There was a time when regular ol’ bread crumbs were the choice for most stateside breading needs. But these days, Japanese panko has solidified its place in the minds and bellies of chefs and home cooks alike, right along side the traditional option.
Panko is technically a type of bread crumb, but this Asian product is noticeably different from other options. Traditional bread crumb in the U.S. is basically bread of any type that’s been dried and crumbled. The crumbs are mostly uniform, and they often come seasoned.
Panko, on the other hand, comes in jagged little shapes. It’s airy and flaky, which is why it’s become increasingly popular in America.
How is panko made?
Panko is made from a uniquely-baked bread ground in a specific manner. The bread is not baked in a traditional oven, but as Alton Brown reports, it’s cooked against metal plates using an electric charge. As a result, when the loaves come out of their special ovens, they have no crust.
See for yourself:
The reason the bread is baked this way is not well documented. But Upper Crust Enterprises, a company that makes authentic panko in Los Angeles, claims this method started during WWII, when Japanese soldiers fighting the Russians needed to bake bread. With no oven for baking, they reportedly used electric current to cook bread, creating a product still made today.
After these crust-less loaves are baked, they’re typically air-ddried for 18 hours and then run through grinding screens to create a large, sliver-shape crumb. The panko is then toasted in a high-heat oven, which gives it that airy texture.
You can see the whole process in this video:
Panko and traditional bread crumbs can be used interchangeably. If you want a little boost of flavor, opting for a traditional seasoned bread crumb is a good way to go. But if you’re looking for a crisp, crunchy texture, go with panko.