What are croutons?
Croutons are small pieces of bread that have been baked or fried to create a crispy texture. They are often added to salads or soups to provide a crunchy contrast to the softer ingredients.
Traditional croutons are made from regular bread that contains gluten. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. It helps bread dough rise and gives bread its chewy texture. However, some people need to avoid gluten due to celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. So gluten-free croutons have been developed as an alternative.
Are gluten-free croutons available?
Yes, there are many brands of gluten-free croutons available today. As the demand for gluten-free foods has grown, food manufacturers have created more and more gluten-free versions of popular products, including croutons.
Gluten-free croutons are typically made from grains and seeds that naturally don’t contain gluten. Some common ingredients are:
- Chia seeds
These gluten-free grains and seeds are ground into flours and then made into bread or cracker-like products to produce croutons. Brands will usually clearly state “gluten-free” on the label.
Some well-known brands of gluten-free croutons include:
- Ian’s Natural Foods
- Katz Gluten Free
- PC Blue Menu
- Gillian’s Foods
- Barbara’s Bakery
So checking major grocery stores or health food markets, you should be able to find several gluten-free crouton options. Online stores like Amazon also carry many different brands.
What do gluten-free croutons taste and feel like?
Gluten-free croutons are meant to mimic the crunch and flavor of traditional wheat-based croutons. However, there are some differences in taste and texture.
Since they don’t contain gluten, gluten-free croutons won’t have quite the same chewy, bready texture. They tend to be slightly more airy and crunchy. The flavors also rely more on seasonings and oils rather than the underlying grain.
Many gluten-free croutons are made with seeds like flax or chia, giving them a nuttier, richer taste. Rice or quinoa croutons will have a milder flavor. Corn and buckwheat croutons might taste a bit earthier.
The taste and crunch can vary between brands depending on the exact ingredients and preparation methods. Some may be oilier while others are drier. It often comes down to personal preference and finding a brand you enjoy.
Overall, gluten-free croutons are intended to provide a similar salty, crispy crunchy accent to salads and soups. But they offer their own unique flavors and textures based on the gluten-free grains used.
Are gluten-free croutons healthy?
Croutons, gluten-free or not, are often considered more of a tasty garnish rather than a healthy food. Traditional croutons are essentially just small pieces of white bread fried in oil and butter.
However, gluten-free croutons can provide some nutritional advantages:
- Gluten-free grains like quinoa, buckwheat and amaranth contain more protein, antioxidants and fiber compared to refined wheat flour.
- They are made without wheat, barley or rye, making them safe for celiacs and those avoiding gluten.
- Some brands use healthier oils like olive or avocado oil rather than vegetable oils.
- Gluten-free croutons won’t contain any preservatives like calcium propionate.
- You can find organic and non-GMO certified gluten-free croutons.
But like regular croutons, they are still relatively high in carbohydrates and oils. So they should be eaten in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.
Homemade croutons baked from whole grain gluten-free bread may offer the most nutritional value. But store-bought brands provide a quick convenience option for those on a gluten-free diet.
Are there downsides to gluten-free croutons?
There are a few potential downsides to keep in mind with gluten-free croutons:
- Higher cost – Specialty gluten-free products almost always cost more than conventional wheat-based ones. Gluten-free croutons range from $3-$6 per package, while regular croutons can be $1-$2.
- Texture/taste – As discussed, the taste and crunch differs from traditional croutons. Some people feel the gluten-free versions don’t have quite the same satisfying chewiness.
- Limited options – While there are a number of brands available, gluten-free croutons usually come in basic seasoning flavors like garlic, olive oil and sea salt. The flavors likely won’t be as varied as regular croutons.
- Cross-contamination risk – Despite being gluten-free, some croutons are at higher risk of gluten cross-contamination during processing. Celiacs need to research brands carefully.
- Nutritionally similar – Removing gluten doesn’t necessarily make croutons more nutritious if they still contain refined flours, oils and salt.
So while gluten-free croutons can open up options for gluten-free diets, they come with higher costs and potentially less variety. Those with celiac especially need to be cautious about how strictly gluten-free any brand truly is.
How to use gluten-free croutons
Gluten-free croutons can be used in all the same ways as regular croutons:
- Salads – Simply top your salad with gluten-free croutons for an added crunch. Caesar salad and chef salads commonly include croutons.
- Soups – Float gluten-free croutons on top of soups, especially broth-based ones like chicken noodle soup or beef stew.
- Casseroles – Mix some croutons into casseroles to add another texture and absorb excess moisture. They work great in green bean casserole.
- Snacking – Of course you can eat gluten-free croutons right from the bag for a tasty, crunchy snack.
- Stuffing – Use gluten-free croutons as a base for homemade stuffing instead of bread.
- Breadcrumbs – For gluten-free breading or breadcrumbs, simply whir croutons in a food processor.
Start with about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of croutons per serving. Sprinkle them on towards the end right before eating so they retain their crunchiness.
Gluten-free croutons can transform a boring bowl of leafy greens into a delicious salad. Feel free to get creative and use them anywhere you want a little bit of grainy crispness.
Can you make homemade gluten-free croutons?
Absolutely! Making homemade gluten-free croutons is simple and allows you to control the ingredients. You can customize them to suit your dietary needs.
Here is a basic recipe and method to make gluten-free croutons at home:
- 3-4 cups of cubed gluten-free bread
- 2 Tbsp olive oil or melted butter
- 1⁄4 tsp garlic powder
- 1⁄4 tsp salt
- 1⁄8 tsp pepper
- Any other desired seasonings
- Preheat oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Cut or tear gluten-free bread into 1⁄2 to 1 inch cubes. Any sturdy bread like sandwich bread or rustic loaf will work.
- In a bowl, mix olive oil or melted butter and seasonings together. Toss bread cubes in this mixture until evenly coated.
- Spread seasoned bread cubes on baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 12-15 minutes, tossing once halfway through.
- Bake until browned and crispy on the outside but still slightly soft inside. Keep an eye on them to prevent burning.
- Let cool on pan for 5 minutes before transferring to an airtight container. Homemade croutons will keep for 5-7 days.
Feel free to season simply with salt, garlic and olive oil. Or get creative with spices like cumin, paprika, Italian seasoning, Everything Bagel seasoning, etc.
Making your own lets you control the freshness and quality of ingredients. Plus you can make exciting flavors that aren’t available store-bought. Homemade also tends to be cheaper.
The options are endless for homemade gluten-free croutons seasoned just how you like them.
Should croutons be soft or hard?
This often comes down to personal preference for texture. However, croutons are generally supposed to be crunchy and crisp.
A fresh, hard crunch when you bite into a crouton provides a pleasing contrast to softer salad greens or a smooth soup. The point of adding croutons is mostly for this textural component.
Soft croutons defeat the purpose and tend to turn soggy and unappealing when added to dishes. They end up blending in rather than standing out.
That said, some people may prefer softer croutons from time to time. Baking them a bit less makes them tender but not overly crunchy in the center. Just be aware they won’t retain this texture for long once added to a salad.
You can also purposefully make your own soft gluten-free croutons. Cut the bread thicker, bake at a lower temp, or allow them to soak in some broth. Soft croutons work better when mixed into a dish rather than topping it.
In most cases, crisp and crunchy is best to achieve that quintessential crouton experience. But the beauty of homemade is customizing them according to your preferences.
What bread works best for homemade croutons?
The best bread for croutons has:
- A sturdy, dense texture – This ensures the cubes will hold their shape and crisp up properly when baked vs. falling apart. Heartier artisan loaves work better than soft sandwich bread.
- A neutral flavor – Bread with a strong sourdough or whole grain taste can overpower other ingredients. A basic white or whole wheat loaf has a milder taste that blends well.
- A dry, matte crust – Croutons made from bread with a soft or moist crust tend to get soggy instead of crisp.
In terms of gluten-free bread, some good options include:
- Gluten-free sandwich bread
- Rustic gluten-free boules or batards
- Brown rice bread
- Quinoa bread
- Gluten-free pita or naan
Avoid breads with very dense, chewy textures like bagels as they can turn tough when baked into croutons.
Day-old bread actually works best for croutons since it’s drier and will crisp up better. Fresh bread may need to sit out uncovered for several hours first to dry slightly before cubing.
In a pinch, substitutes like corn tortillas, brown rice cakes or gluten-free crackers can be turned into crunchy crouton replacements as well.
Gluten-free croutons provide a tasty way for people on gluten-free diets to enjoy the satisfying crunch of croutons without the gluten. While store-bought brands may be pricier and have some drawbacks, they offer safe, convenient options for soups, salads and beyond. Making your own gluten-free croutons at home gives you total control over the ingredients and flavors. With some sturdy gluten-free bread, olive oil and seasoning, you can easily bake up a batch to sprinkle on all kinds of dishes. So for those avoiding gluten, don’t despair – you can still savor the crouton experience thanks to the many gluten-free options available today.