Everybody loves pancakes, right? I know I do. Cultures all over the world have their own variations on this quick and tasty dish, and it’s easy to why. You can enjoy them sweet or savoury, flat or fluffy, in a stack or curled into a roll. As dynamic dishes go, they don’t get much more versatile than pancakes. In some places they even put them in soup!
But what do you do, after a feast of pancakes, with all that left-over batter? You could cook it up and try to eat it all, but there is such a thing as too many pancakes in one sitting (shocking, I know). So, if gorging yourself on 10 people’s worth of food isn’t quite what you had in mind, perhaps we can come up with some alternatives.
Perhaps you can put it in the fridge? Or even the freezer? Will that work? How long will it last if you do?
Let’s find out.
Also Read: Favorite Buckwheat Pancakes
Does pancake mix go bad?
Yes, absolutely it does. Unfortunately, despite its popularity, pancake mix is not one of those everlasting foods that will still be edible when hell freezes over. The reason for this is fairly simple – a lot of the core ingredients in pancake batter have very short shelf lives. As is so often the case when dealing with dairy products, the milk, eggs and butter often found in batters make the whole mixture perishable. Thankfully, they also make it fairly easy to spot when things are going a bit funky.
How to tell when pancake mix is going bad
Here’s the thing about dairy products – they tend to go bad in a very loud way. No, I don’t mean they set of fireworks in your fridge, but they also shouldn’t go bad without you noticing. They are, you might say, the divas of the fresh food world.
Milk, in particular, is a hard one to miss due to sour smell that it begins to emanate when going bad. This is caused by bacteria in the milk converting the natural lactose sugars into lactic acid, thereby lowering the pH of the liquid and causing it to curdle. Now, milk can curdle in other situations (you might have noticed it go lumpy occasionally when added to coffee) but this is not necessarily the milk ‘going bad’, it’s just the acid in the coffee reacting with the proteins in the milk. The thing that makes bad milk generally unfit for human consumption is the high levels of lactic acid and, more specifically, the bacteria who produce it over time, some of which can be harmful.
So, if the milk in your pancake mix has gone bad, you’ll probably notice, if not by the smell then certainly by your first mouthful.
What about the others?
There’s not too much risk of you putting already bad eggs into your mixture without noticing. Eggs turn bad by essentially rotting inside their shells which, as you can imagine, produces some less than pleasant odours when the egg is cracked.
Fresh eggs that have been added to a mixture do, however, still have a limited shelf life. Much like milk, once removed from their protective shells, eggs are at the mercy of airborne bacteria and chemical reactions. Once again, you’ll likely notice a change in odour, texture or colour once the eggs start to spoil.
Butter is actually not quite as volatile as it may seem. Even at room temperature, butter can last anywhere from a few days to well over a week. Salted butter is especially resistant to bacteria and so will last slightly longer. When refrigerated, butter can easily last for a couple of weeks or more. When butter does eventually spoil, it will usually be due to the fats in the product going rancid, rather than a bacterial infection. Rancid fat produces both unpleasant smells and tastes, so it’s unlikely that you will miss the fact that your butter has spoiled.
How long can pancake mix last?
Well, the safest way to decide how long your pancake batter might be good for is to go with the shortest shelf life amongst the constituent ingredients. Assuming all of your ingredients were fresh when you mixed them together in the first place, your most volatile ingredient will probably be the eggs. Once cracked, egg yolks may only last 1-2 days in the fridge, and significantly less if left out at room temperature. It’s also worth storing the mixture in an airtight container if you have one, as this will help prevent unwelcome bacteria finding their way into the batter.
If your ingredients weren’t entirely fresh when you used them to make the mix, then it’s best to assume that the batter will last only as long as the ingredient that was going bad the soonest. Basically, if you use milk that only has a day or so left before its ‘best before’ date, then your batter will only last a day as well, even if the rest of the ingredients are all fresh.
When dealing with diary products, always make sure you err on the side of caution. It’s much better to waste a little pancake batter than to take your chances with some of the less friendly bacteria that occasionally make their home in our spoiled food.
What about the freezer?
Excellent question. Pancake mix can absolutely be frozen and, as is often the case, this will significantly increase its shelf life. However, though freezing your food is a great way to increase its useable lifespan, your freezer is not a magic machine that completely stops the passage of time in its tracks. Not only that, but freezing things can also have detrimental effects on the food itself, in terms of texture and flavour.
A normal pancake batter should last for around a month in the freezer (if put there as soon as possible after mixing) without any detrimental effects. When your ready, just thaw it out overnight in the fridge or in some warm water if your need things to speed along a little. However, it is worth pointing out that thawing in the fridge is much safer as the cold environment will make it harder for bacteria to get to the food while it defrosts.
If you leave the mixture in the freezer for longer than a month, it may still be safe to eat for up to 3 months, but the taste and texture of the batter will begin to suffer after so long in the cold. So, at that point, it might be worth just whipping up a new batch.
Ah, and what if I use dairy alternatives?
Ok, so there are a whole host of dairy alternatives out there, all of which helpfully have their own shelf lives and storage needs.
Let’s start with butter alternatives. Margarine does have a longer shelf life that butter, both opened and unopened. Once open, margarine can last for over a month if kept refrigerated, and significantly longer if frozen. Much like butter, margarine will change in taste and smell when it does go bad, as well as possibly developing mold.
Milk alternatives are everywhere. From rice to almond and back again, there are many different options for those seeking a diary free milk substitute. Each kind of milk will behave slightly differently, but in general they do last a bit longer than normal milk when unopened. Once opened however, they have a similar shelf life of around 5-7 days.
It is worth pointing out that milk alternatives will bring their own flavours, and possibly textures, to your pancake mixture, so you may have to try a few before finding one that you really like.
Replacing eggs is a more complex issue when it comes to baking, but that is not to say there aren’t plenty of options available. Applesauce, bananas, and flaxseeds are all viable alternatives to eggs when making pancakes. In terms of how long these ingredients take to go bad, that varies considerably. Applesauce should last around 10-14 days once opened and refrigerated. In the same conditions, bananas could last up to around 8 days, but when using fresh fruit you have to take into account how ripe the fruit was before use, so do be careful. Flaxseeds, on the other hand, will remain impressively fresh for up to 3 months, even after being opened and at room temperature, though their ideal shelf life will decrease to a few weeks once they are ground up for use.
The Bottom Line
In general, if using fresh ingredients without any substitutes, you can expect your pancake batter to last for a day or two in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer, though that comes down to just a month if you still want optimal tasting pancakes.
If using dairy alternatives but still using eggs, those times don’t really change. If, however, you have replaced your eggs, then you can expect your batter to last slightly longer in the fridge, perhaps 5 days. This is because, in the absence of eggs, the most volatile ingredient will then be the milk, which usually has a shelf life of around 5-7 days when refrigerated.
As with all food stuffs, and especially with dairy products, the timeframes given by manufacturers, recipes, and blogs like this one are only guidelines. If you notice any change is smell, taste, texture, or colour that may indicate that something is spoiling, do not risk your health by trying the product. In such an event, your best bet is to throw the offending substance away, thoroughly clean whatever containers or utensils it was in contact with and prepare a fresh batch of whatever it was.