17 Canned Ingredients That Will Make Pancake Batter So Much Better

Pancakes are a breakfast food that evokes nostalgia and images of a quiet Sunday morning spent with family. But pancakes aren't just for breakfast anymore. In fact, they are one of the most versatile foods out there, and can be elevated in many ways. One unexpected place to begin your hunt for the ultimate upgrade to pancake batter is your pantry. Though canned foods often get a bad rap, they can be a healthy and convenient way to add excitement and flavor to tired recipes. 

The key is knowing which ones to use and how to incorporate them into your pancake batter. That's where I come in. As a chef with nearly 18 years of experience running a restaurant and bed and breakfast, I have flipped and served my fair share of flapjacks. I've made sweet and savory iterations, designed for every meal of the day. Some of my favorite add-ins to pancake batter are ingredients you might never anticipate using. With some creativity and a few tricks of the trade, you, too, can become a pancake prodigy.

1. Canned Fruit

Adding fruit to pancakes is hardly a novel idea. It's one of the oldest tricks of the trade, and a hack every mom trying to weasel some nutrition into their picky children's diets has figured out. What may be more novel is the use of canned versus fresh fruit. Certainly fresh fruit has its nutritional advantages, particularly where water soluble vitamins are concerned, but canned varieties can contribute plenty of nutrients, flavor, and texture to pancakes when used correctly. They are also pre-cooked during the canning process, ensuring tender versus crunchy flapjacks.

Among the better canned fruits to stock up on for pancakes are pineapple chunks, peach slices, tart cherries, and lychees. When possible, opt for varieties packed in 100% juice or water, versus syrup. You can also search for those labeled "unsweetened" or "no sugar added," to avoid excess sugar. Always drain your fruit before using it in your pancakes, to prevent it from weighing or watering down your batter.

2. Sweetened Condensed Milk

Most pancake batter includes either water or some form of dairy in the recipe. While my typical go-to for fluffy pancakes is buttermilk, another great option is sweetened condensed milk. This shelf-stable dairy product is made by reducing milk until 60% of its water content has been evaporated. At this point, the milk is sweetened with sugar, before it is canned. You can obtain sweetened condensed milk in full-fat, low-fat, and fat-free varieties.

When making pancakes with sweetened condensed milk, there are a couple of pitfalls to avoid. The high sugar content of sweetened condensed milk can make pancakes highly susceptible to burning rapidly. For this reason it is prudent to eliminate any added sugar from the recipe. You may also want to dilute the sweetened condensed milk with some water to thin it, making it easier to incorporate. Lastly, make sure you cook your pancakes low-and-slow, so that you can keep an eye on them.

3. Canned Sweet Potatoes or Yams

While there may be some confusion regarding the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, there is no question that they belong in your pancake batter. Though they hail from different botanical families and have different nutritional and morphological characteristics, for the purposes of cooking, they are often used interchangeably, particularly when they come in canned form. This is because in the 1930s, orange-hued sweet potatoes from Louisiana were cleared to be marketed as yams. Therefore, many of the canned varieties of yams on the market are actually orange sweet potatoes.

Now that this is as clear as mud, the best way to use them in pancakes is to purée the sweet potatoes or yams in a food processor before incorporating them into the batter. The result will be similar to a sweet potato pie in flapjack delivery format. Just don't forget to spice things up with some pumpkin or apple pie spice, or, if you want to get really fancy, a dash of Chinese 5 spice.

4. Canned Apple Pie Filling

Canned apple pie filling can be a convenient and easy timesaver for a quick holiday dessert. But, its utility goes beyond the holidays. If you have stocked up on this canned good, or have some leftovers after baking up a pie, toss some into your next batch of pancakes. This mixture comes pre-cooked, sweetened, and seasoned, making the fruit soft and giving it great flavor. If you aren't planning to make pancakes within a day or two after opening a can of apple pie filling, you can freeze it for a rainy day. Just be sure to thaw the mixture before adding it to your pancake batter.

You may need to adjust the sweetness level of your pancake batter to accommodate the apple pie filling. Some are more sugary than others, which can result in pancakes that are not just cloying, but will burn more easily when you try to cook them. As with sweetened condensed milk, you will want to cook these flapjacks over a low temperature to prevent them from burning.

5. Canned Nuts

There are a number of hacks for using up leftover canned nuts in your pantry, but one that you may not have conceived of is tossing them into your pancake batter. While this may not apply to any kind of nut, you will be shocked at how versatile many can be. My favorites for pancakes include pistachios, almonds, macadamias, and cashews. Though you can use salted or unsalted, I prefer the latter.

Before incorporating nuts into your pancake batter, I recommend chopping them. You can use either a food processor or a sharp chef's knife to cut them down to size. While you do not want them completely pulverized, you want them small enough to be evenly distributed in your batter. If the nuts have not been roasted, you may want to toast them before chopping and using them in your flapjacks. Doing so enhances their aroma, flavor, and texture.

6. Canned Pumpkin Pie Filling

Along similar lines as its apple pie cousin, leftover canned pumpkin pie filling can have some ingenious uses, including as an addition to your next batch of hotcakes. Canned pumpkin is sweetened and pre-seasoned with spices, like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, giving it a festive flavor that can jazz up your pancake batter. As a bonus, pumpkin is well-known for its myriad health benefits, which can amp up the nutritional value of your next breakfast.

The key is making sure you check the label on your can of pumpkin. You will want to differentiate between 100% pure pumpkin and pie filling. The former is unsweetened and lacks those spices, which will leave you with rather bland pancakes. Depending on the recipe you use, you may want to adjust the amount of sugar added to accommodate the sweetness of the pie filling. And, don't forget to cook these low-and-slow to avoid overdone pancakes.

7. Canned Sweet Corn

While corn may seem more like a savory ingredient than a sweet one, it can be used in multiple formats when added to pancake batter. I will often make sweet corn hotcakes using a combination of flour and finely ground cornmeal seasoned with sweet spices, like cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. That said, I have also been known to add sweet corn to a savory pancake batter, infused with chili powder, which I top with grilled shrimp, spicy arugula, and a roasted red pepper sauce, for an out-of-this-world appetizer that will impress your seafood loving dinner guests.

The key is to avoid some common mistakes when using canned sweet corn, including failing to drain and rinse the contents before incorporating it into your pancake batter. You can also use canned creamed corn for pancake batter. Just remember that there is liquid and sugar added to this type of canned corn, so you will need to swap it for the liquid and sweetener in your pancake batter. 

8. Canned Beans

For those craving something more savory in the morning, adding canned beans to pancake batter will not only satisfy your taste buds, but provide you with a protein-packed breakfast that will help keep you going all the way until lunch. Using beans in pancakes is not totally without precedent. Mung bean pancakes are a common delicacy in Korean cuisine, and those made from chickpea flour are a specialty found in Italian street markets.

While you can use any bean you happen to have on hand, I am particularly fond of meaty black beans and creamy cannellini ones. When opting for the former, I enjoy adding smoked paprika, fresh cilantro, and topping these with some guacamole and pico de gallo. For the latter, consider adding some Italian seasoning or Herbes de Provence, crispy prosciutto or pancetta, and garnishing with some fresh mozzarella, for a Mediterranean spin. Either of these would be delicious topped with a poached or soft-cooked, fried egg.

9. Canned Diced Potatoes

Whether you call them fritters, latkes, or pancakes, potatoes belong in flapjacks. While the classic iteration of a latke is usually made by shredding copious quantities of fresh potatoes and onions, before seasoning and frying them in generous quantities of oil, there is no reason you couldn't use canned, diced potatoes to create a celebratory savory hotcake.

The key is properly draining and rinsing the potatoes before using them. I recommend either chopping the potatoes finely or puréeing them thoroughly in a food processor before adding them to your pancake batter. From here, feel free to get playful with other add-ins. For a take on a baked potato, throw in some crumbled bacon and minced chives or green onions. For a play on poutine, top your savory potato pancakes with cheese curds and a rich, brown gravy. And, if you are envisioning something akin to Shepherd's pie, consider loading your pancake batter up with some frozen peas and carrots, aged cheddar cheese, and leftover rotisserie chicken chunks.

10. Canned Beet Juice

Adding canned beet juice to baked goods is another one that is not unheard of. Beets have long been utilized as a natural food dye, thanks to their vibrant, crimson hue. If you have ever roasted them yourself, or spilled the juice onto a countertop, you are well aware of their capacity to instantly transform anything into what looks like a crime scene. That said, when added to pancakes, you will end up with a delightful, bright, pink color that can accent other ingredients you may add, making your kiddos giggle with delight when you present them with these vibrant flapjacks.

The key is not overdoing it. Juice from canned beets can be slightly salty and acidic. This is not necessarily a dealbreaker, as a little goes a long way, so you are unlikely to taste the juice if you use just enough to color your batter. I highly recommend incorporating other seasonings into your batter to help balance the flavor, like vanilla or almond extract, and sweet spices, including cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and ginger.

11. Canned Fire-Roasted Tomatoes

Savory tomato pancakes or fritters are also not uncommon. They are well-recognized in Mediterranean cultures, particularly Greece, where tomatokeftedes are a common appetizer. In this case, you can take some inspiration from our Greek cousins and add some canned tomatoes into your pancake batter for a savory delight that could be served at breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I prefer the fire-roasted kind, as they have a hint of smokiness and a more tempered acidity that is more complex and well-balanced in recipes.

I recommend draining the juice from the canned tomatoes before adding them to your pancake batter, so that the liquid does not water it down. Be sure to save this juice for use in other recipes, such as pasta dishes, soups, and cocktails. I also suggest adding other seasonings, like dried rosemary, basil, parsley, or thyme to brighten up the flavor of your pancakes. In true Greek fashion, garnish these flapjacks with crumbled feta, tzatziki, and fresh dill, for a mouthwatering burst of flavor.

12. Canned Artichokes

Jarred or canned marinated artichoke heart halves or quarters are a common addition to a salad, but they can instantly provide a meaty texture and a hint of bright flavor to other dishes, ranging from pastas and pizzas to savory pancakes. Canned artichokes are infinitely easier to handle than fresh ones. These require quite a bit of effort to reveal their tender inner hearts, which are protected by thorny leaves and a fuzzy, spiky protective layer, known as the choke.

Whether you have artichoke heart halves or quarters, you will want to chop these into smaller pieces before incorporating them to your pancake batter. I would recommend adding a layer of acidity in the form of freshly grated lemon zest or even some finely minced preserved lemon rinds. Round out the batter with freshly chopped herbs before cooking them up. Once finished, you can garnish these rustic hotcakes with fresh goat cheese or feta and a hint of homemade pesto or a gremolata for a delightful, simple appetizer or hearty breakfast.

13. Canned Smoked Salmon

One of my favorite appetizers to serve at my restaurant was a play on a smoked salmon blini. Blinis are pancakes made with buckwheat flour. These are typically garnished with lox or smoked salmon, capers, crème fraîche or sour cream, pickled red onion, and fresh dill. They can be bite-sized or a more hearty portion, though I tended to favor larger ones. In this vein, there is no reason why you couldn't use your favorite brand of smoked canned salmon to doctor up pancake batter for a savory spin on a blini for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

I recommend draining the liquid from your salmon and flaking it before adding to your batter. Season the batter with dried dill and a dollop of greek yogurt or buttermilk to give it a similar tang, before cooking these flapjacks up. Serve them garnished with a poached egg, for a cheese-like, dreamy breakfast fit for a Russian monarch.

14. Canned Spinach

Gravitating back to Greece, if you have ever eaten spanakopita, you will know of the delight that is spinach and feta enveloped in a buttery and flaky crust of phyllo dough. While pancakes may not be as crisp as phyllo dough, they can be equally as buttery and delicious when spinach and feta are incorporated into a savory batter. Choosing a quality canned spinach brand is key here, as there are many that are subpar, relying heavily on salt for flavor and compromising mightily in the texture department.

Stick to plain, unseasoned varieties of canned spinach, and let the salty bite come from the crumbly feta cheese. Before adding canned spinach into your pancake batter, be sure to rinse, drain, and dry it thoroughly, so that it does not water it down. I also recommend adding a dash of freshly grated nutmeg to the batter to provide a bright, spicy punch of flavor. Serve these pancakes with some clarified butter and a garnish of toasted pine nuts or pistachios, for crunch.

15. Canned Water Chestnuts

Contrary to their name, water chestnuts are not actually nuts, but rather a member of the corm family. These slightly starchy, crisp plants are often found in canned format, either whole or sliced. They are delicious when incorporated into stir-fries, fried rice, or other Asian delicacies. Their relatively mellow, slightly sweet, nutty flavor is a delightful addition to any dish, including Chinese-style scallion pancakes. These traditional savory breakfast cakes are typically thin and crunchy on the outside and delicately fluffy on the inside, with a delightful chewiness that is distinct from what we commonly eat for the first meal of the day.

Using these as inspiration, try adding chopped, canned water chestnuts that have been drained to classic pancake batter, along with chopped green onions. Once cooked, serve these up with an umami-rich sauce made from soy, sesame oil, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, and red pepper flakes. The combination will transport you straight to Southeast Asia, and perk up your taste buds.

16. Canned Green Chiles

One of my favorite breakfast items to whip up for a crowd is a Southwestern-style egg bake made with canned green chiles, cottage cheese, and pepper jack cheese. The sweet and smoky flavors conferred by the chiles are bold enough to be recognizable, yet not so hot that those who are sensitive to spicy food can't enjoy this dish. In keeping with this theme, you could easily incorporate drained, canned green chiles into classic pancake batter for a savory, Tex-Mex spin on a flapjack.

Season the batter with chili powder and toss in some cottage cheese, in addition to the green chiles, to make them extra fluffy and boost their protein content. Garnish the hot pancakes with queso fresco or shredded pepper jack cheese, salsa, and slices of fresh avocado. If you are feeling really festive, you could always top this with some carnitas for a sophisticated breakfast-inspired spin on nachos.

17. Canned Cranberry Sauce

Speaking of great ways to make use of leftovers around the holidays, one such ingredient that can easily be repurposed into your pancakes is the gelatinous canned cranberry sauce we all know and love. That's right, you can infuse pancake batter with a hint of sweet, yet tart flavor, and a touch of a pinkish hue, by whisking the cranberry into the wet ingredients of your batter before combining this into your dry ingredients. The result is something fun, festive, and pretty to look at.

To jazz these up with even more holiday flair, consider tossing in some toasted and chopped pecans or walnuts and dried cranberries for a chewy contrast in texture. You can also add a hint of freshly grated orange zest for a brightness of flavor that can accentuate the tartness of the cranberry without overwhelming the pancakes. For a creamy, yet sweet topping, combine maple syrup with greek yogurt, and drizzle this over the pancakes to draw all the flavors together.