Ask the Chef: Are Plain Breadcrumbs Gluten-Free or Vegan?

are bread crumbs vegan

Today, I’m kicking off a brand-new series on the Mortadella Head blog called Ask the Chef.

eries, I’ll chat with our expert Chuck Sillari, founder and owner of Mortadella Head restaurant in Davis Square, Somerville, Massachusetts. 

I’ll dive into all of your burning cooking and recipe questions. Chuck will answer any questions our blog readers have, and we’ll discuss everything you need to know.

We’re starting off the series by diving into the world of breadcrumbs. 

A reader recently sent in a question that pops up frequently in our Italian-American concept:  “Are Italian breadcrumbs vegan and gluten-free?”

The answer, like many things in the culinary world, isn’t a simple yes or no. Let’s break it down and explore some delicious solutions!

bread crumbs

Traditional Breadcrumbs: A Breakdown

Classic Italian bread crumbs are typically made from toasted white bread or slices of bread that have been crumbled or ground. This process creates a coarse crumb that adds a satisfying crunch to dishes like breaded chicken cutlets, pasta bakes, and (of course!) classic Italian dishes like chicken Parmesan.

However, the key ingredient here is white bread. While bread itself seems inherently vegan, many commercially produced loaves contain hidden animal products.

are bread crumbs vegan-bread

These can include:

  • Milk: Milk is sometimes added to bread dough for richness and a softer texture.
  • Eggs: Eggs can be used as a binder or glazing agent in bread.
  • Honey: Some breads may contain honey for a touch of sweetness.

Are Breadcrumbs Gluten-Free?

Gluten is a protein complex found in wheat, barley, and rye. So, if the Italian breadcrumbs are made with traditional white bread, they most certainly contain gluten.

Vegan and Gluten-Free Alternatives

Now that we understand why classic Italian breadcrumbs might not be suitable for everyone let’s explore some alternatives.

  • Vegan Breadcrumbs: Thankfully, the vegan movement has brought a surge in readily available vegan products. Look for brands specifically labeled “vegan breadcrumbs” at your local grocery store. These are usually made with just toasted and crumbled bread that is free from animal products.
  • Panko Breadcrumbs: These light and airy Japanese breadcrumbs are a great vegan option. Authentic panko is typically made with just flour, water, yeast, and salt, making them naturally vegan and gluten-free. Panko offers a delightfully crispy texture, perfect for dishes like veggie burgers or tofu cutlets.

Tip: Many grocery stores also offer a “vegan shopping list” feature on their mobile apps. Use this to quickly find vegan-friendly products!

Alternatives for Breadcrumbs: Other Crispy Toppings

While breadcrumbs are a classic choice for achieving a crispy texture, here are some additional vegan and gluten-free options to consider:

  • Crushed Nuts: Chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans offer a delicious and nutritious alternative to breadcrumbs. Toast them lightly in a dry pan for extra flavor.
  • Chickpea Flour (Gram Flour): This naturally gluten-free flour is a great binder and creates a crispy coating when mixed with water and spices.
  • Nutritional Yeast: This deactivated yeast adds a cheesy, umami flavor and a slight crunch to dishes. It’s a perfect vegan alternative to grated Parmesan cheese.
  • Flaxseed Meal: Mixed with water, flaxseed meal creates a sticky paste that can be used as a binder and adds a subtle nutty flavor.

So next time you’re looking for that perfect crispy topping,  think beyond the standard Italian breadcrumb.  With a little creativity and these tips, you can achieve a delicious and satisfying crunch while staying true to your dietary needs and values. 

Homemade Breadcrumbs

Making your own breadcrumbs is a great way to control ingredients and ensure they fit your dietary needs. Here’s a simple recipe for both vegan and gluten-free breadcrumbs.

By understanding the ingredients in commercially produced breadcrumbs,  you can make informed decisions about the products you choose.  Whether you’re following a vegan or gluten-free diet, there are a plethora of delicious and readily available alternatives to explore.

Making your own breadcrumbs is not only a cost-effective option but also allows you to control the ingredients and customize the flavor profile.

Many of our customers live a vegan lifestyle or are on plant-based diets. We often have people requesting vegan alternatives or just asking ingredient questions so they can make an informed decision on what they order.

In general, it seems that we live in a more compassionate society where allergies and dietary restrictions are understood. This leads to a positive impact on our customer base, leaving them feel more confident in any ordering decisions. 

Remember, using leftover bread to make your own breadcrumbs is a great way to reduce food waste.  Food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. By using up every last crumb, you’re doing your part for a more sustainable kitchen!

We hope this blog post has answered your question about Italian breadcrumbs and provided you with some creative and delicious alternatives.  With a little planning and these handy tips, you can achieve the perfect crispy topping for all your favorite dishes!

Do you have a question for the Chef?  We love to hear from our readers!  Leave a comment below with your question, and it might be featured in a future “Ask the Chef” post.

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are bread crumbs vegan

Homemade Vegan and Gluten-Free Breadcrumbs

  • Author: Christina Orso


  • 4 cups cubed stale bread (gluten-free bread for the gluten-free version)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon black pepper


  1. Preheat your oven to 300°F (150°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. In a large bowl, toss the cubed bread with olive oil, Italian seasoning, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper.
  3. Spread the bread cubes in an even layer on the prepared baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bread cubes are golden brown and dry throughout.
  5. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
  6. Once cool, pulse the bread cubes in a food processor until you achieve the desired crumb size – fine for stuffing, coarse for toppings.
  7. Store leftover breadcrumbs in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for up to a week.

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