While gluten can be found in a few types of cheese, there are so many types of gluten-free cheese it’s almost laughable. Many people enjoy a gluten-free diet for a variety of reasons, and food is no exception – gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy or unhealthy, but gluten is not included in the food. Gluten-free cheese is gluten-free and can be used to substitute gluten-containing cheeses on gluten-free diets.
Who needs gluten-free cheese?
Gluten is a protein found throughout wheat, rye, and barley in varying quantities – roughly 5% of its weight comes from gluten. The gluten in these grains can cause an autoimmune reaction in people with Coeliac disease, which causes damage to the intestines when gluten is eaten or digested. This leaves sufferers unable to absorb nutrients needed for bodily function properly, leading to malnutrition even when eating large amounts of food. Other conditions are also linked to gluten consumption in some way – for instance, celiac disease has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease in recent research.
Those with gluten sensitivities may not have celiac disease, but still suffer negative effects from gluten consumption – one of these is gluten intolerance (or gluten sensitivity), which can cause fatigue, migraines, abdominal pain, or diarrhea. Many people following gluten-free diets for health reasons do not necessarily need gluten-free cheeses; however, it is usually recommended due to the health benefits associated with avoiding gluten.
Cheese is safe on a gluten-free diet
The main concern for those looking to avoid gluten in their diets is cross-contamination – some preparation surfaces and cooking utensils are shared between gluten and gluten-free foods without proper sanitization, meaning some trace amounts of gluten remain on these utensils and contaminate gluten-free foods during preparation. This gluten contamination is not enough to cause harm to gluten-intolerant people but can be avoided by using gluten-free cheeses.
Cheese is safe on gluten-free diets, especially compared to other foods that generally fall under the gluten-free label; for example, gluten is found in nearly every type of bread at varying levels and has a strong chance of being cross-contaminated during production and preparation is made in facilities also using gluten products. Other types of food don’t always show the same avoidance measures as cheese – while corn tortillas are usually pure corn or cornmeal, they can still pose cross-contamination risks due to shared cooking areas and such.
Cheese has gluten extracts but so does gluten-free bread – gluten is in nearly every food and even gluten-free cheese can be cross-contaminated if prepared or eaten with gluten. Gluten is found in many things common to a gluten-free diet, including spices and cooking utensils, so it’s important not to freak out when you notice your gluten-free bread contains gluten extracts. Many types of cheese are gluten-free – just look for the label or check that they’re made from goat’s milk (since goats digest gluten more easily than cows).
No one says “Ew, this bread tastes like cheese!”
Granted, there may be some cheeses people don’t like – while gluten-free cheese is gluten-free and safe for gluten-intolerant people, it might not be the same type of cheese you’re used to or like. That said, there are gluten-free cheeses available in all shapes and sizes – from hard cheeses to soft and any types in between. Just like gluten isn’t in every kind of bread (and even gluten-free bread can contain gluten), there’s a good chance you’ll find something that fits your tastes; if not, try different brands or types until you find what works for you!
Is cheese gluten-free?
After all, is said and done, is cheese gluten-free? The short answer is… maybe. According to the FDA, “Cheese is made from dairy products such as milk, pasteurized or unpasteurized curdled by the addition of enzymes, or by acidification with safe ingredients, followed by draining and pressing.” And is that the issue is in fact dairy. If you are extremely sensitive to dairy, then cheese is most likely not right for you.
However, how cheese is made is another factor in the gluten-free equation. As mentioned previously, some cheeses are made with milk while others are made with whey (a byproduct of making cheese). Whey is also commonly used in certain gluten-free foods to improve texture and consistency. Therefore, is it possible that cheese is gluten-free but its whey is not?
The answer is maybe, again. While many companies are now using pure whey protein isolate (certified gluten-free) which is derived from dairy during the cheese-making process, some companies still use non-gluten-free varieties. The use of gluten is still a factor at this stage in the process as is the type of enzymes used to coagulate cheese can vary from producer to producer and is sometimes even derived from outside sources. For example, enzymes that are commonly used may come from swine or animal bones.
And is that is not all, is also the issue of cross-contamination. According to The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness (NFCA), “When it comes to cheese, some manufacturers process large batches and you can’t be sure how much contamination is possible” which is why some people may think they are doing themselves a favor by sticking to the ripest, freshest mozzarella they can find while completely circumventing other potential gluten-containing varieties is safe. However, is that is currently is not enough information out there this time to definitively say which cheese is or is not gluten-free.