Originally created as a practical use for stale bread, croutons make for delicious additions to salads, soups and any dish that needs a bit of crunch. Purchase croutons already made in resealable plastic bags or boxes, or make your own with variety of bread -- fresh, stale, homemade or store-bought. How long your croutons keep before going bad depends on the seasonings used and whether or not they are homemade.
Best Storage Practices
Unopened store-bought croutons are good for as long as six months when stored in a cool pantry, unless otherwise noted by the "use date" on the package. Once opened, the expiration date is no longer guaranteed, but they can last up to six months if properly stored. Homemade croutons stored in a cool pantry in an airtight container, such as a jar with a snug-fitting lid, last for as long as two weeks. The exception would be homemade croutons seasoned with cheese such as Parmesan, in which case the shelf-life is reduced to two to three days.
Freeze Homemade Croutons
Because they are made without preservatives, homemade croutons cannot be stored as long at room temperature as the store-bought variety -- but they can be frozen. Seal homemade croutons in a plastic bag and press out all of the air before freezing. Thaw them slowly in the refrigerator so they don't absorb moisture and become mushy. Homemade croutons can also be stored in the refrigerator for several days, but expect some loss of crunchiness. In the freezer, homemade croutons last as long as three weeks. Freezing store-bought croutons is not recommended.
Once opened, a bag of store-bought croutons can go bad if they are not properly resealed. In places where the humidity level is greater than 60 percent, food made from bread draws in moisture, resulting in a spongy, stale crouton that can later develop mold. To help preserve your croutons in a humid environment, use glass jars with tight-fitting lids, zip-top style bags, or freeze homemade croutons.
Switching up the seasonings is an added benefit to making your own croutons. Unfortunately, these seasonings can inhibit your crouton's storage life. The University of North Dakota Extension Services warns that some seasonings, such as sage, curry, onion and celery seed, can go bitter or musty when stored in the freezer. Croutons seasoned with cheese cannot be stored as long as homemade croutons made without cheese.
It's easy to make your own croutons and have complete control over the ingredients. The bread can be buttered or sprayed with olive oil, and cut into small squares or large cubes. Sautéing bread bits in a pan yields chewy, unevenly browned croutons with more texture; oven-baked croutons are crunchy throughout and evenly brown. Four ounces of bread yields 2 to 3 cups of crouton cubes. Season them to suit your dish. Croutons seasoned with dill are perfect for tomato soup, mixed herbs work for garden salads, and garlic powder adds zest to Cesar salad croutons.