20 Absolute Best Substitutes For Croutons In Your Salads

Salads with topping ideas
Salads with topping ideas - Static Media / Shutterstock / Getty

Croutons are a seemingly divisive salad topping. Some people make their salads at home with 75% croutons, while others furiously rifle through and pick off every crouton in their restaurant salad. Although we are proud crouton lovers, we admit that eating plain, garlic croutons on every single salad can get boring sometimes — especially considering that there is a whole world of crunchy, savory alternatives out there.

In an effort to make salads more exciting, we've curated a list of the best substitutes for croutons. Some are more hands-off than others, and many of these alternatives can be bought from your local grocery store rather than whipped up in your home kitchen. This makes it easy to grab a handful of your favorite crouton replacements, toss them on your salad, and enjoy. Once you find your favorites, you can even try to integrate them into other places where you'd find croutons, including on top of your favorite soup.

Read more: 30 Healthy Snack Ideas That Won't Ruin Your Diet

Use Up Your Leftover Potatoes

Plate of roasted potatoes
Plate of roasted potatoes - Johnnygreig/Getty Images

We love roasted potatoes for their simplicity. They're a key component of a relatively quick sheet pan dinner, or they can be eaten just as a quick snack with a side of aioli or ketchup for dipping. But you may have never thought of using this starch as a crouton substitute.

You can ditch your Caesar salad croutons for crispy roasted potatoes and watch your meal get instantly elevated. The dressing will hide any lingering sogginess from your spuds and makes for the perfect bite every time. The key to this recipe is to use slightly warmed potatoes since it will add a subtle warmth to your salad and make for a tantalizingly textured side dish. It will save you from a boring salad and ensure that your leftover spuds get put to good use.

Crisp Up Chickpeas For A Protein Boost

Chickpeas on sheet pan
Chickpeas on sheet pan - Clarkandcompany/Getty Images

Salads contain a lot of healthy carbs -- from the lettuce to the sliced veggies. Chickpeas are protein-rich legumes that can make your salad all the more flavorful and nutritious.

Crispy chickpeas make a delicious gluten-free crouton swap. Plus, they're super easy to make at home. You can use either canned or dried chickpeas as the base and opt for a stove top method or hands-off sheet pan approach. We recommend the former because it makes the chickpeas extra crisp, and it's easier to keep an eye on them to prevent them from burning. You'll only have to cook the chickpeas for about 10 minutes before they turn crunchy. Just don't forget to add your favorite seasonings to give this legume topping an edge.

Stale Bagels Make A Great Carby Crouton Substitute

Bagels against white background
Bagels against white background - Brian A Jackson/Shutterstock

Anyone who knows anything about bagels knows that they're the best the day that they're baked. But that doesn't mean your leftover bagels have to face a sad demise in the depths of your trash can.

You can use leftover bagels to whip up a simple yet flavorful crouton substitute. The bagel has a much more carby interior than a standard piece of bread, so you can expect these croutons to be extra dense. But that will give the bagel more opportunity to soak up your seasonings. Just chop your bagel up into small pieces, toss it with olive oil and herbs, and bake it on a tray until it's crisp. You'll just want to avoid using seedy bagels because they aren't very friendly with hot ovens.

Air Fry Leftover Croissants For A Decadent Twist

Croissants on cooling rack
Croissants on cooling rack - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Croutons are many things -- including "delicious" and "a good snack to eat straight out of the bag." But they certainly don't promise anything in flaky layer territory. But croissants? You'd be hard-pressed to find a treat with more layers.

Consider ditching your basic croutons for flaky air-fried croissants. It's a great way to use up the leftover store-bought ones that you couldn't bear to finish. Cut the pastry up into small pieces, toss it with butter and the seasonings of your choice, and pop it into your air fryer. While you could use your conventional oven, the tabletop appliance is so much easier to operate and heats up much quicker. Croissants are chock-full of buttery notes, so try not to over season this crouton substitute. It's a simple upgrade to a Caesar salad or a bagged salad from the grocery store.

Use Your Pretzels For A Satisfying Crunch

Pretzels in white ramekin
Pretzels in white ramekin - Ncognet0/Getty Images

Pretzels aren't winning any awards for the tastiest snack food, but they make a formidable opponent in the race for the best crouton substitute -- mainly because you don't have to fire up your oven or add any additional seasoning to take them to crouton territory. The small, malty twists are salty and crunchy enough to act as an excellent stand-in for the classic salad topping.

If you're out of croutons, consider adding pretzels to your salad for extra crunch. While the classic tiny twists are always a good option, you could also go with a zesty pub-style pretzel or even a honey mustard one to complement your salad dressing. Crush and sprinkle your pretzels on top for a little bit in every bite.

Grab Some Wasabi Peas For A Spicy Twist

Wasabi peas in bowl
Wasabi peas in bowl - Dana_zurki/Getty Images

Wasabi peas are something you may only be familiar with thanks to your local Chinese buffet. But these are actually a popular Japanese snack food made from crunchy, roasted green peas seasoned with oil, salt, and, of course, wasabi. The spicy horseradish undertones give this otherwise vegetal snack a unique, back-of-mouth heat.

As you can imagine, wasabi peas have a more pronounced flavor than your standard bag of croutons. So, you can't use them for every single salad. But you can use them in salads that need a focal point or something to bring it all together. Chef David Chang adds a flavorful crunch to his salads, including ones made with tomatoes and lettuce, with a snack mix featuring sesame sticks, rice crackers, and wasabi peas.

Make Dessert Croutons With Stale Pound Cake

Sliced pound cake
Sliced pound cake - 4kodiak/Getty Images

While you might not be reaching for your pound cake as a topping for your Caesar salad anytime soon, this humble sweet does have a time and a place in the kitchen. You can use up that leftover stale pound cake for dessert croutons. This dense, sweet bread will add a bit of texture to your otherwise creamy bowl of ice cream or decadent cup of pudding. Or you can use it as a pairing for sweet berries in a summery side dish. The options are seemingly endless.

To make these croutons, slice up your cake into small pieces and give it a toast in the oven. A coating of cinnamon can give it an extra edge, but it's also sugary and buttery enough as-is.

Use Up Your Leftover Popcorn

Popcorn in bowl
Popcorn in bowl - Zoomik/Shutterstock

If you're streaming your favorite romantic comedy, having a bowl of freshly popped popcorn by your side is essential. But can anyone really stomach eating a whole bowl of it? Probably not.

Whenever we make popcorn, we always have a cup or two left. So, what better way to put its crunchiness to good use than by adding it to a salad? You could make popcorn salad, which features creamy ingredients like mayonnaise, cream cheese, and shredded cheese. But its consistency isn't for the faint of heart. If you like your salad crunchy (and devoid of mayonnaise), just add a handful of popped kernels on top of your green salad instead. It's an especially wonderful pairing with the kernels seasoned with ranch powder.

Put Your Puff Pastry Scraps To Good Use

Hands sprinkling flour on dough
Hands sprinkling flour on dough - larisa Stefanjuk/Shutterstock

Puff pastry, despite being available in the freezer aisle, is challenging to work with. If you overwork it or manage to melt all the butter out, it becomes stodgy and practically useless for apple turnovers. So, when you inevitably get so frustrated with your puff pastry that you throw in the towel, season the leftover puff pastry scraps and use them to replace your croutons.

Once you have your scraps, you can toss them in butter and seasoning before giving them a little toast in the oven. After a 10-minute bake, your pastry pieces will be ready to go. The flavor of the dough is relatively basic, so you can dress them up to fit your creamy or vinegar-based dressing.

Give Your Salad A Crunchy Twist With Crackers

Ritz crackers in container
Ritz crackers in container - Thatphichai Yodsri/Getty Images

Let's face it: Ritz crackers are a bad cracker to eat on their own. They're buttery, but they lack the complexity of a solid snacking cracker. So, the best thing to do is to find creative ways to use Ritz crackers. While adding them to the top of your macaroni and cheese or integrating them into your breading are solid options, you could also use them to level up your salad game.

You can use this hack for Ritz crackers or even plainer saltines. Give your crackers a brush with butter or neutral oil, coat them in seasonings, and toss them in the oven to give them a crispy texture. Herbs like thyme, rosemary, and oregano are a great pairing for standard salads, while taco seasoning or ancho chili powder can bridge your crackers to a taco salad.

Sprinkle Fried Capers On Your Salad For A Tangy Flavor

Caper buds in bowl
Caper buds in bowl - Victoriya89/Getty Images

No chicken piccata is complete without a briny caper topping. But you may have never thought of making fried capers with this humble berry. They're the tangy ingredient that your Caesar salad is missing and one that's easier to make at home than you may think.

You'll want to start with a jar of capers that have been dried with a towel. Frying oil and water aren't BFFs, so you'll want to try to pull off as much extra moisture as you can. Then, toss your capers onto the pan and cook them in oil until they're crispy and start to unfurl. When you're done, you can take that salty, flavored oil and use it for other recipes. The capers are the perfect balance of salty and umami, so they'll make a great companion to the anchovy-rich dressing and Parmesan cheese on your salad.

Use Crispy Lentils For A Protein-Rich Crouton Substitute

Dried lentils with scoop
Dried lentils with scoop - Kevindyer/Getty Images

Crispy chickpeas not your jam? At least there are some less mealy alternatives out there, like lentils, that you can use instead. Crispy lentils are the easy, crunchy salad topping you need. The trick is to opt for sturdy varieties, like French or black lentils, that have been soaked so that they're pliable. This will allow you to easily crisp the legumes up in a skillet. You could, though, opt to cook them in an air fryer or a conventional oven to get them super crispy.

Lentils should be paired with earthy salad bases, like ones inspired by the flavors of the Mediterranean. A brief toss with cumin and coriander will add a subtle heat to an otherwise flavorless legume.

Add Fried Gnocchi To Your Salad For A Carby Twist

Gnocchi on plate with herbs
Gnocchi on plate with herbs - Margouillatphotos/Getty Images

Gnocchi is the pillowy potato pasta that always manages to get missed on the list of best pasta shapes. Although most recipes will require that you try and drown them in sauce, the best preparation for gnocchi is to cook them until they're crispy. This will give you a better contrast between the pillowy soft interior and the outside of the pasta and make each bite less monotonous.

To make your crispy gnocchi, fry your par-boiled dumplings in a shallow pan with oil until they turn golden brown on the sides. Once they're firm, you can toss them with your favorite seasonings and add them to a salad or the top of your soup. They're a great addition to any salad with a vinaigrette dressing because the softness gives off potato salad vibes -- with a twist.

Swap Your Croutons For Leftover Biscuits

Basket of biscuits
Basket of biscuits - Jupiterimages/Getty Images

After a hearty meal, you may be left with a basket of biscuits. While you can use your leftover biscuits for a strawberry shortcake or douse them in gravy for breakfast the next morning, you could also use them for a twist on croutons. The biscuits are naturally quite dry, so they're a great vector for oil and seasonings.

You'll want to transform your biscuits into croutons just as you would any other bread. Toss them in a coating of seasoning, pop them in a sheet pan, and bake them in the oven until they're firm and golden brown. The biscuit has a relatively neutral flavor, which means it could be a great pairing for very flavor-forward salad ingredients like red onion, arugula, and a honey vinaigrette.

Crisp Up Leftover Burger Buns

Burger with buns on paper
Burger with buns on paper - Zoranm/Getty Images

Burger buns are one of those leftover carbs that we're always left scratching our heads about how to use. Their shape is quite dome-like, so grilled cheese, French toast, and other recipes that require a flat slice of bread are out of the question. But one option that isn't off the table is transforming leftover burger buns into crunchy homemade croutons. This hack will not only work for burger buns but also hot dog buns and regular rolls, too.

Cube the bread up into small, discernable pieces and add your seasonings before baking them in an oven or an air fryer. One of our favorite ways to jazz up these avant-garde croutons is to toss them in Parmesan and add them to a Caesar salad. Although, any salad craving a carby, umami twist could benefit from a sprinkle of these croutons on top.

Crumble Up Pita Chips For A Crunchy Salad Topping

Seasoned pita chips on plate
Seasoned pita chips on plate - Oksana Ermak/Getty Images

There's no doubt that pita chips are a solid cracker choice. But they're only optimal if you have a dip to accompany them. So, when you've eaten all your hummus and tzatziki, reach for your pita chips for a different use: as a crunchy topping on your salad.

You can use any type of pita chip, from the garlic and Parmesan ones to the everything bagel-seasoned chips. Pita chips are crisp yet not overwhelmingly thick, which ensures a bite with a ton of crunch and minimal, tooth-sinking breadiness. They're a great complement to acidic or wet salads, too, because the chips can hold up to the moisture without turning unpleasantly soggy. Crumble the chips or use big hunks for your favorite salad recipe.

Use Popcorn Chicken For A Protein Boost

Popcorn chicken with breading
Popcorn chicken with breading - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

While adding chopped chicken to the top of your salad is a great, protein-dense option, adding a bit of crunch with popcorn chicken is an even better decision. The popcorn chicken will add crunch and protein to your salad and make for a well-rounded bite that's a little more flavorful than your leftover rotisserie chicken.

You can use pre-made popcorn chicken from the frozen section of your grocery store or meal prep a big batch of it for the week using boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Besides popping it on top of your fresh green salad, you can also use popcorn chicken as a filling for your favorite wraps or as a quick appetizer. The bites have the perfect balance of crispiness to meaty filling, which makes for a balanced texture.

Fry Up Leftover Wonton Wrappers

Dumpling wrappers on surface
Dumpling wrappers on surface - Satsuei_athian/Shutterstock

Wonton wrappers are an ingredient that we think everyone should know how to cook with. Not only are they a staple component of potstickers, but there are many other culinary uses for wonton wrappers — including making them into a crisp topping for your salad.

You'll want to start by slicing the whole wrappers into thin strips so that they resemble the ones you'd find at your local Chinese takeout joint. A quick pass through a shallow fryer should deliver strips that are golden brown and crispy. The fries can be a topping for an Asian-inspired salad, a textural complement to a colorful toasted sesame noodle salad, or a satisfying crunchy pairing for a bowl of sweet and sour soup.

Grab A Bag Of Cheese Crackers

Parmesan cheese crisps
Parmesan cheese crisps - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Cheese crackers are a snack that we can get behind. Each bite is filled with the umami bite of Parmesan or the subtle sharpness of cheddar. Since cheese is a common addition to salad, it's easy to see how cheese crisps can help you step up your salad game.

It's easy to replace croutons with cheese crisps. While you can use a bag of store-bought chips, you can also make your own by baking clumps of cheese on a lined sheet pan until they're crisp and take on a beautiful, laced design. You can also make them on your stovetop, but they're a bit more tedious to flip. Cheese crisps can go on almost any salad, but certain ones are better suited for the cheesy goodness. For example, a Parmesan crisp can really elevate a lackluster Caesar salad, while a classic cheddar one could pair well with bacon bits and sliced apples.

Make Sugar-Free Meringues For A Unique Bite

Whisk with whipped egg whites
Whisk with whipped egg whites - Tatiana/Getty Images

It's perfectly understandable if you're raising your eyebrows at the thought of pillowy, puffy meringues on top of your bed of greens. But when you consider the texture of these treats, it might make a little more sense why you would want to pair a crunchy meringue with a contrasting soft salad.

You'll want to leave the sugar out of your meringue for these crunchy salad toppers, but you could customize them with savory spices like garlic powder, paprika, and dried herbs. Once you've mastered the process of piping and drying your meringues in the oven, you could try to stir in a funky cheese for added umami or even sprinkle in some bacon bits. Once you customize the flavor of your meringues, you'll have free rein with pairing them with salads -- or even just eating them as a snack.

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