Published on March 9, 2016
This is a question I get asked quite a lot and to answer it, I’ll start with another question:
What exactly is panko? — the Japanese word for “small pieces of bread.”
First, some history. Did you know that panko crumbs are not made with heat? They’re electrocuted!!
While the Japanese were at war with the Russians, they wanted to eat bread out in the battlefields. Unable to oven-bake, the Japanese soldiers used their tanks’ batteries to quickly “bake” their bread. They discovered that the bread was extremely light and airy, with very small air pockets. This method of using electric current to bake bread with no brown crusts is how panko is still made today.
Sometimes in cooking, a crispy, crunchy texture is a must. One of the most reliable ways to achieve this result is to fry something. However, I suggest to my clients that they not eat deep fried, and who wants to deal with a pot full of frying oil afterward anyway?
There are two general types of panko sold in stores: White panko is made without crusts, and tan panko is made from the whole loaf, bread and all. What makes panko special is the texture, not the taste. What sets panko apart from regular bread crumbs is the processing.
The bread is processed in such a way that the resulting panko looks like flakes rather than crumbs. Just as all snowflakes are different, all panko crumbs are different. The flakiness means a much broader surface area than regular bread crumbs. These irregularly shaped crumbs of bread have pointed ends, like shards of broken glass. What this means for your cooking is crispier coatings, crunchier toppings and lighter end-products, depending on how you use the panko.
If you dredge food in panko before frying, you will end up with a crisp, light fried coating. This is because oil does not soak into panko as readily as it does into regular bread crumbs, so you are left with a lighter, less-greasy cooking. Try this with seafood or chicken; panko also gives great body to stuffed artichokes.
By itself, plain panko has almost no flavor (although they do come in a variety of flavors). This makes it the perfect blank canvas: Panko readily soaks up other flavors—from the seasonings or flavor within the food itself that you are cooking as well as from whatever seasonings you toss with it.
For chefs, three of the characteristics of panko that often make them superior to American-style bread crumbs in many culinary applications are, as I previously mentioned:
The reason why I suggest clients use panko in place of regular bread crumbs whenever possible isn’t only because panko makes everything taste so great, but also because you get more for the calorie buck. Way more.
So whether you’re trying to lose weight, control your weight, or just someone who likes to cook and doesn’t want to give up the crunch (but is willing to give up some calories!), use panko next time a recipe calls for bread crumbs.