Etymology: Crepes & Pancakes

pancakes-1324771-639x424I used to have a food blog. Sometimes, I would discuss the origin of different ingredients or learn the difference between certain types of similar ingredients. The other day, I found myself wondering what the difference between crepes and pancakes is, if there is a difference at all. And as this is a writing blog, not a food blog, I thought I would look at the origins of the words as well. I might turn this into a series where I look at the origins and usage of various words. I love learning new words and expanding my vocabulary, and this seemed as good a place as any to start.



A pancake is a flat, thin cake of fried batter. Batter is made by mixing flour, milk and eggs together. Pancakes are served with a variety of sweet and savoury toppings. Here in the UK, we traditionally eat pancakes on Shrove Tuesday (known colloquially as Pancake Day), which is the beginning of the festival of Lent. The origin of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday was to use up all the ingredients in the fridge prior to Lent. These days, the traditional topping is sugar and lemon juice. They are a common breakfast food in America, and are often thick and fluffy, served with maple syrup.

Pancakes appear to have been around since ancient times, with references back to Greek and Roman times. Pancakes were easy to make when no oven was available because they could be cooked on a hot stone or griddle. The name presumably comes from the fact they are cakes that can be cooked in a pan.


Crepes are a very specific type of pancake, common in France and other parts of Europe. They are large, very thin, and sometimes crispy. The word ‘crepe’ is derived from the Latin word crispa, which means ‘curled’.

A pancake can come in more shapes and sizes than a crepe, in particular they can be smaller and thicker. Raising agents are sometimes used in pancakes but not in crepes. Crepes are generally made with wheat flour or buckwheat flour. Despite the differences, the terms crepe and pancake appear to be interchangeable a lot of the time.

When I visited Paris for the first time last year, every street corner seemed to have a crepe stall. Crepes were made fresh, and then covered in Nutella, with additional toppings of banana, coconut, or whipped cream. The irresistible smell always seemed to be wafting towards me. Scrummy!



  1. Lydia

    Well, who doesn’t love to talk about food? Especially breakfast comfort food! Yum! It was interesting to read how pancakes and grapes are served in your country. My husband and I enjoy pancakes with peanut butter and maple syrup. They are also called hotcakes.

    It seems like all the crêpes I’ve been served in restaurants are stuffed with some type of sweetened cream cheese filling and topped with fresh fruit, and/or a fruit type syrup. I’ve also seen savory crêpe’s on the menu, though I’ve never ordered them. The ones from Paris sound amazing!

  2. Who doesn’t love crepes and pancakes. 🙂 In Finland, we have our own special pancake (pannukakku) that is baked in the oven in a big baking tray and cut into squares. It’s very thick. It’s served with jam and whipped cream. Smaller pancakes are known as American pancakes. They’ve become more popular in the last decades.

    Crepes are common too. As a kid, I never knew them by that name, and they have many Finnish names and nicknames (letut, räiskäleet, ohukaiset). We serve them with jam, sugar, whipped cream, or even ice cream (although not usually all at once). Lemon juice is not common with crepes here. Savory filling can be used too, turning them into rolls.

    Have you heard of carrot or spinach crepes? Grated carrot or spinach is mixed in the batter. Often these kind of crepes are small rather than big, and eaten as a meal with lingonberry jam.

  3. Pancakes are favorites of mine, but I never put any jam, honey, or syrup on them. I like them with butter, eggs, and maybe some type of sausage. Crepes I’m more likely to eat with sweet things, though still not syrup.

  4. I love Crepes more because you can get creative with the fillings, but pancakes have minimum ingredients. Also, I prefer the bread they use for crepes rather than in pancakes. Then again, what’s the difference, they’re both very delicious.

    You know, I’m contemplating of making a food blog because I’ve worked as a ghostwriter with a food blogger so honestly I’ve written several articles about different kinds of foods from different countries. Where they came from, how you make them, and describe what they taste like.

    But I don’t think it will succeed. So I’ll just stick to my relationship posts. hehe…

Leave a Comment Below!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.