Is Cheddar Cheese Really Gluten-free?

Natural cheddar cheese is always gluten-free — as it is made from only the four main basic ingredients, i.e. milk, rennet, salt and bacterial cultures. The best way to look for an all-natural cheddar is to always buy the block form and grate your own cheese. Some block cheddars may also have annatto colouring added. And all these ingredients do not contain gluten.

Look at the Cabot and Tillamook Block Cheddar image below and the ingredients.

However, if you are buying pre-sliced cheddar or pre-shredded cheddar cheese, you need to read the label carefully. The prepared and packaged versions will often contain additives like modified food starch, cellulose, potato starch, tapioca, cornstarch or other anti-caking fillers to prevent the shreds from clumping together.

Even though most modified starches and fillers used in the cheddar are gluten-free in the United States, some may be derived from wheat or modified wheat starch — and they will have to label it. The image below shows a popular pre-shredded Cheddar by Great Value, and it’s gluten-free. Natamycin is a mold inhibitor, it does not contain gluten.

For powdered cheddar or cheese powder mixed with cheddar, it may or may not contain gluten. It has to depend on what they use for and the market for the product. The image below shows the cheddar powder for instant cheddar sauce by Knorr, which contains gluten. And the other cheddar powder under the brand Oasis Supply (labeled as Kraft manufactured) is gluten-free.

Cheddar spread itself is usually gluten-free. But for many cheese spreadips, cheese crackers and other snacks that contain cheddar, are typically not gluten-free. The cracker or bread at-based snacks are usually made with wheat flour and other wheat ingredients — and it’s gluten. So check the labels carefully if you’re looking for a gluten-free snack.

Other cheddar products that likely contain gluten:

  • Cheddar crackers
  • Canned cheddar soup
  • Cheddar fries (w/ bread crumbs)
  • Cheddar Goldfish Crackers
  • Cheddar Ruffles Chips

Cheddar Bay Biscuit is gluten-free.

The left image below shows the Kraft Cheddar Spread, it’s gluten-free. The middle & right images are two different snack packs with cheddar spread, these products contain gluten.

Most heavily-processed cheddar products like Kraft Single processed sliced cheddar or cheddar cheese spray are generally gluten-free even though made with many additives and added ingredients.

Sargento Cheddar Balanced Breaks is also one snack you should look out for. The product itself does not contain gluten, but it’s labeled with “Made in a facility that is also processed wheat”, see the image below.

What about vegan cheddar cheese? It has to depend on the brands too. Most vegan cheddar cheeses are made of soy, starches, nuts and various other ingredients that are generally gluten-free, you can read our detailed overview on vegan cheddars and ingredients. There is only 1 out of 9 vegan cheddar brands — 365 Whole Food Market — containing wheat ingredients.

Key Takeaway

There you have it! In a nutshell, it’s safe to say that natural cheddar cheese is gluten-free. However, when looking for pre-packaged, prepared or processed cheddar products and snacks, you must read the ingredient list and check for wheat-based ingredients.

According to the FDA, products with less than 20ppm of gluten are considered “gluten-free”. Therefore, some companies may also use a “Gluten Free” label on their cheddar products as long as the amount is below a certain threshold.

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