This a guest blog post by Bridgett Kidd, MPH, RD
For most families, breadcrumbs have become a pantry staple; a quick addition to all kinds of recipes. Breadcrumbs provide meatloaf with its perfect shape, give casseroles a crisp topping, and can transform vegetable and pasta dishes. With a nearly infinite shelf life and a simple sounding name, most people don’t think twice about reaching for that cylinder container when the recipe calls for coating, thickening or adding bulk. But maybe they should.
I still remember how shocked I was when I first discovered the extensive ingredient list on the side of a standard container of plain breadcrumbs. Here is an example from Progresso:
Enriched Flour (Flour, Malted Barley Flour, Niacin, Ferrous Sulfate, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup, Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Soybean, Cottonseed Oil, Corn, Canola), Water, Contains 2% or Less of the Following Yeast, Salt, Brown Sugar, Honey, Molasses, Sugar, Wheat Gluten, Whey, Soy Flour, Whole Wheat Flour, Rye Flour, Corn Flour, Oat Bran, Corn Meal, Rice Flour, Potato Flour, Butter, Dough Conditioners (Mono And Diglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, and/or Calcium Stearoyl Lactylate, Soy Lecithin, Calcium Carbonate], Yeast Nutrients [Ammonium Sulfate, Calcium Sulfate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Vinegar, Nonfat Milk, Buttermilk, Lactic Acid, Calcium Propionate, and Potassium Sorbate (Preservatives), Sesame Seeds.
Shouldn’t breadcrumbs just include, well, bread?
Not only is this list incredibly long (over 30 ingredients), but it includes six types of sugar including high fructose corn syrup (a tactic food companies love to use to keep sugar from being listed higher up on the ingredient list), partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats which increase your risk of heart disease and stroke), several dairy products, and at least 10 ingredients unidentifiable (and unpronounceable) to the average consumer.
A standard bread recipe typically includes flour, yeast, water, salt and honey. Aside from the preservatives used to keep these crumbs shelf stable, the rest of the ingredients listed are completely unnecessary.
Making your own breadcrumbs is incredibly simple, cheap, and results in a much tastier and healthier product. Plus it is a great way to use up stale bread that might otherwise be thrown out.
Here is a simple recipe I use for Italian-style breadcrumbs. Keep in mind that commercial bread found in grocery stores can have just as many needless ingredients as listed above. Try and choose bread with as few ingredients as possible; make sure you recognize all of the ingredients; and avoid enriched flour, which has been stripped of the wheat germ, thus causing a reaction in your body similar to sugar.
5-6 stale pieces of bread
1 teaspoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon dried basil
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees
2. Cut bread into 1 inch pieces and place into a blender or food processer. Add herbs, salt and pepper and process for 15-20 seconds, or until the mixture is ground into fine crumbs.
3. Spread crumbs evenly onto a baking sheet and bake just until the crumbs start to brown, about 10 minutes.
Let cool for 15-20 minutes.
That’s it! Your bread crumbs are ready to be used in any recipe that calls for them. Just pop them into an airtight container and they will last for up to two weeks at room temperature. Better yet, store them in the refrigerator and they will last up to a month, or the freezer for up to 6 months!
The best part? When you make your own breadcrumbs you have complete control over what goes into them. You can use different types of bread like sourdough, whole wheat or rye, and the seasoning possibilities are endless. Try adding rosemary and thyme to the recipe above, or replace the Italian seasonings with ginger and chili powder for an extra kick!
Bridgette Kidd, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian and nutrition policy advocate based in New Haven, CT. She works as a research assistant at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, focusing on the impact of food marketing on dietary choices, nutrition and health. Learn more about Bridgette by visiting her blog, Edible Progress.