From chicken nuggets to tater tots, everyone needs a crunchy crust every now and again. And breadcrumbs also have other uses, especially in meatballs, soups, and other recipes that need thickening.
Without breadcrumbs or cornmeal to rely on, how can you make it work on Paleo? Here are 7 alternatives, from the 0-carb to the vegan-friendly to the last-minute “less bad” solution.
1. Coconut flakes: for crunchy coatings
Coconut flakes are great for adding a crunchy coating to the outside of meats or baked goods – they’re equally tasty on sweet and savory foods. Make sure to get the unsweetened kind; the only ingredient listed on the package should be coconut.
For recipe inspiration, try these crispy coconut shrimp with mango sauce and then have fun coconutting all your own recipes. Coconut-crusted chicken? How about Hawaiian-inspired pork cutlets with a crunchy coconut exterior, served with grilled pineapple?
2. Almond meal or almond flour: as a binder/thickener or coating
This one is a classic for Paleo recipes, and it’s a classic for a reason – almond meal/flour is widely available, easy to use, and has a mild taste that works with most dishes. Use it as a thickener or as a flour substitute to coat chicken nuggets, shrimp, vegetables, and more!
Depending on how crunchy you want your coating, you can go with one of several options:
- Chopped almonds: relatively large pieces – chop them yourself with a knife or use a food processor.
- Almond meal: a very coarse flour with larger grains than regular wheat flour.
- Almond flour: a finer flour that’s more comparable to wheat flour.
(Check out more information about almond meal/flour, including how it stacks up to wheat flour, here.)
- Meatballs with marinara sauce (as a binder)
- Chicken meatballs (as a binder)
- Guacamole stuffed chicken (as a crunchy coating)
3. Coconut flour: as a binder/thickener or coating
Coconut flour: the other gluten-free flour that pops up in recipes all over the Paleosphere! Coconut flour vs. almond flour is almost more of a personal preference than anything else – some recipes even use a combination of both. Coconut flour is a little more “thirsty” than almond flour (it sucks up more water), which could be a plus or a minus depending on your recipe.
- Keto buffalo chicken meatballs (as a binder)
- Chicken nuggets with avocado-cilantro dipping sauce (as a coating – this one uses both almond and coconut flour, because it’s fancy!)
- Keto zucchini fries (as a coating)
4. Pork cracklings/pork rinds: as a coating or topping
This is probably the favorite 0-carb/keto option, but also delicious if you just like pig skin. Pork cracklings have 0 total carbs – they’re basically pork-flavored crunch packed in a bag. (If you’re curious, pork cracklings are actually made from the skin of the pig. They’re crunchy and delicious because of the proteins in the skin, which also happen to be super good for you).
To make “breadcrumbs” out of pork rinds/pork cracklings, simply put the rinds in a bag, crush them to your desired size with a rolling pin or by rolling a can over them, and voila! Coat them on to the outside of a chicken breast or anything else that needs some crunch.
If you used to be a fan of sprinkling breadcrumbs over the top of dishes to get a nice crunch, you can also use crushed pork rinds in exactly that same way. This works really well on casseroles and other similar dishes.
5. Tapioca starch: as a binder/thickener or coating
The big selling point of tapioca starch as opposed to almond or coconut flour is its finer grain size and the slicker, silkier texture of the resulting recipe. It’s a little bit like the crunchy coating that you get at some -Chinese takeout places – a very smooth, glossy effect. Tapioca starch is definitely not for the low-carb crowd, but it’s perfect if what you want is a very fine crispy coating without any noticeable texture. It also works well as a thickener in gravies and soups.
For recipe inspiration, try these crispy chicken bites – here, the tapioca starch is used for a silky-soft, crunchy coating. In this gravy, you can add tapioca starch to thicken it up nicely to taste.
6. Ground chia or flax seeds: mostly as binders
Chia seeds aren’t great for breading the outsides of foods, but they’re excellent substitutes for breadcrumbs as a thickener in foods like meatballs. They do the same thing – absorb and hold a ton of water – so they have basically same thickening effect. They’re also used a lot as a vegan egg substitute in meatballs, so there are tons of recipes featuring them. You can buy the ground ones or grind them yourself in a food processor.
Ground flax can work either as a “flour” for breading the outside of a food or as a thickener/binder to stir into soups, stews, and meatballs. To get the breadcrumb effect, use ground flax, not whole flaxseeds.
7. Store-bought gluten-free breadcrumbs: as a last resort
These are most likely a less-bad non-Paleo option, not a first-choice Paleo option. But in a pinch, or if you’re super pressed for time, you can actually buy gluten-free breadcrumbs online or in stores. These are likely to be made of rice flour (so they’re not strictly Paleo) and may have other junk in them as well: read the ingredients label super carefully and eat at your own risk!
Use of these will depend on the recipe, but if you can’t use them as a 1:1 replacement for “normal” breadcrumbs, the packaging on that particular brand will probably clue you in to its idiosyncracies.
There are options. There are lots of options.
Whether you need a totally keto-friendly substitute or you’re looking for a specific flavor or you’re struggling with nut allergies, there’s absolutely a breadcrumb substitute out there for you!
It also bears mentioning that in meatloaf/meatballs, you may not need a binder at all – some recipes can hold together just fine without any egg or breadcrumb action. But for those recipes that need some help, especially the ones that involve crispy breaded coatings, check out one of the many Paleo-friendly options before turning back to the baking aisle.