Croutons are small baked or sautéed pieces of bread that add savory taste and crunch to a salad, soup, and other dishes. Some people even enjoy snacking on croutons on their own. Croutons are usually salted and often flavored with herbs, spices, or cheese.
Croutons can be made from almost any type of bread, including whole-grain bread or bread made from enriched flour. Foods that have been enriched have had nutrients added in during the manufacturing process. Often these are nutrients that were removed during the grain refining process. Fiber is usually not added back to enriched grains.
Health experts advise that at least half the grains you consume should be whole grains to help you get more fiber in your diet. Whole grain croutons can be hard to find at your local market, but making them at home can help you meet that fiber recommendation.
Crouton Nutrition Facts
The following nutrition information is provided by the USDA for 0.5 ounces (about 14g) of plain croutons.
- Calories: 57.8
- Fat: 0.9g
- Sodium: 99.1mg
- Carbs: 10.4g
- Fiber: 0.7g
- Added Sugars: 0g
- Protein: 1.7g
There are almost 58 calories and 10.4 grams of carbohydrates in a single 0.5-ounce serving of plain croutons. This serving provides less than 1 gram (0.7g) of fiber and no added sugar. Most of the carbohydrates in croutons come from starch. If you make whole wheat croutons at home, you're likely to benefit from about 1.4 grams of fiber in a half-cup serving.
A 0.5-ounce serving of seasoned croutons provides about 66 calories, 2.6 grams of fat, 9g of carbohydrate, 0.7g of fiber, 0.6 g of added sugar, 189mg of sodium, and 1.53g of protein.
There is no recorded glycemic index (GI) for croutons. But the glycemic index of white bread is 73–77, making it a high glycemic food. Whole wheat bread has a slightly lower glycemic index of 72–76, and specialty bread baked with whole grains are much lower at around 51–55. Croutons are likely to have a slightly lower GI because any fat used to sauté them can help to slow the food's impact on blood sugar.
There is less than a full gram of fat in a serving of croutons, although nutrition facts can vary based on the variety that you choose. Croutons that are flavored with parmesan cheese or sautéed in butter may be higher in fat.
Croutons are not a significant source of protein. There are only 1.7 grams of protein in a single serving.
Vitamins and Minerals
You're not likely to benefit from a whole lot of micronutrients when you consume croutons. If the croutons were made from enriched bread, it is likely that the bread had certain B vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid) and iron added back after processing. But because your crouton serving is likely to be small, you're still not going to consume significant amounts of these nutrients.
Croutons may be able to provide some limited health benefits, especially if they are made from whole grain bread. But most brands of croutons made from enriched bread are not going to contribute to your health in any substantial way.
Quick Energy Source
Croutons provide calories (energy) primarily in the form of carbohydrates. Carbs are your body's preferred energy source. When you eat croutons, you are providing your body with fuel for your daily activities. Adults should consume 45–65% of their total calories from carbohydrates. Health experts generally advise, however, that we get carbohydrates from nutrient-rich sources like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables because they may also provide vitamins and minerals.
Better Digestive Health
If you make whole wheat croutons at home, you'll give your body a small boost of fiber. Current guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggest that adults under 50 should consume between 25–34 grams of fiber per day depending on age group and sex.
Fiber can help relieve constipation and improve the regularity of your bowel movements. Insoluble fiber (found in whole grains) is sometimes used to treat or prevent constipation and diverticulitis which affects the colon, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Reduced Risk of Disease
A higher intake of whole grains is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and total cancer. It is also associated with a lower risk for all-cause and disease-specific mortality. Even though your whole grain intake from croutons is not likely to be substantial, choosing whole-grain croutons over croutons made from enriched grains on a regular basis may help you take advantage of these health benefits.
Those who are allergic to wheat should not consume croutons. A wheat allergy is more common in children and many will outgrow it at a relatively young age. Symptoms of a wheat allergy include hives, nausea, stomach cramps, indigestion, vomiting, diarrhea, runny nose, sneezing, headaches, and asthma. In severe cases, anaphylaxis may also occur.
There are eight allergens with specific labeling requirements under the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) of 2004. Wheat is one of them. The law requires that food manufacturers that make products containing allergens such as wheat must include the presence of the allergen, in clear language, on the ingredient label.
Those with allergies should note that due to COVID-19, the FDA is temporarily allowing food manufacturers to make small ingredient changes to their products without adjusting food labels to help mitigate supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic. But these changes do not affect foods containing allergens like wheat.
For safety reasons, the FDA states ingredient changes can only be made without adjusting food labels as long as they do not cause adverse health effects in those with food allergies and sensitivities.
There are some people who may want to exercise caution when choosing whether or not to consume croutons. The gluten or sodium in croutons may cause problems for some individuals with certain health conditions.
Celiac Disease or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity
If you have celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, you should not consume croutons made from gluten-containing grains. Wheat allergy is sometimes confused with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. But they are different conditions.
There are some brands that make gluten-free croutons. There are also brands that sell gluten-free bread, so if you enjoy croutons and follow a gluten-free diet, you can make your own croutons at home.
Croutons can increase the sodium content of certain foods like soups or salads that are already high in sodium. Croutons usually contain added salt. In addition, they may contain seasoning blends or other high-sodium ingredients (such as parmesan cheese).
Current dietary guidelines suggest that adults consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt per day. The American Heart Association (AHA) agrees, but suggests that an intake of 1,500 mg per day is more ideal, especially for those with high blood pressure.
If you are sensitive to salt or if you follow a low-salt diet to manage a condition such as hypertension, look for low-sodium croutons. Or you can make your own croutons at home using seasonings that don't contain sodium.
If you visit the salad dressing aisle of your local supermarket, you'll find dozens of different types of croutons. For example, you'll find Texas toast croutons made from the popular bread. There are also croutons made specifically for Caesar salad and croutons with a wide variety of seasonings.
In the bakery department of your local market, you may find artisanal croutons. Often, these are larger croutons, made from fresh bread and seasoned with premium herbs and spices. Sometimes these croutons look more like a small slice of bread than a cube.
When It's Best
Croutons are sold year-round in grocery stores around the United States.
Storage and Food Safety
According to the USDA, croutons should generally be consumed within 5–6 months after purchase for the best freshness and quality. After you open the package, they should be stored in an airtight container and used by the "best by" date on the package. You can also refrigerate them to maintain freshness. Croutons can also be frozen and maintain their quality in the freezer for 11–12 months.
How to Prepare
Croutons are easy to make at home. You can use any style of bread that you prefer. For example, sourdough croutons and pumpernickel croutons are popular. But you can also use a baguette or just a loaf of slightly stale white or whole-grain bread.
First, start by slicing the bread into equal-sized cubes. Keeping them proportional will help the croutons to bake evenly. Then take the cubes and toss them in a bowl with olive oil or melted butter. Add seasonings to taste. Salt and pepper work well, but you can also use Italian seasoning, parmesan cheese, rosemary, or your favorite combination of dried herbs.
Scatter the seasoned cubes on a baking tray and place in an oven preheated to 375 degrees. Toss them after about 2–3 minutes so that they brown evenly. After about five minutes, the croutons should be crispy and ready to eat. If you plan to save them for later, place them in an airtight container and place them in the refrigerator.
In addition to using croutons to flavor your salad, croutons can also be added to a bowl of soup or chowder. Or you can get creative and throw them on top of scrambled eggs, or onto a fish or poultry dish.