Another age-old question shrouded in mystery, is store-bought shredded cheese gluten-free? It's a common myth found online that shredded cheeses are not gluten-free. I've done some research on the topic and it's time to put this myth to the test!
The Shredded Cheese Myth
I've seen it in the Facebook groups and I've talked to family members and friends about it. The myth is that store-bought shredded cheese is coated in flour to prevent clumping. Well, is it? Let's find out! (Spoiler alert: it's not.)
Debunking the Myth
To debunk this myth, let's go straight to the source, the lists of ingredients! In the U.S. the top brands of shredded cheeses are as follows, Private Label (store-brand), Kraft, Sargento, Crystal Farms, and Tillamook. Followed by Borden, Belgioioso, and Cabot. I went to the website of each brand to look at the ingredients on each type of shredded cheese. I also searched for gluten-free statements about their products in general or their labeling practices. You can often find this info on a FAQ page.
I sifted through all of Kraft's shredded cheese products. Every one uses either cellulose powder or modified cornstarch as an anti-caking agent. According to Kraft, the company labels for all sources of gluten above 10ppm, which means if an ingredient was sourced from wheat, they would state that on the label. None of their labels on shredded cheese claim wheat so rest assured, Kraft shredded cheese is gluten-free.
Sargento's shredded cheese products use potato starch and powdered cellulose to prevent caking. According to their FAQ's page, all of their natural cheeses are gluten-free and "neither of [the] anti-caking agents [are] derived from wheat, rye, oats, barley, or their cross-bred hybrids." So good news! Sargento cheese is also gluten-free.
Crystal Farms shredded cheeses use potato starch and powdered cellulose for anti-caking. The company also states on its website that all of their cheeses are gluten-free.
Tillamook uses potato starch to prevent caking. The company states that all of their cheeses are gluten-free.
The Borden website does not have much information regarding ingredients or gluten-free claims so I emailed their customer service. This is their reply, "the anti-caking agents used are Potato Starch, Corn Starch, Powdered Cellulose, or Calcium Sulfate. These agents are food grade, gluten-free and are used at low measurements to keep our shredded cheese free flowing."
According to the FAQ page, all of Cabot's shredded cheeses are gluten-free. They even go so far to state that they have researched their products to be gluten-free and are produced in a gluten-free environment.
Belgioioso uses cellulose powder and according to their website, their cheeses are gluten-free.
There is not much information readily available from private label companies about their sourcing and labeling practices. Listed below are the anti-caking ingredients used by the stores local to me, none of which claim wheat on their labels:
- Walmart/Great Value: Potato Starch and Powdered Cellulose
- Kroger: Potato Starch, Corn Starch, Dextrose and Calcium Sulfate
- Target: Corn Starch, Potato Starch, Cellulose
- Aldi/Happy Farms: Potato starch, Powdered Cellulose, states Gluten-free
While I wish private label brands were more transparent about their ingredients and sources, I am still confident that their cheeses are gluten-free and safe to consume. That being said, in the future I may be more likely to purchase name-brand cheese over private label brands, with the exception of Aldi, because of the added assurance they provide the consumer.
What is Cellulose Powder?
You may notice a common theme among the anti-caking agents listed, cellulose powder. So what exactly is it?
- Cellulose is the most abundant organic compound on earth.
- Cellulose is a fiber found in the cell walls of most plants, including wheat but also wood, cotton, fruits, vegetables, and even algae.
- Cellulose is extracted from plants to produce a white, odorless, and tasteless powder called cellulose powder.
- The powder is used in many foods for a wide array of uses like boosting fiber content, as an anti-caking agent, or as a thickening agent.
The cellulose powder in our food is most likely derived from wood. Wood is used because it is the most cost-effective option. Also, using a food source would be a waste of that food and introduces other barriers to production. Cost truly is the bottom line for manufacturers because to them, cellulose is cellulose, regardless of the source.
So don't be alarmed. Cellulose powder does not contain gluten or even sawdust, it's just cellulose.
Conclusion: Shredded Cheese is Gluten-free.
After all of this research, I feel confident that the standard shredded cheeses available for consumption in the U.S. are gluten-free. (This is obviously barring some malted or beer-laden flavor that my pop up someday.)
This is just another reminder to read labels, visit the company's website, or send them an email. All of the information you need is there. I genuinely believe people in online and Facebook forums are well-intentioned but misinformation is widely and easily spread. Everything you read in those places should be taken with a large grain of salt. In the same amount of time it takes to ask a question in a forum, you could likely find the answers directly from the source.
If after all of this, you are still unsure about cheese or just don't like all the additives, there is always the option of buying a block of cheese and grating it yourself with a box grater or a food processor!
Have any questions or comments?! Leave them down below. Want me to bust some more gluten-free myths? Leave it in the comments!