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United States of Pancakes: See where all the toppings come from

These are the pancakes you've been looking for.
These are the pancakes you've been looking for.
Phil Edwards is a senior producer for the Vox video team.

Who hasn't sat down to a nice, heaping plate of pancakes and wondered: Why am I doing this again? How sick am I going to feel when this is over? And which states do all these toppings come from?

Fortunately, we can answer the last question, since the US Department of Agriculture's 2012 census tracks where our pancake toppings come from.

The maps below show where our maple syrup, blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries come from in the United States. Some of the answers you might expect — but some may add a surprising new flavor to your day.

1) Vermont gives the US its American maple syrup

Maple syrup in the United States

Okay, if you put maple syrup on your pancakes, it probably comes from Canada, and specifically Quebec (this is a country so committed to maple syrup that it has a strategic reserve).  In 2013, Canada tapped 10 million gallons of syrup.

But if you want only American ingredients on your pancakes, then you'll probably get that syrup from Vermont.

Most people probably know Vermont is the maple-syrup capital of the United States, but they might not realize what a staggering lead it has. In 2012, the state produced 999,391 gallons — more than double Maine (which tapped 443,024 gallons). New York comes in third, followed by Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Why does Vermont lead? Mainly because there are a lot sugar maple trees available to tap. But the state also has a disproportionate number of farms and taps relative to the number of trees. Maple syrup flows in the veins of Vermont residents (note to doctors: this is only a metaphor).

2) Your beautiful blueberries probably came from Michigan

Michigan blueberries win.

With 18,746 harvested acres of tame blueberries, Michigan easily beats second place Georgia (which has 11,565 harvested acres). Rounding out the top five are New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. You also might get your berries from Canada.

Why is Michigan so blue? Mark Longstroth, Extension Educator at Michigan State University Extension, has an answer: "We have an awful lot of good soil, Lake Michigan, and we got started early."

Blueberries need a soil pH around 5 to thrive — and Michigan has that. "There are large expanses of acidic sands because of leftover soils from the glaciers," he told me. The state's position east of Lake Michigan also provides a climate that lets it grow blueberries late into the year (Wisconsin, which sits on the other side, has similar soils, but its climate proves better for cranberries).

Michigan also got in on the blueberry trade early (thanks to the help of pioneers like Stanley Johnston). "We had a significant acreage planted before World War II," Longstroth says. "Initially it was between Michigan, New Jersey, and Oregon, but we had access to climate, markets, and soils."

3) Strawberries are likely from California

Strawberries by state

California is an all around agricultural superstate, and it's number one in the country for strawberries. With 38,800 harvested acres, it produces more than three times second place Florida (which has 11,350 harvested acres of strawberries). Your pancakes could, conceivably, have strawberries harvested in Oregon, Washington, and New York, but with only about a 1,000 harvested acres each, that's less likely.

Why is California so good for strawberries? As with so many Californian agricultural products, the climate allows for a year-round growing season up and down the coast.

4) Red raspberries usually come courtesy of Washington

Red raspberries

If you want to put red raspberries on your pancakes, you'll probably be looking to Washington. The state accounts for anywhere from 70 percent to 90 percent of harvested acres in the United States, depending on the year. California and Oregon are next on the list (though there's a chance raspberries from Western Canada could show up on your pancakes as well).

There's an asterisk here — California actually leads in total raspberry production, if you include red, black, purple, yellow, and red raspberries. If you're buying fresh red raspberries, they're probably from California or Mexico. Frozen berries, however, usually come from either Washington or Oregon.

Henry Bierlink is Executive Director of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, and he explained why they flourish in Washington. "Climate, soils, and culture," he told me. "Raspberries are not very good friends of cold hard weather or hot weather. Hot weather makes them melt pretty much, and they turn mushy. We get pretty temperate climate."

Most Washington raspberries are grown in the Western part of the state, and Bierlink says about 85 percent are grown in a 30-40 mile radius along the Canadian border.

What about butter, chocolate chips, whipped cream, and everything else?

Things get a little more complicated after fruit and syrup because a lot of pancake toppings involve processing by private companies, and their figures aren't always public.

The best guess is that butter, whipped cream, buttermilk, and other dairy essentials come from one of the leading dairy states: California, Wisconsin, New York, Idaho, or Pennsylvania. For good measure, Land O'Lakes is based in Minnesota.

Dairy production by state

Sadly, your chocolate chips are mysterious too. The International Cocoa Organization says that in 2010, Côte d'Ivoire led cocoa bean production, doubling second place Ghana and third place Indonesia. However, processing, packaging, and other stops on the supply chain make it much harder to source your chocolate chips than to eat them.

The next time you eat seven stacks of pancakes, you may regret it. But at least now you'll know the right states to blame.