A crouton is a small piece of sautéed or rebaked bread, often cubed and seasoned, that is used to add texture and flavor to salads, notably the Caesar salad, as an accompaniment to soups, or eaten as a snack food. The word crouton is derived from the French croûton, itself derived from croûte, meaning "crust".
Making croutons is relatively simple. Typically the cook cuts bread into small cubes, coats them in oil or butter (which may be seasoned or flavored for variety), and then bakes them. Alternatively, they may be fried lightly in butter or vegetable oil, until crisp and as brown as desired to give them a buttery flavor and crunchy texture.
Nearly any type of unsweetened bread, in a loaf or pre-sliced, with or without crust, may be used to make croutons. Dry or stale leftover bread is usually used in lieu of fresh bread. Once prepared, the croutons will remain fresh far longer than the bread.
A dish prepared à la Grenobloise (in the Grenoble manner) has a garnish of small croutons along with brown butter, capers, parsley, and lemon.
French onion soup is usually topped with croutons and melted cheese.
Dried and cubed bread is commonly sold in large bags in North America to make Thanksgiving holiday stuffing or dressing, though these are generally different than salad croutons, being only dry bread instead of buttered or oiled and with different seasonings, if any.