The technology and manufacturing of coating systems, which includes batters, sheeted products, American style bread crumbs, Japanese style bread crumbs, and blended breaders is today an indispensable part of the foods the world eats. What began as a culinary art truly has become a science and has allowed for the current popularity of many modern frozen foods.

Sheeted breadcrumbs are produced using a continuous mixer to form dense dough, which is then forced through a series of paired rollers. This “sheeting” action forms the dough, which is then conveyed to a band oven for baking. The baked sheet of dough then is run through a granulating mill or slow grinder.

Like any industry, breadcrumb manufacturers have their own terminology. Breadcrumbs are said to fall into different categories or generations. There are three generations of sheeted breadcrumb products—cracker meals, white breaders and colored breaders.

Cracker meals are first generation. They contain only flour and water. As a functional ingredient, cracker meals are used for binders, thickeners, and extenders. When ground, these produce flat dense grains with a firm texture. Meat and vegetable mixtures benefit from binders by the absorption of free moisture. Added to soups and sauces, they function as thickeners and, when used as a coating, they increase product yield. Also ground into a pre-dust, they are used for adhesion as part of a coating system and applied first to the substrate before the batter.

White breaders are second generation sheeted products. They also contain flour and water. However, they also may contain browning agents, leavening agents, salt, oil, and flavorings. They typically are used as a pre-dust or outer coating. When used as an outer coating and with the addition of leavening agents, they produce a tender bite on the finished product.

Colored breaders typically are used as an outer coating and are the third generation of sheeted products. They are similar in formulation to white breaders but contain coloring agents and most often are used for pre-fry items that are oven reconstituted. The addition of coloring agents to a formula that contains browning agents produces background and highlight colors in finished products. Common coloring agents are oleoresins of paprika, annatto, turmeric, or caramel powders.

The ABCs of Bread Crumbs

American style bread crumbs were introduced into the commercial market around 1947 as a seafood coating. It was a means of utilizing stale bread from commercial bakeries. Today's uses have grown to necessitate full-scale bread bakeries for the sole purpose of producing crumbs. The American Bread Crumb (ABC) offers a gourmet appearance due to the use of the entire loaf of bread, including the crust. The crumb is spiracle and crunchy in texture. It is a dense crumb, 20 to 28 pounds per cubic foot, and is resistant to breakdown during processing. As a functional ingredient, ABCs can be colored, used as a raw breader, pre-fried, oven reconstituted and fryer reconstituted, performing well on almost any substrate. The ABC is commonly used as a binder to improve product yield and retain natural juices. The product also is ground to produce a variety of stuffing crumbs and can be formulated in shades from white to yellow (corn bread) and anything in between.

Plaudits to Panko

Today, the gourmet breadcrumb of choice in many of the world's finest restaurants is Japanese Bread Crumbs (JBC)—a.k.a. “Panko.” Great chefs from San Francisco to London to Tokyo all agree these “artisan” breadcrumbs are unrivaled in upscale applications.

Panko originated in Japan in approximately 1970. The crumb offers a light and airy appearance with crispy texture. Elongated slivers, a porous structure and low bulk density characterize JBCs. Because it has no brown crust (due to the very unique manufacturing process) it delivers a uniquely tender, crispy bite. Panko requires unusual dough formulations, special proofing and a very unique “baking” process. JBCs are produced by a process of passing electric current through loaves to generate heat within the dough. This process is known as dielectric baking. Similar in theory to the “induction” stove tops recently introduced, the food itself generates heat rather than the pan being heated by the oven.

The technique requires a special mixture of flours and specific levels of salt to carry the current through the dough. Too little salt and the dough will not cook; too much salt and it burns. When formulated properly, the end result is a fully cooked loaf of bread with no crust. The JBC looks larger, eats crispier and stays crunchy longer under a heat lamp. It can be standard white, or colored from yellow to orange to caramel. This crumb is delicate and requires specific equipment for application to ensure uniform coverage. JBCs can be formulated to deliver a hard crumb, soft crumb, or fresh crumb (30% moisture) exclusive to Europe and Asia.

As a functional ingredient, Panko is used in coating systems, extenders, fillers, and as a dust in pizza dough to control moisture migration. The crumb is commonly used as a shrimp breader because it offers a wonderfully tender but crunchy bite.

Batters and breaders have evolved from our great-grandmother's kitchen to a billion-dollar industry. If it is eatable, it is “coat-able!” Today, manufacturers continue to work with processors and national chain accounts to develop new products, offer new applications and improve tomorrow's breadcrumb technology.

Website Resources

— Tips on getting coatings to adhere
— Formulating with batters and seasonings
—Technical paper on adhesion of rice-based batters