Bread crumbs are an amazingly versatile ingredient that can thicken, bulk or bind meat mixtures or be used to add a crunchy coating or topping to a dish. In the instance of panade for meatball or meatloaf, the starches in the bread bind to the liquid and keep the food juicy during the cooking process. When used as a coating or topping, bread crumbs will add a crunchy textural dimension to dishes like gratins, casseroles or other baked pasta dishes.
These different uses mean that bread crumb varieties aren’t interchangeable, though. With so many types of bread crumbs on the market, how do you know which one is best for what purpose? Find out which crumb is best suited to which culinary task with our breakdown of the major categories of crumbs.
Dry Bread Crumbs
You can find commercially made dry bread crumbs in most supermarkets and grocers ranging from fine, medium to course grinds. Depending on what you’re trying to achieve with your dish, the use of which grind should be determined by how much “crunch” you’re after. Fine white bread crumbs are perfect for breading, stuffing and thickening dishes such as meatloaf or stuffing recipes, while courser white crumbs will often be used for coatings or toppings to add a light crunch.
Invented in Japan in the mid-1800s, panko crumbs were the countries answer to the Western fried foods flooding the Japanese market at the time. Instead of the more expensive crackers and biscuits that were being used in the U.S., Japanese chefs pivoted to the cheaper sliced white bread. Since then, Japanese panko crumbs have been adopted in many Asian cuisines and has even found its place in kitchens and pantries around the world.
The word panko comes from two traditional Japanese words: “pan”, meaning bread, and “ko” meaning small pieces. Panko crumbs now describe a specific type of dry crumb that's made from crustless white bread and processed into flakes before it's dried out. Due to this process, panko crumbs are not as fine as traditional dry bread crumbs and have a flakier consistency that results in them absorbing less oil when they're added to dishes.
With a shard-like shape and a uniformly light colour, panko crumbs unique texture is particularly well suited for breading to bring a crunchier texture to dishes and as a crispy covering for lighter fried food. While panko crumbs are traditionally used in Japanese cooking to make tonkatsu and chicken katsu, in recent years it has become popular as a casserole topping for mac and cheese and other baked pasta dishes, chicken parmigiana, chicken tenders, fried fish and as a crispy coating for a baked veggie dishes.
It can also add an extra layer of crunch to salads or green beans.
Cornflakes are recognised as a classic breading material often used as a substitute when dry bread crumbs aren’t available - but any grain-based cereal can work great for a similar crumbing effect. Cornflake crumbs can be used as an ingredient for applying colours to different red meat and fish dishes. These are also often used as casseroles toppings.
Coating Mix Crumbs
Coating mix crumbs describes a mixture of crumbs, seasonings and flavourings and is often used to coat meat dishes such as chicken schnitzel and baked cutlets. Coating mix bread crumbs can be made from a variety of different breads and crusts before and is processed into a finer crumb than panko. Coating mix crumbs aren’t as dry and flaky as panko and have a more bread-like consistency when fried or baked.
These mixes will also often come with herbs and seasonings already added and are a staple for breading, stuffing, casserole toppings, as well as being used as a binding agent for ground meats in dishes such as burgers and meatloaf. Different types of coating mix crumbs include Italian bread crumbs which often feature Italian seasonings such as oregano and basil, course wholemeal crumb and fine golden crumb.
From being used in meat mixtures to bind moisture and provide a more tender texture to adding an extra crunch when frying foods, whether you’re a butcher, small café owner or professional chef or home cook, crumbs and coatings are a versatile ingredient that can elevate your dishes.
Authored by Stephanie Bennett.