When you've gone to a Japanese restaurant, you've probably noticed "panko" on the menu. It's often used as a breading for deep-fried dishes. What exactly is this panko? Is it just another version of breadcrumbs? Read on to learn more about this mystery ingredient.

What Is Panko?

panko eggplant

If you've never heard of panko, then you might assume it's an onomatopoeia for how an old man sneezes. The sound may be accurate but the definition of the word is far from correct. Panko, simply stated, is a Japanese breadcrumb. However, there is nothing simple about this Asian ingredient and it certainly isn't the type of breadcrumbs your mom would put on top of her "famous" tuna casserole.

How Is Panko Made?

japanese landscape

In World War II, Japanese soldiers needed bread but had no source for baking traditional bread. So they had to get creative and come up with a completely unique way of baking bread. Since they had no oven, they figured out how to use electrical currents to "bake" the dough. The result is a crustless white bread. That's right - crustless. It is then air dried for up to 24 hours. Once nice and stale, the bread is ground into small slivers.

Panko Vs. Breadcrumbs

1. Texture

panko bowl
  • Breadcrumbs are created using any number of yeast-based loaves like Italian or French. Breadcrumbs are fine, almost sand-like crumbs.
  • Panko, on the other hand, is shards of the crustless dried bread.
  • Panko is lighter and airier and, as a result, are great for frying because they absorb less oil than traditional bread crumbs which keeps the foods crisp and crunchy.
  • Panko shards are irregular shapes and all different.
  • Panko gives a unique crunch, unlike the homogenous, fine crumbs.

2. Flavor

herbs

Whether store store-bought or homemade, bread crumbs usually have some seasoning. Their yeasty origin has a distinct flavor of its own but when turned into crumbs, most add a number of herbs and seasonings to it like garlic and parsley.

Panko, on the other hand, contains very little distinct flavor. Panko absorbs and enhances the flavors surrounding it and doesn't compete with them. These characteristics must be considered to help determine what to use in your recipe.

3. Uses

panko dish

You can find panko in most grocery stores. All you have to do is open the bag and use them! After you use it, seal it back up and store in a dry environment - a pantry is just fine. Panko and breadcrumbs have similar uses. They can be used as:

  • Thickening agents in soups
  • Binder for crab cakes and meatballs
  • Coating for fried vegetables, meats and fish
  • Topping for casseroles

Both breadcrumbs and panko are meant to enhance your dishes. However, panko has a crispier, lighter, and more distinct texture that will surprise your eaters. Its generic flavor base allows it to be super versatile. So, when contemplating which to use, go for panko has a healthier and creative option!

Can You Substitute Bread Crumbs for Panko?

breadcrumbs

There are a number of various breads common in Western pantries used for varying purposes but rarely ever "wrong". I mean, you could use slices of banana bread to make a ham sandwich but it's not the preferred loaf to use. Similarly, you COULD use breadcrumbs in lieu of panko but there are distinctions which make it better. When recipes call on using panko, it's not to make you run out to buy something new; it's because panko's distinct texture enhances flavors and ingredients differently than breadcrumbs. These distinctions derive from one basic tenet: the sort of bread loaf developed by the Japanese is the sole source for panko.

Recipes for Panko

Gruyere Stuffed Mushrooms

stuffed shrooms

This is a classic recipe that has traditional used breadcrumbs. It is also a great way to illustrate how panko is better than breadcrumbs.

Lobster Mac N Cheese

lobster mac n cheese

This is packed full of fat, carbs, and dairy - certainly not for anyone on a diet but, if you are, sooo worth breaking it! Its creamy goodness combined with the tender lobster is totally enhanced with the crunchy panko topping.

Panko Crusted Baked Chicken Parmesan

panko chicken parmesan

This chicken parmesan is healthier than traditional recipes but just as flavorful. The panko seals in the moistness of the poultry while also giving it a distinct crunch. This will please both kids and adults!

Crispy Panko Shrimp Salad

panko shrimp salad

Panko crusted shrimp is a classic appetizer. This recipe turns the delicious crustaceans into a whole meal when put on top of a bed of lettuce and homemade vinaigrette.

Creamy Potato Soup with Garden Cress

soup

As fall approaches, nothing says comfort like a creamy potato soup. The added panko gives the soup a creamy and thick texture. The garden cress add crunch to the base.

Best Hamburger Ever

burgers

Using panko as a binder for the meat, this recipe has a perfect balance of seasoning, herbs, and condiments that will knock your socks off.

For a funny and exotic sounding word, panko is actually a very simple and versatile ingredient. Use it in lieu of breadcrumbs not just because it is a healthier option (especially for fried foods), but because it enhances your dishes through its unique texture.

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