I’m not big on making salads at home. There’s something anticlimactic about gathering all of those ingredients and chopping all of those vegetables to make something that’s, like, 500 times better at a restaurant, when you didn’t have to work so hard for it. That said, I almost always have a bag of croutons in the pantry, not to add substance to a heap of romaine lettuce that was past its prime a week earlier, but to eat all on their own.
At the grocery store, croutons may live alongside salad dressings and bacon bits, worlds (or at least a few aisles) away from the chips, crackers, and bags of popcorn, but to me, they’re a snack—crunchy, salty, filling, and delicious. Eating croutons straight out of the box or bag by the handful taps into the fulfillment a childhood fantasy. Remember when you’d go to a salad bar (probably at a dine-in Pizza Hut, definitely with your Book It! voucher as a reward for reading over the summer) and pile your refrigerated dish with about 40 percent vegetables and 60 percent croutons? Now you’re a grown-ass adult and you can cut out the middleman altogether if you want to.
Croutons bring a transcendent combo of flavor and crunch. These things make your teeth earn their keep. Croutons rival pita chips in the crunch department, and they don’t require accoutrements like hummus, tabouli, or baba ghanoush because they’re so flavorful on their own. While I think the taste of dried bread is pretty pleasing in its own right, there’s almost nothing in the snack aisle as delicious as the savory flavor of crouton seasoning, a melange of dehydrated salty Italian cheese (generally a Parm or Romano), garlic powder, parsley flakes, and other spices. I’ve checked the label of my go-to brand (Mrs. Cubbison’s Classic Seasoned) and they don’t contain MSG, but they’re so umami-packed you could be fooled. The closest thing I’ve found to an actual snack that approximates the glory of crouton seasoning is Trader Joe’s Popcorn with Herbs & Spices (which made our ranking of the best bagged popcorn you can buy).
Obviously, there’s no law saying croutons can’t be eaten like a snack, but certain things can give you the sense it’s discouraged. One of those things: the suggested serving size on the back of the package, which is typically two tablespoons. Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever attempted to measure croutons by the tablespoon, but by my calculations, a suggested serving size is approximately two croutons. Give me a break! Even if you’re eating them as a soup or salad accompaniment as god intended, that’s paltry. It’s unreasonably restrictive and I say ignore it altogether. Jam your fist into the bag and munch till you’re done. Throw crouton caution to the wind. And if you love these things like I do, let’s mainstream them as a snack. Put out a bowl at your next party. Bring other crouton eaters out of the shadows. Now’s our time!