Often the key ingredient to adding crispness to a fried food is breadcrumbs. One type of Japanese breadcrumb in particular has gained popularity in Western cooking. Kikkoman Panko breadcrumbs are not your average breadcrumbs. The Japanese word ‘panko’ means bread crumb, and unlike the breadcrumbs so common to the shelves of Western grocery stores, panko breadcrumbs are larger and crispier flakes that allow for a less dense crust. They also provide a more solidly bound crust. But their light texture and flavor give them the versatility to be used in a number of dishes.

There are two types of panko, white and tan. White panko is the result of the crusts being removed from the bread prior to being processed into crumbs. Tan panko is processed from bread with crusts remaining.

Panko can be used on numerous dishes, and is often substituted for regular breadcrumbs in fried fish and chicken dishes. Panko is often preferred when a crispier crust is desired. Shrimp and scallops are also delicious when coated in panko. Instead of the typical tempura batter, try dredging vegetables in panko for a crispier alternative.

Caution should be taken when using panko as a binder, as their lighter texture may make it more difficult to bind together dishes such as meatballs as compared to their heavier breadcrumb counterparts. Substituting part panko and part breadcrumb might yield better results with a lighter taste.

Because panko is virtually flavorless, they can be flavored with a multitude of spices. Oregano and basil for Italian dishes, cilantro and chilies for Mexican dishes, thyme or saffron for a special kick to chicken. Lemon pepper is also a nice spice mix to kick up plain fried chicken. They also can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks at a time.

One advantage to using panko over the traditional Western counterpart is less salt and calories, providing slightly healthier benefits. They also absorb less oil when fried, producing a lighter fried food. This is a nice advantage for those who have trouble digesting heavy fried foods but enjoy the taste.

Panko has become more widely accepted in Western supermarkets in recent years and can be found virtually anywhere. This accessibility has opened up the Western mindset to more Eastern substitutions when approaching American favorites such as fried chicken, fried fish, onion rings, and a multitude of other traditional dishes. So Panko just might be what’s for dinner.