What is panko? A definition of panko.

Panko Breaded Asparagus
Panko Breaded Asparagus.   bhofack2 / Getty Images

Wondering about panko, what it is, how to use it or just need a quick definition? Read on to learn more about panko.

What is panko?

If you have never heard of panko before, you'll be happy to know that panko is simply a type of breadcrumbs, but read on to learn more, because panko is a little bit different in some important ways from regular breadcrumbs. 

Real panko is always made from a special kind of white bread (as opposed to whole wheat) and without crusts.

The word itself comes from Japanese, and is used as a light breading in Japanese cuisine. If you already knew that panko is a type of breadcrumbs, you're probably wondering what the difference is between panko and regular breadcrumbs.

So, what is the difference between panko and regular breadcrumbs?

Most breacrumbs that you'd purchase pre-made at the store are very similar to the kind you'd make at home by toasting bread and crumbling it or rolling it fine with a rolling pin, whether or not you add seasonings. Panko, however is a little bit different, and it can't really be made at home (though you could certainly substitute regular breadcrumbs for panko in most recipes - it won't be quite the same, but close enough).

Don't be fooled by recipes claiming to be a panko substitute which call for bread or crackers - this is not true panko! Panko is lighter, crispier and airier than regular breadcrumbs. Because panko is lighter and flakier than regular breadcrumbs, it's perfect for fried foods, as it absorbs less oil and grease, making the end result not quite as heavy as a regular breading.

What is in panko? Is it vegan? Is it gluten-free?

Though it never hurts to read a label if you're a vegan trying a new food or avoiding eggs or dairy for allergen reasons, most brands of panko are indeed vegan. A typical panko ingredients list contains wheat flour, yeast, oil and salt. Panko is definitely not gluten-free, but nearly always vegan.

What are some uses of panko?

Panko is often used as a breading for fried food or as a crumby breadcrumb topping for baked pasta recipes and macaroni and cheese. Some cooks like to use panko as a binder, particularly for vegans, who do not eat eggs, and in veggie burger recipes. See below for a few veggie burger ideas using panko as an egg-free binder. Here's a few ways to use panko:

  • Use panko to thicken up soups and sauces. Just like a little flour and water or cornstach can thicken up a soup, panko, too, can thicken a soup or sauce by absorbing the extra liquid and adding a bit of extra texture in the process. Stir in panko, a tablespoon or two at a time, to a hot simmering soup.
  • Use panko as a casserole topping. Panko is great on just about any kind of casserole - baked pasta casseroles, veggie side dish casseroles, bean casseroles or main dish casseroles. Use panko instead of breadcrumbs or French fried onions on your favorite green bean casserole, for example. Mix panko with Parmesan cheese and add a few Italian seasonings and sprinkle generously on any savory casserole headed to the oven.

Do you have any recipes using panko?

Yep, I sure do! Here's a few vegetarian ways to use panko: