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Bread Crumbs

By Cook's Illustrated Published February 2006

Is there a suitable replacement for homemade bread crumbs?

When a recipe calls for bread crumbs, you have more choices than you might think. Besides supermarket bread crumbs (both plain and Italian-seasoned), there is the option of homemade bread crumbs, made from grinding bread in the food processor. And should you use those fresh crumbs as is or toast them first in the oven? Finally, many chefs rave about panko, large, flaky Japanese-style crumbs, now available in many supermarkets as well as gourmet stores.

Bread crumbs have three basic uses in the kitchen: coating, binding, and topping. To find out which crumb was best suited to each culinary task, we prepared batches of breaded chicken cutlets, meat loaf, and buttery crumb-topped macaroni and cheese, using each type of bread crumb and holding a blind tasting to see what tasters preferred.

Tasters overwhelmingly preferred the fresh toasted bread crumbs in every application, praising their crisp texture and toasty flavor. (Of the different kinds of white bread used to make the fresh bread crumbs—including premium sliced sandwich bread, Italian, French, and country style—the sliced bread was the sweetest, and therefore, the favorite.) Supermarket crumbs were similarly panned in every application for their gritty, sandy texture. Fresh (untoasted) crumbs and panko were suitable for some tasks but not others.

Fresh Toasted

Our favorite crumb gave macaroni and cheese a “nice and crunchy” topping and yielded breaded chicken cutlets with “great crunch” and “nice flavor.”

Fresh (Untoasted)

These crumbs were too soft for coating chicken cutlets but were good as a binder in meat loaf. Once buttered and broiled on top of macaroni and cheese, fresh crumbs were praised for being “very crunchy,” with “good flavor.”

Panko

These large, flaky crumbs are perfect when you want big crunch. Tasters touted their “crispy” texture on chicken cutlets but dismissed the meatloaf as “pasty” and “gummy.”

Plain Packaged

Consistently described as “stale” and “sandy,” these store-bought crumbs provided a passable crust on chicken cutlets, but tasters rejected their “gritty” texture in meat loaf and on macaroni and cheese.

Italian Packaged

As bad as the plain crumbs were, the crumbs with Italian seasonings were even worse. The “artificial,” “bad oregano flavor” was overwhelming.