Food blog

The Sweet Showdown: Funnel Cakes vs. Elephant Ears

The difference between funnel cakes and elephant ears

What’s a county fair without a delicious, crunchy funnel cake or a sugar-covered elephant ear? These two sweet treats are staples at carnivals and similar events. They also share some of the same ingredients and toppings. Plus, they’re both fried in oil and not exactly the healthiest, but who cares when you’re at the carnival, right? That’s where you’re supposed to eat junk food. These two foods also both have a large circular shape that fits perfectly on a large plate, but they also differ in a few ways.


The most obvious difference between these two doughnuts can be seen simply by looking at them. Although they both have a similar disc-like appearance, funnel cakes have noticeable lacy sections in them, similar to a pretzel, but with many more overlapping pieces. Elephant ears typically have large bubbles caused by air pockets, but the mass is just one big blob. This contrasting appearance points to a few other key differences between elephant ears and funnel cakes: their ingredients, how they’re made, and the tools needed to make them. (Hint, hint, they’re called funnel cakes for a reason.)

Funnel Cakes

Funnel cake batter is similar to pancake batter. You can find dozens of funnel cake recipes online, including an easy four-ingredient funnel cake recipe. Regardless of the recipe, funnel cakes are typically made with flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and milk or water.
Now for the “funnel” part. Making a funnel cake requires, well, a funnel (hence the name) or a piping bag. The diameter of the opening determines the thickness of the snake-like, layered pieces, so make sure it’s big enough for the batter to ooze through. From start to finish, you can make a funnel cake in less than 15 minutes (including prep time).
After the funnel cakes are removed from the oil, they are sprinkled with powdered sugar, but the toppings don’t stop there. Many places offer other ingredients such as fruit, whipped cream, and chocolate. You’ve probably seen or had a funnel cake topped with ice cream. In fact, there are many options when it comes to toppings, especially if you’re making them at home.

Elephant Ears

Unlike funnel cakes, elephant ears use a special ingredient to aid in the rising process and add flavor: yeast. Although you don’t usually have to wait long for an elephant ear at the fair, the yeast actually increases the total preparation time to over an hour, according to any at-home elephant ear recipe.
The toppings are another difference between these two cakes. Standard funnel cake recipes don’t call for cinnamon, but for elephant ears, the cinnamon-sugar combo is basically a must, as Beth Tapp, co-owner of Tapp Concessions, explained to the Chicago Tribune. Speaking of sugar, elephant ears are usually sprinkled with regular granulated sugar, not the powdered variety used in funnel cakes.
Tapp also summarized the main difference between funnel cakes and elephant ears, saying, “An elephant ear is sweet dough, and a funnel cake is batter, like a pancake or waffle cake batter. She continued, “So totally different, but similar, like people. They’re also both pretty hard to turn down when you pass a funnel cake or elephant ear vendor at the fair if you have a sweet tooth and enjoy fried foods.

Bottom Line

While funnel cakes and elephant ears share some similarities, such as being fried, sweet treats commonly found at carnivals and fairs, they have distinct differences in appearance, ingredients, and preparation methods. Funnel cakes have a lacy, pretzel-like appearance and are made from a batter similar to pancake batter, while elephant ears are a bubbly, doughy mass made from yeast dough. The toppings also vary, with funnel cakes often topped with powdered sugar and a variety of other ingredients, while elephant ears are sprinkled with cinnamon sugar and granulated sugar. So next time you’re at the fair, be sure to try both and enjoy the unique experience each offers.


What are the main visual differences between funnel cakes and elephant ears?

Funnel cakes have a lacy, pretzel-like appearance with overlapping pieces, while elephant ears have large bubbles and a more solid, blob-like shape.

What are the main ingredients used to make funnel cakes?

Funnel cakes are typically made with flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and milk or water.

How are funnel cakes and elephant ears prepared?

Funnel cakes are made by pouring batter into hot oil through a funnel or pastry bag, while elephant ears are made from yeast dough that is fried until golden.

What are the most common toppings for funnel cakes?

Funnel cakes are often topped with powdered sugar, but you can also find them topped with fruit, whipped cream, chocolate, or even ice cream.

What gives elephant ears their distinctive flavor?

Yeast is used in the dough of elephant ears, which contributes to their flavor and helps them rise during the cooking process.

Is there a difference in the type of sugar used for funnel cakes and elephant ears?

Yes, funnel cakes are typically topped with powdered sugar, while elephant ears are usually sprinkled with regular granulated sugar, often combined with cinnamon for added flavor.

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