a dietary demon. We now know that most of the cholesterol in our bodies is made in the liver, not coming from our diets, and that the liver is prompted to make cholesterol based on the amount of saturated and trans fats we eat. A very large, long-term study published in 2020 found that moderate egg consumption (~1 egg per day) did not increase the risk of heart disease. In prostate cancer, the evidence is mixed: some studies have shown that eggs are linked to increased risk of prostate cancer, or progression after diagnosis, while other studies show no association. Based on underlying conditions and other health factors, eggs may affect individuals differently.
Thus, we advise eggs in moderation, if you choose to eat them. Pair them with healthy, plant-based foods – blueberries and flaxseed, for example – not bacon.
An alternative is to use the whites only; you’ll get about half of the protein with none of the fat, but you will be missing out on the many key nutrients found in the yolk. In fact, the yellow color comes from the egg’s carotenoid content. Try 2 egg whites to substitute for one whole egg.
If your doctor advises against eggs entirely, you can use an egg substitute. You can find vegan-friendly, gluten-free egg substitutes in your local supermarket, or you can use fruit (such as mashed banana or applesauce). Fruit will serve to bind the ingredients together, but will not provide the structure to support the bubbles (see above), so your pancake will be flatter.
For the liquid, we advise buttermilk. Buttermilk or other cultured products can impart more complex flavor onto your pancakes. Buttermilk and yogurt will both react well with the baking powder, thus imparting a little extra fluff. Note that if you choose not to use a cultured (i.e., fermented) product, your pancakes will also be flatter.
If you don’t have buttermilk, you can use yogurt; or, better, since yogurt is a little thick, a mix of yogurt and milk. For an entirely dairy-free pancake, try pea milk (see video) which performs similar to milk in baking, as well as maintaining the protein value of cow’s milk (both have 8 grams protein per cup). Many of the other milk substitutes are lower in protein (almond milk, less than 2 grams; soy milk, 6 grams per cup)
Be sure to read the label and choose unsweetened pea milk, as flavored milk substitutes can have a lot of added sugar.
The other great thing about these pancakes from scratch? They’re fast.
Blueberry Flax Pancakes
- One egg
- 1 cup buttermilk*
- 1/4 tsp vanilla extract*
- Add: 1/2 cup blueberries
In a medium bowl, whisk together:
- 1/4 cup flax meal
- 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
- Dash of cinnamon
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix sparingly. Batter will be lumpy and thick.
Let rise for 5 minutes while you heat a skillet over medium heat. Use ¼ of the batter for each cake.
When you start to see small air bubbles form and pop at the top of the cake, it’s ready to flip. Cook for 1 minute on the second side. For that authentic pancake taste, give the pan a thin coat of butter between batches.
Makes 4 pancakes.
Serving suggestion: top with more fruit and a dollop of yogurt for a full meal.
*The video shows a substitution with yogurt and pea milk; since the pea milk is vanilla-flavored, we skip the vanilla extract in this demo.