Is Cream Cheese Gluten Free?
Don’t worry—you can still have your breakfast staple on a gluten-free diet. Cream cheese is gluten free and gluten-free bagel options are plenty.
A frequent morning staple in our house is bagels and cream cheese—at least it was until we became more carb conscious and then became gluten-free. Still, gluten-free bagels and cream cheese often make an appearance at our table.
Good gluten-free bagels can be hard to find. But the good news is that cream cheese is gluten-free. (However, even if a packaged food is usually gluten-free, always read the ingredient label to make sure.)
I’m a stickler for plain cream cheese—no strawberry, blueberry or jalapeño asiago for me. When you start adding flavors to cream cheese you’ll want to read the ingredient list to make sure there are no gluten-containing ingredients. It would be extremely rare for something containing gluten to be added; however, once you start adulterating cream cheese with strawberries, blueberries and jalapeños, who knows what could happen?
Similarly, it’s worth it to read the labels on fat-free cream cheese to make sure there are no odd additives, but I’ve never seen any cream cheese that contains gluten. Some websites warn of maltodextrin and emulsifiers as possible sources of gluten; however, if these ingredients came from wheat (which would be rare), the wheat would need to be declared on the label. And even when maltodextrin is derived from wheat, it is so highly processed that no gluten protein would remain.
For cream cheese, I grew up in Philadelphia and I pretty much eat only Philadelphia brand cream cheese from Kraft. It’s not so much out of a loyalty to the city, but a loyalty to the cream cheese. Nothing else spreads quite as well. Around Passover in April, I can find Kraft Breakstone’s Temp Tee whipped cream cheese, which I have to admit I like even more than Philadelphia cream cheese. Temp Tee is light, fluffy and spreads well—and it’s gluten-free. Kraft declares all sources of gluten on ingredient labels, including sources from barley and rye, not just wheat.
The biggest problem with cream cheese is cross-contamination—when others stick their crumby knives into the gluten-free cream cheese package, rendering it unsafe for those with celiac disease. To avoid this crummy crumb situation, take a Sharpie marker and write a large note that says “Gluten Free: Clean Knives Only” on the package, so others will stay away. Or ask them to “drop and plop,” taking a shmear of cream cheese and plopping it on their plate so the knife does not get contaminated with bagel bits.
Finding good bagels is hard—both for gluten-containing bagels and gluten-free bagels. My father-in-law has a great term for bagels that look good but taste like bad impersonators: “BSOs” or “bagel-shaped objects.” They look like bagels and call themselves bagels but the taste is nothing like the real thing.
The key for gluten-free bagels is to toast them before eating. You simply cannot just pull them out of the bag and eat them. (Well, you can, but you’ll regret it.) The toasting brings out more flavor and also prevents the bagel from tasting too mealy. Canyon Bakehouse is one of my favorite brands of gluten-free bagels—we like the Plain and the Cinnamon Raisin varieties. I recently came across O’Doughs, a gluten-free brand from Canada. These bagel thins are much smaller, so that translates to less of a carb load. The taste is good, though the flavor from the bean flour comes through. Katz Gluten Free is another reliable brand. Keep your eye out for Gluten Free & More’s February/March issue, in which managing editor Erica Dermer reviews a variety of gluten-free bagels!
As with many foods, you don’t have to give up bagels and cream cheese when you go gluten-free. Just look for gluten-free bagels, get yourself an unopened package of cream cheese, double-check the labels and dig in!
Written by Eve Becker, originally published in Gluten Free & More.