Mozzarella Cheese: Gluten-Free?

Last Updated on January 17, 2024 by Aaron

Mozzarella cheese by itself is naturally gluten-free. The primary ingredients in traditional mozzarella cheese are milk, rennet, and salt, none of which contain gluten.

When served in dishes or meals, mozzarella might be contaminated if it comes into contact with gluten-containing ingredients. Some mozzarella products might potentially contain additives or flavorings that have gluten, though this is uncommon.

For individuals with celiac disease, many health authorities and experts recommend that the daily intake of gluten should be less than 20 parts per million (ppm), which equates to less than 10 milligrams (mg) of gluten per day. This is a minuscule amount, roughly equivalent to a tiny crumb of bread. Some individuals may react to even smaller amounts of gluten.

What about the Mozzarella Pizza?

A regular slice of wheat-based pizza can contain a significant amount of gluten. For instance, If the flour used in the pizza crust is 10% gluten by weight (a reasonable average for many wheat flours), then that 100-gram slice of typical pizza could contain about 10 grams of gluten.

This is vastly above the safe limit for someone with celiac disease. Even a tiny bite of such a slice would exceed the recommended daily limit.

There’s gluten-free pizza. Gluten-free pizzas are made using crusts that are formulated without wheat or other gluten-containing grains. Instead, these crusts might use ingredients like rice flour, potato starch, almond flour, or other gluten-free alternatives. Toppings, including mozzarella, vegetables, and meats, are typically gluten-free unless they’ve been processed or seasoned with gluten-containing ingredients.

However, it’s crucial to note that cross-contamination can occur.

An interesting study (1) analyzed the gluten content in gluten-free pizza samples prepared and bought from certified restaurants in the Turin metropolitan area in Italy. Only one sample of cooked dough tested positive for gluten, but it was still below the warning level for celiac consumers (<20 ppm).

Mozzarella Varieties & Products: Gluten-free?

Traditional and Fresh Mozzarella Varieties: The foundation of mozzarella products lies in traditional mozzarella and its fresh counterpart. Both are primarily composed of milk, rennet, and salt. Fresh mozzarella, often found submerged in whey or brine, is a soft, delicate cheese with a high moisture content. Like its traditional counterpart, it’s inherently gluten-free.

Pre-processed and Convenience Mozzarella Products: As mozzarella has grown in popularity, its presence in convenient, ready-to-use forms, such as shredded mozzarella and mozzarella cheese slices, has become ubiquitous. Pre-shredded mozzarella, while handy, often contains anti-caking agents to prevent clumping. These agents can be a source of gluten, making label-checking a must. Similarly, other processed mozzarella items, including certain cheese blends, may contain additives or fillers that introduce gluten.

Specialty Mozzarella and Related Products: Delving into the gourmet side, we encounter products like smoked mozzarella and burrata. The former is a flavorful twist on the traditional cheese, acquiring its distinct taste from the smoking process, which doesn’t inherently introduce gluten. Burrata, a delightful blend of solid mozzarella on the outside with a creamy mixture of mozzarella and cream on the inside, is also naturally gluten-free. But, as with all artisanal products, it’s wise to ensure no additional flavorings or potential cross-contaminants lurk within.

Mozzarella Snacks and Prepared Dishes: Mozzarella sticks are a beloved snack, characterized by their breaded exterior. This breading is usually a source of gluten as it often contains wheat flour. However, the market does offer gluten-free versions, which use alternative, gluten-free breading ingredients. An example is Wegman’s Gluten-free Mozzarella Sticks.

Potential Gluten-containing Ingredients

It’s worth noting that some brands of mozzarella products may contain maltodextrin. An example is Velveeta Mozzarella Shreds (2). Maltodextrin is a carbohydrate produced from starch. Depending on the source of that starch, maltodextrin can be gluten-free or not. For example In the United States, maltodextrin is commonly derived from corn, which is naturally gluten-free. In Europe, it might be derived more frequently from wheat. That said, even if maltodextrin is derived from wheat, the processing typically removes the protein, making it generally gluten-free.

As for some of the vegan mozzarella, it’s common to use yeast extract for the “umami” taste. This ingredient can sometimes be derived from barley, which contains gluten. However, many yeast extracts are gluten-free, especially when used in products intended for the gluten-free market. You’d need to confirm with the manufacturer if it’s gluten-free. Follow Your Heart is labeled gluten-free.

Modified Food Starch is another ingredient that could be a potential source of gluten if it’s derived from wheat. However, in the U.S., if the source is wheat, it should be explicitly labeled as such (e.g., “Modified Wheat Starch”). Without “wheat” specified, it’s typically derived from a gluten-free source like corn or potato.

Sometimes, cheeses might have added flavors or seasonings, and these mixtures could contain gluten or be cross-contaminated.

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