What is the difference between panko and breadcrumbs?

zucchini panko fries 

Most cooks have likely used breadcrumbs in a variety of recipes as a binder, coating, or thickening agent. In the past several years, panko breadcrumbs have become the preferred choice to get the ultimate crunch on fried or baked items. Chances are you didn't give this humble ingredient too much thought, although as with many seemingly ordinary products, there is a fascinating backstory behind it. An EYB Member recently alerted me to the interesting tale of how panko is made

You might know that panko, the pale breadcrumbs with a light, jagged texture, came to us from Japan, but you may be surprised to learn how the bread from which is it is made was invented. During WWII, Japanese soldiers needed to make bread but did not have access to ovens. Some creative soul came up with the idea of putting the bread dough between two metal plates and "baking" it by using an electrical current that ran between the plates. The resulting loaf did not have the typical browned outer crust of oven-baked breads; it was pale through and through.

Another hallmark of panko bread is that it uses a high-protein flour. The bakery in the linked video allows the bread to rise three times; they claim that this makes the bread lighter and airier. Proprietary grinding screens are used to create the characteristic large, sliver-shaped pieces of the panko crumbs. Finally, the panko is toasted in a high-heat oven to dry it completely. Chefs and cooks like to use panko because it is produces an extremely crunchy texture. When used as a fry coating, it tends to absorb less oil than regular breadcrumbs, further promoting a crispy result. 

What about traditional breadcrumbs? Although you might imagine that they are made from scraps or by-products of commercial breadmaking, the truth is that most breadcrumbs are purpose made. The dough is created in a continuous mixer and pressed through rollers to create a thin flat sheet. The sheets of dough are baked in conveyor belt ovens and after baking and cooling, the bread is ground to obtain the desired texture. The main difference between different types of crumb is the ingredients used, which range from just flour and water (usually called cracker meal) to a multitude of additives for browning, coloring, leavening or flavoring. 

Photo of Crisp zucchini-panko fries from Martha Stewart Living Magazine

3 Comments

  • Rinshin  on  9/7/2017 at 1:14 PM

    Interesting, but I wonder how true the story of Japanese soldiers during the WWII. I would have assumed earlier than that because my mother born in late 20's was already used to buying potato korroke in the late 30's. So, I searched Japanese web for their version of history and found that a large Japanese food manufacturer, Lion Food Corp first came up with panko in 1916 for their use and subsequently, it was produced commercially starting in 1937 to the public. They even have a label from that period. Lion Foods was then called Miyazaki Iwamatsu Corp.

  • darcie_b  on  9/7/2017 at 1:31 PM

    Interesting information, Rinshin! A few sources say that perhaps the electric-baking method dates back to WWII but that panko as an ingredient is much older. It's a good story, though ;)

  • sir_ken_g  on  9/9/2017 at 12:01 PM

    Although some regular grocery stores my carry Panko you will get a better price at a Japanese or Korean store. I use it all the time.

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