Although a unique name, panko is simply a type of breadcrumb (the word panko is Japanese—"pan" meaning bread and "ko" meaning flour). Real panko is always made from a special kind of white bread (as opposed to whole wheat) that is made without crusts that are baked using an electrical current. The loaf is ground into fine slivers or flakes that are then dried. It is used as a light breading in Japanese cuisine; panko is also referred to as Japanese breadcrumbs.
A typical panko ingredient list reads wheat flour, yeast, oil, and salt. Panko is not gluten free, but it is nearly always vegan.
- Also Known as: Japanese breadcrumbs
- Shelf Life: two years
- Most Common Use: breading
Panko vs. Regular Breadcrumbs
Most premade breadcrumbs purchased at the store are very similar to the kind made at home—toasted bread that's crumbled, sometimes with seasonings added. Panko is a little bit different, and it can't really be made in a home kitchen. Panko is made from a very specific type of bread which results in a flake (instead of a crumb) that is lighter, crispier, and airier than a regular breadcrumb. This creates a distinct texture that resists the absorption of oil, making for a lighter coating when fried.
Panko is lighter and flakier than regular breadcrumbs. It's perfect as a coating for fried foods because it absorbs less oil and grease, making the end result not quite as heavy as a regular breading. Panko is also used as a crumb topping for baked pasta recipes, casseroles, and macaroni and cheese. It can be incorporated into meatballs and veggie burgers as a binder and is used as a thickener for soups and sauces (stir in a tablespoon or two at a time). Basically, panko can be used in place of breadcrumbs in most recipes, including as a garnish, where it is best if they are toasted first.
How to Cook With Panko
In most recipes, panko is used as a coating before frying and baking, as a crispy topping for baked dishes, or mixed into ingredients as a binder. But panko can also be a crunchy garnish for steamed asparagus or roasted broccoli. Toast the panko first, either in a 325 F oven for about 12 minutes or on the stove in very hot oil for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring often.
Since panko is from Japan, there are several Japanese recipes that feature this ingredient. Tonkatsu (Japanese fried pork cutlet) is a pork fillet that is breaded in panko and deep-fried, and kaki fry (oysters), ebi fry (shrimp), and korokke (mashed potato cakes) are all Japanese recipes that are coated in panko and deep-fried.
Japanese Fried Pork (Tonkatsu) Recipe
What Does It Taste Like?
Panko has little or no flavor—its appeal is its texture. Because panko is a flake and not a crumb, it does not clump together like breadcrumbs, and there is more surface area to crisp up when cooked. The panko will absorb the flavors of the rest of the ingredients.
There are plenty of breaded chicken, pork, and fish dishes calling for panko, as well as recipes for baked macaroni and cheese, zucchini "fries," and crab cakes.
Where to Buy Panko
Because of panko's popularity in American cooking, it should be easy to find in the neighborhood grocery store. It is often in both the international aisle with the Japanese food as well as on the shelves among the containers of breadcrumbs. It is packaged in canisters, boxes, and sealed pouches. Panko is also sold in Asian markets and is easily found online.
Although traditional panko is plain and made with white flour, there are other versions such as whole wheat, seasoned, and gluten free.
Panko should be stored in a closed container and kept in a dark, dry, and cool place, such as the pantry. Well sealed, it will last about two years.