Croutons are a beloved salad topping and snack made by cubing bread and then baking or frying it until crispy and golden brown. But what exactly are the ingredients that go into this tasty crunchy treat? Here’s a comprehensive look at what croutons are made of.
The Main Ingredient: Bread
The base of croutons is, of course, bread. Croutons can be made from all kinds of bread including:
- French bread
- Italian bread
- Rye bread
- Pumpernickel bread
- White bread
- Whole wheat bread
- Multigrain bread
- Potato bread
- Challah bread
Any type of bread can be used to make croutons. The key is that the bread should be stale or a day or two old. Using fresh, soft bread results in croutons that absorb too much oil and don’t get as crispy.
Some common choices for crouton bread include:
- French Bread – The classic choice. French bread has a chewy interior and crusty exterior that gets nice and crispy when cubed and baked.
- Sourdough Bread – Sourdough’s tangy flavor comes through beautifully in croutons.
- Italian Bread – Similar to French but with a finer, tender crumb. Gets very crispy.
- Rye Bread – For a heartier, whole grain crouton.
- Challah Bread – Challah makes croutons with a rich eggy flavor.
In addition to traditional yeast breads, quick breads like banana bread, zucchini bread, corn bread, and pumpkin bread can also be used to make tasty croutons, but they tend to be more fragile than yeast breads.
The Cooking Method: Baking vs. Frying
Once the bread has been cubed, it must be cooked to create crispy croutons. This is generally done either by baking or frying.
Baked croutons are considered the healthier cooking method. To bake croutons, simply toss cubed bread with a small amount of oil, salt, and any other seasonings. Spread the bread cubes in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 400°F, turning occasionally, until browned and crisp, 10-15 minutes.
Frying makes croutons extra crispy with a delicious richness from being cooked in oil. To fry croutons, heat 1⁄4 to 1⁄2 inch of vegetable oil or olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Fry the bread cubes in batches until golden brown all over, turning frequently, just 1-2 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels.
You can also approximate the crispiness of fried croutons by oven-frying. This entails tossing the bread cubes with a generous amount of oil before baking so they essentially fry in the oil in the hot oven. Oven-frying results in croutons that are crunchier than baked but healthier than deep-fried.
In addition to the bread and cooking method, croutons can also be flavored with different seasonings. Some popular options include:
- Olive oil – For richness and a touch of buttery flavor.
- Vegetable or canola oil – More neutral tasting than olive oil.
- Butter – Provides unmatched richness and flavor.
- Parmesan cheese – For a delicious cheesy flavor.
- Garlic powder – Garlic bread croutons are always a hit.
- Onion powder – Similar to garlic powder but with onion flavor.
- Dried parsley – Fresh herbal flavor.
- Dried oregano – Earthy, zesty flavor.
- Paprika – For a mild spicy flavor and reddish color.
- Cajun seasoning – For a spicy kick.
- Lemon pepper – Bright lemony flavor.
- Salt – Enhances overall flavor.
The seasonings are added to the cubed bread before baking or frying. Some ideas for seasoning combinations include:
- Parmesan, garlic powder, salt, and pepper
- Olive oil, oregano, and lemon pepper
- Butter, parsley, onion powder, and salt
- Canola oil, Cajun seasoning, paprika
Feel free to get creative with crouton seasonings to match the flavor profile you want!
Croutons are classically shaped into small cubes about 1⁄2 to 1 inch in size. Uniform cubes give the best consistency in texture and cooking. Here are some other shaping options:
- Tear into irregular pieces – For a rustic, homemade look.
- Cut into diamonds – For an interesting shape.
- Leave whole bread slices intact – Great for open-faced sandwiches.
- Cut bread into sticks – Crunchy breadsticks make great croutons for soups.
- Use a cookie cutter – Fun shapes like stars, hearts, circles, etc.
Croutons don’t have to be just cubes! Let your creativity guide the shapes.
Freshly baked croutons are best used immediately while they are crispiest. But for storage, here are some tips:
- Let completely cool before storing.
- Place in an airtight container or bag.
- Stored properly, croutons will keep for 3-5 days at room temperature.
- For maximum crispiness, store croutons in the freezer. They’ll keep for 1-2 months.
- To recrisp stale croutons, bake at 300°F for 4-5 minutes.
Croutons come in a variety of sizes suited for different uses:
Regular Cubed Croutons
The most common size, around 1⁄2 to 1-inch cubed, is perfect for topping salads, soups, and casseroles.
Salad Topper Croutons
Larger croutons, from 1 to 11⁄2 inches cubed, make for hearty salad toppers than can add great texture.
Bread cut into stick shapes works beautifully for soups and stews.
Crouton Crumbs/Crouton Stuffing
Smaller crumbs made from croutons act as a crunchy breadcrumb topping or as the base for stuffing recipes.
Whole thin slices of bread toasted or baked until crispy are called crostini. They often get topped with spreads, meat, or cheese.
|Crouton Type||Typical Size||Best Uses|
|Regular Cubed Croutons||1⁄2 to 1-inch cubes||Salads, soups, casseroles|
|Salad Topper Croutons||1 to 11⁄2-inch cubes||Hearty salad toppers|
|Breadstick Croutons||Cut into sticks||Soups, stews|
|Crouton Crumbs/Crouton Stuffing||Fine crumbs||Breadcrumb topping, stuffing base|
|Crostini||Whole thin slices||Bread base for topped appetizers|
Nutritional Value of Croutons
Since they are made from bread, croutons are almost entirely carbohydrates. An average 1⁄4 cup serving of croutons contains:
- Calories: 80
- Fat: 2g
- Carbohydrates: 15g
- Fiber: 1g
- Protein: 2g
Croutons made from whole grain breads provide more fiber and nutrients than white bread croutons. Baked croutons are healthier than deep-fried ones, which absorb more oil and additional calories/fat.
Croutons can also be made gluten-free for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Gluten-free bread or crackers can simply be substituted for regular bread and prepared into croutons. Some gluten-free options include:
- Gluten-free bread
- Gluten-free bagels
- Gluten-free pizza crust
- Corn tortillas
- Rice crackers
Check labels carefully when purchasing manufactured gluten-free bread products to ensure no cross-contamination with gluten. Or make your own gluten-free croutons from scratch by cubing and baking homemade gluten-free bread.
To make vegan croutons, simply prepare them without butter or cheese. Vegan “buttery” spreads like Earth Balance can be used instead of dairy butter. For cheese flavor, use nutritional yeast instead of parmesan cheese. Otherwise,vegan croutons can be seasoned the same way.
Sourdough and French bread make excellent vegan croutons since they contain no dairy ingredients to begin with. Just cube, toss with oil and seasonings of choice, and bake until crisp.
History of Croutons
The crouton originates from France in the 16th or 17th century. They were created as a way to use up stale bread and prevent food waste. Their name comes from the French word croûton, meaning “crust” or “little crust”.
Some key milestones in the history of the crouton include:
- Mid-17th century – Croutons began being served in French soups and salads made by aristocratic households and professional cooks.
- Late 19th century – With the advent of French haute cuisine, chefs refined techniques for making elegant, buttery croutons.
- Early 20th century – Croutons became more widely popularized when French cuisine influences spread across the globe.
- Mid-20th century – Manufacturing of packaged croutons began to make them accessible to home cooks.
- Late 20th century – Gourmet cooking shows on TV helped showcase creative recipes using artisanal style croutons.
While croutons may have originated as humble scraps, modern varieties have made them a beloved pantry staple around the world today.
Common Questions About Croutons
Can you eat croutons plain?
Yes, you can absolutely snack on plain croutons straight from the bag or baking sheet. They make a tasty crunchy treat on their own.
Do croutons go bad?
Croutons can go stale after about 3-5 days at room temperature. They will last 1-2 months in the freezer. Stale croutons can be recrisped by baking for 4-5 minutes at 300°F.
Should croutons be toasted?
Croutons are essentially bread cubes that have been toasted by baking or frying. So no additional toasting is needed if starting with fresh croutons.
Are croutons baked or fried?
Croutons can be made either way – baked or fried. Baked croutons are considered healthier as they absorb less oil. But fried croutons are irresistibly crunchy and rich.
Do you refrigerate croutons?
No, croutons are best stored at room temperature in a sealed container to maintain crispness. Refrigeration can cause them to lose their crunch.
Tips for Making Croutons
- Use stale or day old bread – the drier the better.
- Cut bread into uniform cubes for even cooking.
- Toss cubes in oil and seasoning before cooking.
- Spread in a single layer on the baking sheet.
- Cook at 400°F, tossing occasionally, until crisped and browned.
- Let cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
- Add to salads, soups, and bakes just before serving for maximum crunch.
- Re-crisp stale croutons by baking for 4-5 minutes at 300°F.
Ready to Make Your Own Croutons?
Armed with knowledge about what croutons are made of, you are now ready to make your own homemade crunchy croutons! Experiment with different breads, oils, seasonings, and shapes to customize them exactly how you like. Enjoy your fresh croutons on salads, soups, or snack on them straight from the oven!