You’ll often find panko in with the breadcrumbs at the grocery store, but it doesn’t taste like pulverized Italian loaf. Let’s learn more about the crispy crumbs that coat some of your favorite fried foods and find out what sets panko apart from regular breadcrumbs.
What is panko?
It’s right there in the word: “Pan” is the Japanese word for bread and “ko” means crumbs or small pieces. Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs predominantly used as a crunchy coating for fried foods like tonkatsu and fried shrimp.
Panko was first invented during WWII and is primarily produced in Japan, China, Vietnam, Korea, and Thailand, among other East Asian countries. Panko brands have made their way to the United States in specialty Asian markets and some grocery stores. They’ve become popular enough here that American brands have started making their own versions.
How is panko made?
Traditional panko is made from crustless bread, which seems like some sort of magic trick. It has all the usual bread ingredients—flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water—and it is also double or triple proved. When you put bread like this in the oven, it rises and naturally forms a crust. So how do they get that non-crust version?
The secret is electrical current. While most breads are cooked in an oven using heat, the bread used to make panko is cooked via an electrical current that runs through metal plates surrounding the dough. These loaves of bread come out looking like they’ve had a shave; they are just the white interior bread parts.
After the “baking” process, the loaves are allowed to dry out. They are then put through a grinder which creates slivered crumbs. Those crumbs then are toasted, which makes them light and airy.
Is panko vegan and gluten-free?
Authentic panko bread crumbs like Kikkoman are vegan-friendly because they don’t use eggs or milk in their bread. While panko is most often used to coat pork or chicken, it can also work well with fried tofu, which makes it a nice vegan-friendly treat.
Traditional panko is not gluten-free, but many brands do make gluten-free options, using rice flour and other non-wheat flours.
Panko vs breadcrumbs: What’s the difference?
The main difference is in the baking: Panko bread is made in an oven that uses electrical current to create crustless bread, whereas breadcrumbs are made from oven-baked bread. There’s also a difference in size; panko are larger bread flakes while breadcrumbs are much more finely ground.
Panko is lighter, so when used for frying, it tends to keep its crisp as it cools. Traditional breadcrumbs are crispy right out of the fryer, but if you’ve ever tried reheating chicken fingers, you know they can get a bit soggy. On the other hand, the fineness of breadcrumbs creates a more thorough coating on meat while panko’s bigger pieces can result in less coverage. Regular breadcrumbs and panko come in plain versions, but there are more breadcrumb varieties, like Italian, which have added herbs and spices.
There’s one thing both do very well: make awesome fried food. So the next time you’re prepping a homemade crispy chicken sandwich, consider switching to panko. It’s going to offer a totally different but equally amazing dish. (Or you could just be lazy about it and use one of the best heat-and-serve frozen chicken patties. Your call.)
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