What Is Panko?

And how it different than regular breadcrumbs?

December 16, 2022
Homemade Spiced Panko Bread Crumbs in a Bowl

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Homemade Spiced Panko Bread Crumbs in a Bowl

Photo by: bhofack2/Getty Images

bhofack2/Getty Images

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By Layla Khoury-Hanold for Food Network Kitchen

Layla Khoury-Hanold is a contributor at Food Network.

Perhaps you’ve wondered what gives Japanese katsu its signature crunch, or noticed recipes that call for panko in place of regular breadcrumbs. Panko is a key ingredient in several traditional Japanese dishes, so for more info, we consulted Pascale Yamashita, a recipe developer, food stylist, food photographer and avid food lover based in Japan.

tonkatsu, pork cutlet, loin cutlet, katsu, cutlet, pork, fried food, fried food, pork, calories

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tonkatsu, pork cutlet, loin cutlet, katsu, cutlet, pork, fried food, fried food, pork, calories

Photo by: zepp1969/Getty Images

zepp1969/Getty Images

What Is Panko?

Panko are Japanese breadcrumbs made from steamed, crustless loaves of bread that are processed into flakes and then dried, resulting in large, flaky breadcrumbs that don't pack together when coating food so food stays crispier longer. Yamashita explains that in Japanese, pan means bread, and ko means crumbs, flour or powder, so the word panko literally translates to “bread crumbs” or “bread flour.”

In the US, panko breadcrumbs are available unseasoned or seasoned; most recipes call for unseasoned panko breadcrumbs and ask you to add your own spices, herbs and flavorings.

In Japan, panko is available in three different textures: raw (nama), semi-dried and dried. “Nama panko is made before drying Japanese bread,” Yamashita says. “It gives a fluffier looking fried exterior and more delicate crunchiness when fried.” Semi-dried, as the name implies, is less dried than regular panko but not fresh like raw panko, and dried panko is dried and processed into shard-like crumbs.

How to Use Panko

In Japanese cuisine, panko is used as a coating for deep-fried foods to give them an extra crisp crunch. Traditional Japanese dishes that use panko include katsu, a dish of panko-coated fried pork, chicken or beef cutlets. Katsu can also be served over rice (katsu don), with curry (katsu curry, pictured above) or in a sandwich (katsu sando). Another popular dish utilizing panko is korokke, a Japanese-style croquette made with mashed potatoes and a combination of chopped meat, veggies and seafood, formed into oval patties, breaded with panko and deep-fried.

Panko can also be used as a binding agent, much in the same way as traditional breadcrumbs. In Japan, panko is also used to bind a ground beef mixture to make a popular dish called hamburgs, also known as hambagu or Japanese Hamburger Steak. In the U.S., panko is used to bind dishes such as meatloaf or meatballs, as a breadcrumb topping for baked dishes or toasted and used as a garnish for pasta or roasted vegetables.

Food Network Kitchens panko chicken nuggets in a lunchbox.

Food Network Kitchens panko chicken nuggets in a lunchbox.

Photo by: Jackie Alpers ©Copyright 2012 Jackie Alpers - All rights reserved

Jackie Alpers, Copyright 2012 Jackie Alpers - All rights reserved

Panko vs. Regular Breadcrumbs: What’s the Difference?

Panko and breadcrumbs are both made from bread, but the main difference is that panko is made from steamed, crustless loaves of bread whereas breadcrumbs are made from traditional loaves of bread.

  • Appearance: Yamashita notes the difference in shapes: “Breadcrumbs are powderier, and panko has a longer, shard-like shape.” Furthermore, regular breadcrumbs are ground from regular bread, so the caramelized crust creates a variation in color once the bread is ground. Panko is uniform in color.
  • Texture: While panko and breadcrumbs can both be used as a coating for fried foods, panko is flakier and yields a crispier texture. “Bread used for panko is airier and has more air pockets than regular bread, so when it is made into panko and fried, it is much crunchier and crispier and stays that way longer than regular breadcrumbs,” Yamashita says. Panko gives these Panko Chicken Nuggets (pictured above) a uniformly crisp and crunchy texture.
  • Flavor: While there isn’t much of a flavor distinction between panko and regular breadcrumbs, Yamashita notes that panko has less of a caramelized flavor since it’s made from crustless white bread.
  • Coating: Panko is better suited to breading proteins than regular breadcrumbs as they adhere better. Panko also absorbs less oil and grease than breadcrumbs, preventing fried foods from getting soggy, as with Sesame Pork Milanese or our Best Chicken Cutlets.
  • Binding: Both breadcrumbs and panko perform similarly when it comes to binding ingredients, as with our Best Crab Cakes or our Best Turkey Meatloaf.
Food Network Kitchen’s Stuffed Mushroom Casserole for NEW FNK, as seen on Food Network.

FNK_StuffedMushroomCasserole_H

Food Network Kitchen’s Stuffed Mushroom Casserole for NEW FNK, as seen on Food Network.

Photo by: Renee Comet

Renee Comet

Panko Substitute

Panko substitutes vary depending on whether it’s used as a coating for fried foods, as a binding agent, as a topping for baked dishes or garnishing dishes.

  • Coating: Use regular breadcrumbs in place of panko as a coating for fried foods, such as this Oven-Fried Ranch Chicken. Other panko substitutes for breaded proteins include cracker crumbs, crushed potato chips or tortilla chips and crushed cereal, such as cornflakes.
  • Binding: Regular breadcrumbs can be used to bind dishes such as meatballs and meatloaf. If you don’t have regular breadcrumbs to swap in for panko as a binding agent, Yamashita recommends using potato starch and olive oil.
  • Topping: Breadcrumbs are more easily swapped in for panko when used as a crispy topping for baked dishes, like this Buffalo Chicken Macaroni and Cheese or this Stuffed Mushroom Casserole (pictured above).
  • Garnishing: When toasted and used as a garnish, breadcrumbs can stand in for panko, as with these Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Brown Butter Breadcrumbs or Penne with Grilled Okra and Green Beans.

Is Panko Gluten-Free?

Since panko are made from wheat products, it is not gluten-free. However, varieties of gluten-free panko are available on supermarket shelves in the U.S. and in Japan.

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