Panko and breadcrumbs are the pantry staples we reach for to add a crunchy topping to baked casseroles, and to make a super crisp breaded coating for fried and baked foods. They're pretty similar, but do you know what sets them apart?
It comes down to this: Breadcrumbs is a broad term, and there is more than one variety, one of which is panko. What sets these two pantry staples apart is their texture and how they're made.
What You Need to Know About Panko
Panko is a type of flaky breadcrumb. It's commonly used in Asian cuisine, although it has become more popular and widely available in Western cooking.
What sets it apart from standard breadcrumbs is its texture and the type of bread that's used. While breadcrumbs can be made using a number of different types of bread, panko is made using white bread. There are two varieties of panko: white panko, which is made from white bread without any crust, and tan panko, which is made from the entire loaf. The bread is processed into large flakes, rather than crumbs, and then dried.
Panko has a light, airy, and delicate texture that helps it crisp as it cooks. The texture of panko makes it especially wonderful for fried food because it absorbs less oil than breadcrumbs, keeping food more crisp and crunchy.
On its own, panko has little to no flavor. It can be used as a crunchy topping to add texture to baked casseroles, like macaroni and cheese, as a breaded coating for fried foods, or as a binder for meatballs. It's also commonly used in Japanese cooking.
What You Need to Know About Breadcrumbs
There's quite a noticeable difference in texture between panko and regular store-bought breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs can be made with different varieties of bread and are ground more fine than flakier panko. Of course you can make homemade breadcrumbs that are processed into a larger grain, but they still lack the distinct flaky texture that sets panko apart.
Also, while panko is almost always sold plain and unseasoned, you may notice a variety of flavors of breadcrumb — herbed, seasoned, cheesy — on the grocery store shelves.
Similar to panko, breadcrumbs are used as a crunchy topping on baked casseroles, as breading on fried foods, or as a binder for meatballs.
Recipes using breadcrumbs
Can They Be Substituted for Each Other?
Panko and breadcrumbs can certainly be used interchangeably. Both items are used to serve the same purpose — a crispy topping for baked casseroles, breaded coating for fried foods, and binder for meatballs and veggie burgers.
I started cooking with panko a few years ago, and it didn't take long before their delicate crunch won me over. Now when I cook recipes that require breadcrumbs, I substitute an equal amount of panko.
Have you ever tried panko? Do you have a strong preference between panko and breadcrumbs?
(Image credits: Kelli Foster)