Ingredients

The Best Bread Crumb Substitutes for Binding, Bulking and, Er, Breading

How and when to use these bread crumb substitutes.

by:
December  3, 2019
Photo by bobbi lin

Bread crumbs seem to sneakily make their way into many an unsuspecting recipe. But what if you’re not eating bread? Or serving friends that prefer their meals gluten-free? Or perhaps you're halfway through a romesco recipe, surrounded by dirty pans, and not keen on dirtying up yet another for a “1-inch-thick slice of fried country bread, pulverized." For each one of those instances, we have happy alternatives—here are nine bread crumb-free bread crumbs for you to experiment with:

Pssst! There are pretzels in the romesco.

But first, what are breadcrumbs?

Bread crumbs—whether fresh or dried, toasted or seasoned, coarse or fine—are ground, dried-out (or fried) slices of bread. They provide bulking and binding, crispy crunchies, and moisture-control to a recipe. But this is all to say, bread crumbs need not be made of bread.

When a recipe calls for crumbs made from stale or fried bread (that is, where you're not looking for bread to provide moisture, but rather crunch and texture), turn to your pantry for other possibilities.

But first, a few things to consider:

  • Don't try using really dry alternatives (like pretzels or tortilla chips) where a recipe calls for soft bread crumbs made from a fresh loaf.
  • Consider salt and flavor levels. If you're using Fritos and Saltines, for example, you'll want to dial down the amount of salt in the recipe.
  • If you're using bread crumb substitutes as a filler or binder (rather than as an unessential topping), you might have to play around with the quantities, and change up your sub in some way. You'll need more whole oats than bread crumbs, for example; but, if you grind the oats before adding them, you can use a 1:1 substitution. Cooked whole grains (like quinoa, rice, and barley) can be used to add bulk and structure in a recipe, but do make sure any excess moisture is steamed or drained off for best results (no one likes a soggy patty).

Bread crumb alternatives:

  • Wheat germ—the most nutritious part of the wheat kernel that is usually stripped during the process of refining flour—adds heartiness to the crust of Mollie Katzen's Mushroom and Yogurt Pie.
  • Rolled oats, whole or pulverized (use them raw, or try toasting them, first for added flavor), can add oily-salty crunch, like on this braised broccoli rabe, or necessary binding, as in this meatloaf.
  • Cereals, especially cornflake and bran, mimic the light and airy but distinct shards of panko, while puffed rice will give you a pebblier, fine-textured crust. Test our hypothesis with this cereal-crusted french toast, or these crispy rice chicken wings.
  • Nuts and seeds excel as both filler and breading. Grind almonds, for example, in a food processor (or buy almond meal from the store) to coat chicken fingers, or trout with walnuts. Be wary of your breading browning too quickly though, as nuts and seeds contain higher amounts of fat than grains. Use moisture-loving seeds—such as chia, hemp, and flax—strategically, to absorb extra moisture and provide binding where needed.

Ready to try it out?

Tell us about your best breadcrumb substitutions below!

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Coral Lee is an Associate Editor at Food52. Before this, she cooked food solely for photos. Before that, she cooked food solely for customers. And before that, she shot lasers at frescoes in Herculaneum and taught yoga. When she's not writing about or making food, she's thinking about it. Her Heritage Radio Network show, "Meant to be Eaten," explores cross-cultural exchange as afforded by food. You can follow her on Instagram @meanttobeeaten.

4 Comments

Smaug December 3, 2019
I like mandioca (cassava) flour for a coating- toasted mandioca is commonly used in Brazil as a condiment (farofa de mandioca), and is available from specialist grocers. And of course Amazon.
 
Karen T. March 9, 2018
I sometimes use herbed stuffing or salad croutons. Just pulse a bit in the food processor
 
Panfusine February 23, 2016
Another option is Poha (flattened rice that you find in Indian groceries). I run a cup through a Food processor to crumble it up and then use it as a coating. When these crumbs coating the dish (patties or vegetables) hit the oil they puff up into crunchy micro rice crispies
 
Olivia B. February 23, 2016
Frito-topped jalapeño macaroni & cheese? Yes, yes.