Prepared properly and made as fresh as possible, even the most carnivorous of meat-lovers amongst us loves a good salad. Whether it’s a sizeable helping for dinner, or a smaller serving enjoyed as a side, it’s the crunchy salad toppings that make the dish.
Crunchy salad toppings in particular, add a whole new dimension to the culinary experience you enjoy. Join me as I explore with you my top 20 crunchy salad toppings, which I put together with their health benefits in mind. However, at the same time, taking nothing away from the all-important taste-factor.
Crouton-free crunchy salad toppings
Toasted pumpkin seeds
I like to quickly dry-fry them first before toasting the handful of pumpkin seeds to be added to the salad. Either through baking or roasting. The toasting brings out a slightly sweet flavour to what otherwise just tastes like dried pumpkin pulp. The crunchiness brings the salad to life. Nutritionally pumpkin seeds are a great source of micronutrients such as magnesium, healthy oils as well as calcium. So the health benefits are for a healthy heart and strong bones.
A salad topped with crunchy, caramelised walnuts makes for a great energy source for me. I mean who ever said salads are a low-energy dish? The burst of energy likely comes from the sugar, but I find that I get pretty much the same effects from just adding walnuts. This results in a nutty taste that’s a lot like cashews. The antioxidants contained help fight inflammation and aid in weight control as well.
Parmesan crisp bits
Add parmesan crisp bits to your salad for a nice, roasted cheese flavour! This is one of the easier salads to make as I can never screw up the subsequent ‘restaurant-grade’ taste I enjoy as a result. Health benefits include the property of enjoying that roasted cheese flavour, but with none of the lactose. The parmesan crisp bits are also high in protein, vitamins and minerals, and fats, delivered to the body in optimal quantities.
Toasted whole-grain bread (crushed)
I usually toast the whole grain bread first, before crushing it and adding it to the salad to preserve the nutritional content of this delicious crunchy topping. To boost the nutritional value even further, sprinkle some nutritional yeast on it. This adds a bit of fibre to a topping rich in plant-based vitamins. It’s great for digestion. It adds a deliciously toasty taste.
My preference for that toasty taste to my crunchy salad toppings makes crispy quinoa one of my favourites. It comes with a naturally toasty, slightly nutty taste. Crispy quinoa adds some great nutritional value to any salad as it contains protein, vitamins and minerals, and fibre – all of which are taken in oil-free.
I’m a total sucker for roasted chickpeas as a delicious, crunchy topping for salads, well, because I can never get enough of the taste. The uniquely nutty taste never gets old, no matter how many times I enjoy a salad with this particular topping.
Personally, I highly recommend these crunchy toppings explored above for their individual nutritional and health benefits. My favourite amongst these is the roasted chickpeas topping. They give a satisfying, nutty taste to the chickpeas that can otherwise taste a bit bland when prepared differently. Collectively though, these crouton-free crunchy toppings carry the health benefit of being gluten-free. Need I say more about that?
Low-calorie crunchy salad toppings
Honey roasted, sliced almonds
If you’re self-mandated to avoid even the most natural of sugar in honey, the honey can be replaced with cracked pepper or sea salt. Otherwise roasting sliced almonds with any one of these seasonings results in some of the most amazing flavours. Great for keeping illnesses at bay, by way of the health benefits.
Baked tortilla chips
Using baked tortilla chips as a crunchy salad topping results in the taste of teenhood. It takes me back to those days when I’d sneak into the kitchen to hastily put together one of those guilty-pleasure sandwiches. Ones that had crisps on bread and whatever leafy salad greens I’d find in the fridge! There are no saturated or fatty oils contained in this guilty-pleasure-with-none-of-the-guilt, however.
Surely this is one of the first toppings you thought to try out if it’s some crunchiness you want to your salads? At first thought it might seem like cereal should never work as a salad topping, but high-fibre crunchy cereal works perfectly. You get a slightly sweeter variation of the taste you’d get if you used fried noodles as your crunchy topping instead, which is quite common, in fact. The high fibre content aids digestion.
Fruits and veggies
For a different and refreshing type of crunch-factor to spruce up your salads with, fruits and veggies, including the likes of apples, pears, sugar snap peas, jicama, broccoli (coleslaw), and water chestnuts, bring it all and more. The taste really just depends on which fruit or vegetable you’d be adding, but the freshness is what makes for a great natural crunch. A great way to get fibre into your system and perhaps some natural sugar if you’re going it the fruit route.
Now, I’m a foodie, so I absolutely love to eat! Collectively, these crunchy salad toppings, of which the high-fibre cereal is my personal favourite, carry the health property of being low in calories. This means I can enjoy a non-fattening and delicious salad, regularly, without worrying about my waistline! I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
Crunchy swaps for high-calorie salad toppings
The overall health benefits of filling up on salads can be negated by what you actually choose to top the salads with. I’ve often found myself succumbing to bacon bits as a crunchy and delicious guilty pleasure. But, crunchy or not, some of the worst salad toppings have a crunchy equivalent they can be subbed for. Which I find to either closely resemble the taste of the original bad topping, or go one better in many ways.
Switch out dairy cheese with baked, cubed tofu
I’m yet to find tofu that’s not tasteless on its own, even if I bake it. However, cubed, baked tofu should be used in place of dairy cheese. Both for the health benefits, and to add a bit of crunch to the salad. I find that adding olive oil, or even pepper, brings out that nice, earthy taste in the tofu. Nothing beats a plant source for nutrients. Especially iron, amino acids contained in protein, calcium, and minerals such as phosphorous, selenium, and manganese.
Replace crunchy noodles with crushed sunflower seeds
I’d take any other ingredient over noodles, any day. My body appears to be developing some reactive properties to noodles. Crushed sunflower seeds make for a great replacement. Sunflower seeds contain B vitamins which are central to the proper functioning of the nervous system. I sometimes just add them in raw.
Use fresh berries in place of dried fruit
I’m not a personal fan of fresh berries to make for crunchy salad topping, but the kids love them. They beat dried fruit by a mile though, serving as a great source of anti-inflammatory antioxidants. It’s a different type of crunch you’d be enjoying, with a sweet-and-sour taste.
Ditch the corn for toasted sorghum tortilla chips
For a good dose of antioxidants, toasted sorghum tortilla chips do well to replace the earthy taste you’d otherwise enjoy from corn as a salad topping. The crunchiness comes from toasting, of course, and I find this topping to be quite filling on most salad bases.
I recreated my crispy bacon fix by using tempeh instead
Bacon remains my guilty-pleasure nemesis to this day, but tempeh works well enough to make for a crunchy salad topping replacement. I’d be pushing it if I said the tempeh tastes exactly like bacon, but I always take consolation of the fact that its health benefits are indicated to be the exact opposite of bacon. This cancer-fighting super-food adds a nutty, savoury taste to the salad and works to add a little bit of a stronger flavour than what tofu gives.
Raw nuts and seeds to replace roasted or salted nuts and seeds
Okay, so it’s not a glaring contradiction. It’s simply a matter of there being different degrees to the health benefits of certain foods, such as nuts. It’s not that roasted or salted nuts and seeds are particularly bad. Rather, that raw nuts and seeds are better than salted or roasted ones. Refraining from frying (even in vegetable oil) retains a better crunch. The nutritional value accounts for the B vitamin-fuelled health benefits to the nervous system. You also get a clean dose of proteins and fats.
Cheat alert – extra virgin olive oil or avocado oil glazing
Okay, so this isn’t a crunchy topping itself, but rather some glazing which I always use to add a burst of flavour to any crunchy salad topping. Particularly those meant to replace croutons. Extra virgin oil, or avocado oil, bring out the flavour in any ingredient they’re added to. Helping to fight diabetes and gum disease, as well as contributing to healthier hair.
Blended crunchy salad topping recipes
I’m pretty sure, just like me, you’ll want to try mixing and matching two or more of these crunchy salad toppings. This is how I discovered plenty of very interesting culinary sensations, made out of different textures and tastes.
Here are three personal favourites of mine, to round off the list – blended crunchy salad toppings:
Seeds and-spices mix, with hemp hearts
Throw together a selection of sunflower seeds, almonds, and pumpkin seeds to be baked and drizzled with olive oil. Add spices such as salt, parsley, dill and smoked paprika, along with garlic powder and onion, then add in the hemp heart seeds to bake for a little while longer. This is one of the tastiest crunchy salad toppings I can never get enough of, mirroring health benefits contained in vegan dishes, Keto, gluten-free, PALEO, and eating whole foods.
Crunchy detox salad topping mix
For this salad to maintain its integrity as a detoxifier, the crunchy toppings need to be added to a specific selection of base ingredients. All the ingredients added contribute to its uniquely crunchy consistency though, so I’ll just go ahead and list them all: broccoli, cauliflower, chopped red cabbage, celery stalks, fresh parsley, sunflower seeds, and raisins. Those make up the crunchiness, but just so you don’t run the risk of negating the salad’s detoxing properties, the remainder of the ingredients include lemon juice, olive oil, fresh ginger, sea salt, and olive oil.
Crunchy keto salad topping mix
Over here is a mishmash of delightful crunchiness which has some health benefits I can really feel! It never gets old, well, because of the different ingredients used to make up this crunchy Keto salad topping. I can enjoy it all week long, for breakfast, lunch and dinner, after which pro-Keto diet-run my adrenal fatigue seems to dissipate! The body gets a break from using sugar as a source of fuel, rather burning liver fat to fuel up. Whip this concoction up by including sunflower seeds, spices such as garlic powder, dried rosemary, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil, pecans, almonds, and pumpkin seeds. Add cinnamon if you must, which tends to bring out the individual tastes for my tongue.
In the doggy bag
From my kitchen to yours, it’s all about finding what ultimately works for you. How you prepare the salad and its crunchy topping(s) can be played around with a bit to make sure it pleases your taste buds! Often it is indeed how you prepare the toppings which gives them that desired crunch, like roasting, toasting, baking, etc.