If I was to suggest that there was a difference between “pancakes” and “hotcakes” you’d probably say, “You’re crazy. Get off my internet!”

And yet if you go into a supermarket in Japan you will find two products made by the same company distinctly classified as “Hotcake Mix” (hottoke-ki mikkusu) and “Pancake Mix” (panke-ki mikkusu).

Either this is some clever ruse concocted by the pancake cartels of Japan or maybe they tapped into something we always knew subconsciously but never fully realized.

In English

First, English speakers can all pretty much agree that “pancake” is the most popular name for the quick-fried-cake that’s a favorite for breakfast.  Really the only time I recall seeing “hotcake” was at McDonald’s.  Using Google’s Ngram Viewer it would seem the word “pancake” has a longstanding and growing popularity over “hotcake.”

Even when they were first introduced to Japan during the Meiji Era the term pancake was the definitive name.

In Japanese

To get a better understanding of the difference between the words Excite News went to a top pancake (hotcake?) mix producer in Japan, Morinaga. When asked if there is a difference between a hotcake and a pancake they said “well… no not really.”

So what gives?

“When surveyed, we discovered that customers see pancakes as not so sweet and used for a meal, whereas hotcakes were considered a sweet treat.” Morigawa explained.

The Difference in Japan

Morinaga describes their Pancake Mix as only lightly sweetened cooked using water for and overall heavier and heartier cake that would be suitable for a meal.

On the other hand Hotcake Mix uses more sugar and is cooked with milk.  The end result is a fluffier and sweeter cake that you might eat as a snack.

If you look on the back of each package for most companies’ mixes, you’ll find that hotcake mix usually has suggestions to make donuts or cupcakes.  Pancake mixes usually offer suggestions on how to make a ham and lettuce sandwich with their product.


We may have never really realized it but the more you think about it, there does seem to be a distinction. In English, if you said “something is selling like pancakes” it just doesn’t sound as good as “selling like hotcakes.”  Changing Pancake Tuesday to Hotcake Tuesday conversely causes the original to lose some gravitas.

Applying this logic, if you were phallicly coat a sausage in batter, you would have a pancake.  However if you were making cute egg cakes, you should then use hotcake mix.  Glad we got that sorted out. Now what’s the difference between ketchup and catsup?

Source: Excite News, Morinaga (1, 2)
Top image: Pakutaso