What is Panko?

Panko Breaded Asparagus
Panko Breaded Asparagus.

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If you have never heard of panko before, you'll be happy to know that panko is simply a type of breadcrumbs. 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) that is made without crusts. The word itself comes from Japanese and is used as a light breading in Japanese cuisine.

The Difference Between Panko and Regular Breadcrumbs

Most pre-made breadcrumbs purchased at the store are very similar to the kind you'd make at home. The simple steps include toasting the bread and crumbling it or rolling it fine with a rolling pin. Some people may choose to add seasonings. Panko is a little bit different and it can't really be made at home. Don't be fooled by recipes that claim to use a panko substitute with 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, since it absorbs less oil and grease, making the end result not quite as heavy as a regular breading. Panko should be stored in a sealed container and kept in a dark, dry, and cool place. A pantry is perfect for storing panko.

Is Panko Vegan or Gluten-Free?

Most brands of panko are vegan, although it's best to double check the labels of each brand. A typical panko ingredients list contains wheat flour, yeast, oil, and salt. Panko is definitely not gluten-free, but nearly always vegan.

Uses for 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 in veggie burgers. This is a good option for vegans since it eliminates using eggs as a binder. Some other ideas on how to cook with panko include:

  • Use panko to thicken up soups and sauces. Just like a little flour and water or cornstarch can thicken up a soup, panko can also 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 until it is the thickness you desire.
  • Use panko as a casserole topping. Panko is great on just about any kind of casserole, including 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.
  • Use it in place of breadcrumbs. Panko and Parmesan stuffed tomatoes are a tasty appetizer or side dish and can easily be modified to your taste buds.