10 Unconventional Ways to Add Crunch to a Salad

Food Lists salad toppings
10 Unconventional Ways to Add Crunch to a Salad

There are few culinary crimes as great as making a bland salad. Sure, I love that salads tend to be on the healthier side, but if you’re only concerned with macros and not with flavor, it’s going to make eating your vegetables feel like a chore. One element every salad needs is some crunch. There are a few standard ingredients that you can use to add crunch to a salad—raw onions, celery, croutons—but you don’t have to limit yourself to the classics to add some texture to your salad.

I’ve compiled this list to give you some less-conventional ideas for adding crunch to your salad, but you should think of this list as a source of inspiration, not an exhaustive collection of crunchy salad toppings. Take a look in your fridge, your pantry and at the grocery store to find fun, creative ways to incorporate more crunch into your favorite salad recipes.

1. Potato chips

You’ve probably seen plenty of salads topped with tortilla chips, but did you know you can use potato chips in the same way? I’m a fan of a potato chip-enhanced salad because it offers not just crunch but also a salty, savory flavor profile. Kettle cooked chips, which tend to be thicker, stand up better to dressing than do the ultra-thin, Lay’s-style varieties.

2. Doritos

You won’t even have to leave the chip aisle to try out this ultra-flavorful salad topping. Like tortilla chips, Doritos will give your salad that distinctive, firm crunch, but unlike tortilla chips, they’ll also up the flavor ante considerably. Consider the other ingredients you’re using in your salad before you decide on a Doritos variety; because Doritos have such an intense flavor, you’ll want to make sure the other ingredients won’t clash with the seasonings.

3. Flaky salt

If you’re trying to keep things as simple as possible, adding crunch to a salad can be as easy as sprinkling on some flaky salt. Table salt is generally quite fine in texture, which means you won’t get a perceptible crunch from it (unless you use way, way too much). Flaky salt, which is much coarser than your average table salt, is large enough to offer a slight crunch.

4. Corn Flakes

The cereal aisle may not be the first place you’d think to visit when you’re on the hunt for a crunchy salad topping, but believe me when I say that you have to try Corn Flakes in your next salad. They have a relatively neutral flavor to them with just a touch of sweetness, which can provide balance to an otherwise salty salad. They work well as a topper for simply dressed leafy greens and decadent mayo-slathered chicken salads alike.

5. Parmesan crisps

Parmesan crisps are the cheese-lover’s answer to chips, which makes them perfectly suited as a crunchy topper for salads. They’re salty with that savory Parmesan quality we love, and they stay crunchy even after being doused in a vinaigrette. Although they can be pricey, if you’re willing to splurge, they can elevate any salad to cheesier heights.

6. Fritos

Can Fritos taste a bit bland on their own? Sure. But their plainness is exactly why they work so well as a topper for salads. They’re extremely salty, with a subtle corn-y flavor to them that tends to work well with a wide variety of ingredients. You can crush them up for a finer texture or leave them intact for a coarser, crunchier experience.

7. Dried ramen noodles

Have a pack of ramen noodles in your pantry that you’re not keen on turning into soup? Use them—dry—to add a touch of crunch to a salad. You’ll want to crush them up (preferably in the bag for ease) before sprinkling them onto the salad of your choice. I think they work best in salads that are generously dressed, since they’re relatively flavorless without the seasoning.

8. Toasted bread crumbs

Don’t have croutons on hand? Toasted bread crumbs can work just as well, and they distribute the crunch more evenly throughout your salad. You can go ahead and buy breadcrumbs to make things easier on yourself, but if you have a loaf of stale bread you don’t know what to do with, you can always crumble it up, throw it on a baking sheet and place it in the oven until it crisps up nicely. Toss it into your salad, and you’ve prevented food waste and given your salad some extra crunch.

9. Fried capers

Capers in any form do a lot to enhance a salad, but if you want to utilize them for crunch along with their standard saltiness, you can quickly fry them in a pan before adding them to your salad. This process only takes a few minutes, and it’s an easy way to really elevate any salad in a pinch.

10. Goldfish Crackers

You may have used oyster crackers in your salads before, so Goldfish Crackers shouldn’t seem like too much of a stretch. The standard cheddar flavor may be the best choice if you do want to add an element of cheesiness to the dish, but otherwise, the more neutral original flavor is the way to go.

Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.

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