Naturally Colored Green Pancakes
St. Patrick’s Day is coming up, and I wanted to make something fun and green for it. These pancakes are delicious, fluffy, and pretty perfect as far as pancakes go. They’re also green – and it’s not from food coloring.
Not long ago, I would’ve just reached for a bottle of green food coloring instead of a handful of spinach, but after reading about the side effects of being constantly exposed to food coloring, I have set out to create vibrant colors naturally.
Food Coloring: Is it as harmless as it seems?
Those little bottles of dye seem so innocent, but they’ve been strongly linked to hyperactivity and negative behavioral changes in otherwise normal, healthy children. Dyes that we believed to be safe were later shown to be toxic (Orange 1) or carcinogenic (Red 2) – fortunately these two dyes were pulled from production, but the same can’t be said for Red 40, Red 3, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, dyes that are known carcinogens or often contaminated with known carcinogens.
And they’re just gross – the nine major food colorings are made from petroleum. The director of The Center for Science in the Public Interest writes “[t]hese synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children, and, possibly, cancer in anybody.”
The European Union agrees – processed foods there either use naturally derived colors (annatto, tumeric, beet juice) or come with a warning about artificial color and the dangers they pose.
A New York Times article states that the use of artificial food dyes “has gone up fivefold in the past 50 years.” That may not sound that terrible… until you realize that we now consume over 15 million pounds of food coloring annually. So adding a few drops of dye to a breakfast food is only adding to the problem since most foods the average American child eats will already have added coloring to make them more seem healthier, more appealing, or just more fun.
Color it Naturally
All that to say, I decided not to add green food coloring to make festive pancakes. Instead, I added some color and some extra vitamins with spinach. And my kids devoured them. These pancakes taste slightly different than traditional pancakes, but they do not taste like spinach. My husband, who didn’t see me make them, tried one and said, “These are good pancakes. But why are they green?” I used coconut oil instead of butter and maple syrup instead of cane sugar because I wanted the stronger flavors for obvious reasons (but you could easily sub butter and sugar, if you prefer).
I do not believe in sneaking and hiding vegetables because I want my kids to learn to appreciate fruits and vegetables on their own terms. That said, if your kids are grossed out by spinach, use this as an opportunity to talk about where food colors – natural and artificial – come from and why these particular pancakes are green – but maybe after they’ve already eaten a couple.
How To Cook for Color
If you’re cooking for color, the trick here is a bit of science: you have to keep the acidity up to keep your colors bright. To that end, we’ll use baking powder instead of baking soda, and we’ll add a splash of vinegar (or lemon juice). You can’t taste the extra bit of sour at all, but it really helps us keep that nice, vibrant green color.
Let’s get started! We’ll toss some spinach and eggs in a blender.
Purée until the eggs get frothy and pull the leaves into the blender.
Stir together your dry ingredients and then add the spinach purée to it. Stir gently. Yeah, it looks a little like a witch’s brew, but that’s ok.
In a very warm skillet with a teaspoon of butter melted in it, drop 1/4 c. dollops of batter. Cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. Then put them in a big stack, pour maple syrup over them, and serve with lots of Irish butter for St. Patrick’s Day.
Green. Delicious. Fluffy.
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