The Simple Difference Between Hash Browns And Potato Pancakes

On paper, hash browns and potato pancakes have a lot in common. They're both made from small pieces of potatoes that are fried until they get golden and crispy. They both make a delicious breakfast food alongside eggs and bacon. And yet, there are a few glaring differences between these two starchy sides.

At first glance, it's easy to tell that potato pancakes are just what they sound like — spuds smushed into circular pancake form. Hash browns, on the other hand, can be a loose pile of shredded potatoes, or formed into more structured shapes like the oval patties found at McDonald's. The biggest difference between the two is how the potatoes are formed into each dish's signature shape. Originally, hash browns were made by simply frying shredded spuds in a pan until they got crunchy — they may glom together as they cook, but that's not caused by any extra ingredients. Potato pancake recipes, on the other hand, include binding ingredients like eggs, breadcrumbs, or flour. If you're making latkes, a Jewish variety, you may see matzo meal listed. These additions help the potato pieces stick together so the pancakes end up in the intended shape.

Other differences between hash browns and potato pancakes

The added binding ingredients in potato pancakes may make up the biggest differentiator from hash browns, but it's not the only one. While the latter typically uses simple ingredients like potatoes, salt, and pepper (along with a little oil for frying), the former may include onion, cornstarch, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in addition to the binding ingredient. Spuds are generally shredded to make hash browns, while they may alternatively be grated or mashed in a potato pancake recipe.

Hash browns were likely invented in the U.S. in the late 1800s, and were considered a fancy breakfast food at the time in New York City. Potato pancake recipes go much further back and are spread across a variety of cultures. They may have originated in 15th century Europe, and different countries have their own versions such as the Jewish latke and the Irish boxty, for example.

Traditionally, the two dishes are served and eaten differently as well. Hash browns are a classic American breakfast food often served in diners alongside eggs, breakfast meat, and ketchup or hot sauce. Potato pancakes are more common in Europe, where they are traditionally served as a special side dish found at holiday lunches and dinners. Potato pancakes will come with a dollop of sour cream or a spoonful of applesauce. Regardless of whether you prefer your potatoes at an American diner or European holiday meal, you're going to get a delicious treat.