A bowl of whole wheat panko sitting atop a kitchen towel, shown from above

What Is Panko? How to Use the Japanese Bread Crumbs

Panko bread crumbs are fluffy, flaky, unseasoned Japanese bread crumbs traditionally used as a crispy outer coating for fried foods. Now widely available in most supermarkets, the jagged, oblong bread crumbs come in whole wheat and gluten-free versions, and they can be used interchangeably with regular bread crumbs to give foods extra crunch.

If you’re not already a fan, here’s why panko will be your new go-to ingredient for adding crispness and crunch to everything from light salads to hearty casseroles.

How Is Panko Different from Other Bread Crumbs?

Sift a handful of panko through your fingers and you’ll immediately notice some ways in which it’s different from regular bread crumbs. First, panko has both large and small oblong, shard-like flakes, while regular bread crumbs have a more uniform, meal-like shape. Then there’s the color. Panko is pale, not golden brown. Finally, the texture: Panko is much lighter and airier than regular bread crumbs. But why?

The secret to panko’s crisp, feathery consistency lies in how the bread for panko is baked. The bread loaves are cooked in special ovens that use an electric current rather than radiant heat. Because no radiant heat is involved, the loaves bake up light and airy and do not develop outer crusts. After the crustless loaves have been allowed to dry, they are ground into coarse, sliver-shaped crumbs which are crisped one last time before packaging.

Panko’s jagged flakes have a larger surface area and more air pockets than regular bread crumbs, which allows moisture to escape. Less moisture means more crunch, and bread crumb toppings and coatings that stay crisp longer.

How to Use and Store Panko

Panko can be used interchangeably with regular bread crumbs in most recipes—often with crisper, less dense results. (See below for a list of some favorite Forks Over Knives recipes that call for panko.)

For a more traditional bread crumb consistency, pulse panko bread crumbs in a food processor until it resembles coarse meal. You may need to remeasure the panko after it has been ground in the food processor because flakes of panko are more voluminous than regular bread crumbs.

For optimal freshness, store opened packages of panko in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Shopping for Panko

Basic panko is made with refined wheat flour bread, but there are also whole wheat options to choose from. Whole-food, plant-based eaters should check panko labels carefully to make sure the ingredients don’t include oil or shortening. Two to try: Pereg’s Whole-Wheat Premium Panko and Kikkoman Gluten-Free Panko (which is also sugar-free).

Gluten-Free Panko

While most panko contains wheat flour, there are gluten-free panko options available. Our favorite is Kikkoman Gluten-Free Panko. Some gluten-free panko varieties use eggs as a binder, so if you’re vegan or whole-food, plant-based, be sure to check labels for that.

4 Easy Ways to Use Panko

Panko isn't just breading for fried foods. Max out panko’s natural crunch factor with these quick, easy, and healthy uses.

How to Make Vegan Panko Parmesan

For a crunchy all-purpose cheese sprinkle, toast 1 cup panko bread crumbs in a nonstick skillet over medium heat 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool, then stir in ½ cup nutritional yeast. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 month. Use as a last-minute topping for pizza, salads, and stews.

Our Favorite Recipes that Use Panko

From crispy-topped casseroles and crunchy coated onion rings to light, moist fritters and veggie burgers, panko has you covered.

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About the Author

Headshot of Mary Margaret Chappell

About the Author

Mary Margaret Chappell

When Mary Margaret Chappell first started out in the plant-based food world as a writer, editor, and recipe developer, she was a bacon-loving former pastry chef who didn’t think she could ever cook without butter. Fourteen years, four cookbooks, dozens of cooking classes, and hundreds of recipes later, her favorite thing in the world is sharing the tips, techniques, and recipes that show just how easy and delicious whole-food, plant-based cooking can be. The former food editor of Vegetarian Times magazine has done away with her dependency on butter and is honing her skills at baking with natural sweeteners. Chappell lives in France, where plant-based eating can often be a challenge, but the fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes available are simply amazing. Find her on Instagram and Facebook.
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