What Makes a Great Crouton?

Bringing a crunchy texture and zesty flavor to any salad—especially Caesar—croutons deserve a special place in your pantry. But don’t stop with just salads: Croutons add extra seasoning and substance to soups, they can become a savory accompaniment to roasted meats and they are a great snack on their own. Our chefs define high-quality seasoned croutons as having a consistent and even bake so that all croutons in a package are similar in toastiness and color. Though they should generally be the same size with little variation, the size of croutons is not as important as their crunchy consistency. The moderate aroma should have a complex character that features herbs, garlic, onion, cheese, pepper and toasted bread notes. Inappropriate off notes should not be detectable, including packaging or dusty notes. Croutons are in taste balance when bold saltiness is the leading basic taste, followed by sweetness and sourness at equal, lower levels—neither should overpower the other. Bitterness, if present, should be minimal. Bold herb and seasoning flavor should be the leading flavor in seasoned croutons, but it should not overpower or mask the bread flavor. The flavor character should reflect the aroma; herbs, garlic, onion, cheese, pepper and toasted bread notes should add to its complexity. However, the flavor should be slightly more complex than the aroma. High-quality seasoned croutons will have a tender texture, being light, crispy and easy to bite into—never tough, old or stale. Croutons should have a fast dissolve without any off notes lingering on the palate. When used with dressing, seasoned croutons should be somewhat absorbent, but not so much that the croutons become soggy. While absorbing some of the dressing and dressing flavor, they must still provide a light, tender crunch throughout the entire meal. The different types of croutons that all received Excellence Awards were: Buttery Garlic, Caesar, Fat-Free, French Bread, Italian, Organic, and Texas Toast Croutons.

Tasting terms

  • texture

    A dimension used to organize attributes like mouthfeel, graininess and initial bite, it is one of the five dimensions used by ChefsBest Master Tasters to evaluate food. Example: Glazed popcorn will have a crunch texture. The texture of milk chocolate should be creamy and smooth.

  • flavor

    A combination of a food's basic taste and its accompanying aroma, flavor is the distinctive taste of a food or ingredient while it is in the mouth. Along with aroma, appearance, texture and taste, flavor is one of the five dimensions considered by ChefsBest Master Tasters. Example: Chocolate chip cookies should have a moderate chocolate flavor accompanied by a slightly lower level of complex dough flavor that includes egg, flour, vanilla and brown sugar notes.

  • aroma

    The smell that emanates from food. Along with appearance, texture, flavor and taste, aroma is one of the five dimensions used to evaluate a product. Example: Brownies should have an aroma that includes chocolate as well as egg, toasty and sweet notes.

  • character

    The combined aromas and flavors of a particular food or ingredient. The character of a food is considered simple when it is one-dimensional, but it is complex when it has many discernible ingredients. Example: Mole sauce has several ingredients that blend to give the sauce a complex character. Granulated sugar has a very simple character.

  • off notes

    Inappropriate flavors, such as rancid or oxidized oils, freezer burn, plastic, metallic or other flavors acquired from a food’s packaging and storage. Example: Canned pineapple that picks up a metallic flavor from its can or stale flavors from freezer burn in a frozen entrée are types of off notes.