Are mozzarella cheese sticks gluten-free?

Mozzarella cheese sticks are a popular appetizer or snack made of mozzarella cheese that is breaded and fried. For those avoiding gluten, a common question is whether typical mozzarella sticks served at restaurants contain gluten from the breading or other ingredients.

Quick Answer

Most mozzarella cheese sticks are not gluten-free because they are coated with breadcrumbs that contain gluten. However, some brands or restaurants may offer gluten-free mozzarella sticks that use cornmeal, rice flour, or gluten-free breadcrumbs for the coating.

What are Mozzarella Cheese Sticks?

Mozzarella cheese sticks, also sometimes called mozzarella fingers or mozzarella fries, are made of mozzarella cheese that is formed into stick shapes, coated in breading, and then deep fried until the breading is crispy and the cheese inside is melted. They are a popular appetizer at many Italian American or casual dining restaurants.

To make mozzarella sticks, first mozzarella cheese blocks are cut into small sticks or slices. They are then coated in a breading that usually contains ingredients like flour, breadcrumbs, eggs, and seasoning.

The breaded mozzarella sticks are deep fried in hot oil, which melts the cheese interior and makes the coating crispy and golden brown. They are served warm with tomato sauce or ranch dressing for dipping.

Common Ingredients in Mozzarella Sticks

While ingredients can vary depending on the brand or source, most mozzarella cheese sticks contain:

  • Mozzarella cheese – Low moisture, whole milk or part skim mozzarella cut into sticks
  • Flour – Typically all-purpose flour to help the breading adhere
  • Breadcrumbs – Usually dry breadcrumbs from wheat bread
  • Eggs – Used to bind the breading to the cheese
  • Herbs and spices – Like garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and parsley

The flour and breadcrumbs that coat the outside are what gives mozzarella sticks their crispy texture after frying. But they also contain gluten, which can be an issue for people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.

Do Mozzarella Cheese Sticks Contain Gluten?

Unless explicitly labeled “gluten-free,” most mozzarella cheese sticks contain gluten from the wheat flour and breadcrumbs used to coat the exterior.

Here are some of the sources of gluten commonly found in mozzarella sticks:

  • Flour – All-purpose flour, occasionally wheat flour, are typically used in mozzarella stick breading. All wheat flours contain gluten.
  • Breadcrumbs – Dry breadcrumbs are made from wheat bread, containing gluten.
  • Thickeners – Some recipes use wheat flour or starch to thicken the egg wash.
  • Shared fryer oil – Mozzarella sticks cooked in shared fryers may be cross-contaminated.

For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consuming these forms of gluten can cause gastrointestinal symptoms or other health issues. So those following a gluten-free diet need to avoid most restaurant or pre-packaged mozzarella sticks.

What Makes Mozzarella Sticks Gluten-Free?

For mozzarella sticks to be truly gluten-free, they must use:

  • Cheese that is certified gluten-free
  • A gluten-free flour alternative like rice flour or cornstarch
  • Gluten-free breadcrumbs or coating
  • A fryer dedicated to gluten-free foods

Substituting the wheat-based flour and breadcrumbs with gluten-free options like rice flour, cornmeal, potato starch, chickpea flour, or gluten-free breadcrumbs is key. This eliminates sources of gluten in the coating.

The frying oil used must also be kept gluten-free. Using a dedicated fryer that only cooks gluten-free foods reduces cross-contamination risks.

Gluten-Free Breading Options

There are several gluten-free breading alternatives used by brands that offer gluten-free mozzarella sticks, such as:

  • Cornmeal – Can be used on its own or in combination with other flours
  • Rice flour – Made from ground rice, often used combined with tapioca starch
  • Potato starch – Provides a light and crispy texture
  • Chickpea flour – Protein-rich legume flour works well for breading
  • Polenta – Coarsely ground cornmeal with good binding abilities
  • Gluten-free breadcrumbs – Made from grains like rice, corn, or quinoa

Using certified gluten-free ingredients and cooking procedures reduces the chances of cross-contamination occurring.

Are Restaurant Mozzarella Sticks Gluten-Free?

Dining out with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity can be challenging. While some restaurants offer gluten-free menus and options, most standard restaurant mozzarella sticks are not gluten-free.

Here are some tips for finding gluten-free mozzarella sticks when eating out:

  • Check menus – Some restaurants advertise gluten-free mozzarella sticks or have gluten-free sections on menus.
  • Ask about ingredients – Inquire about the breading and flour used to see if they are gluten-free.
  • Request special prep – Ask if they can make mozzarella sticks with gluten-free breading.
  • Ensure separate fryer – Make sure gluten-free mozzarella sticks are cooked in dedicated, gluten-free oil.
  • Cross-contamination – Even gluten-free versions may be risked in shared kitchens.

The safest options are restaurants that have gluten-free cooking procedures and clearly advertise gluten-free items on menus. But choices may be very limited.

Gluten-Free Restaurant Chains

Some restaurant chains that may offer gluten-free mozzarella sticks include:

  • Red Robin – Has a gluten-free menu and fryers. Notify server of gluten allergy.
  • Ruby Tuesday – Indicates gluten-free menu options. Ask about mozzarella sticks.
  • Outback Steakhouse – Has gluten-free menu but no mozzarella sticks.
  • Olive Garden – Indicates gluten-free choices but no gluten-free mozzarella.
  • Chipotle – No mozzarella sticks but corn tortilla chips are gluten-free.

Be sure to check with each location directly as menus and preparation methods can vary.

Are Frozen Mozzarella Sticks Gluten-Free?

Checking packaged frozen mozzarella sticks for gluten-free labels or claims is important for those avoiding gluten. Here is some information on popular brands:

365 Everyday Value

The 365 Everyday Value mozzarella sticks sold at Whole Foods contain wheat-based breading and are not gluten-free.


Tyson mozzarella sticks contain wheat flour and breadcrumbs. They are not gluten-free.

Trader Joe’s

Trader Joe’s battered mozzarella sticks contain wheat and barley-based ingredients. They are not gluten-free.


Ore-Ida cheese sticks have wheat flour and wheat crumbs listed on the ingredients. They are not gluten-free.


Alexia Organic Mozzarella Sticks state “made in a facility that processes wheat flour” on the box. They do not claim to be gluten-free.

Very few mainstream brands currently offer gluten-free mozzarella sticks. Reading labels carefully or looking for a gluten-free certification are the best ways to evaluate frozen options.

Gluten-Free Brands

Some brands that indicate their mozzarella sticks are gluten-free include:

  • Ian’s – Makes gluten-free breadcrumb coated mozzarella sticks.
  • Ode to the Grape – Certified gluten-free, made with rice flour and cornmeal coating.
  • Gillian’s Foods – Gluten-free mozzarella sticks made with a cornmeal coating.
  • Against the Grain – Certified gluten-free with multigrain crust.

Checking for credible gluten-free certifications like from the Gluten-Free Certification Organization (GFCO) can help identify truly gluten-free options.

How to Make Gluten-Free Mozzarella Sticks at Home

Making gluten-free mozzarella sticks at home allows control over the ingredients used. Here is a simple recipe to try:


  • 8 oz block of low moisture mozzarella, cut into sticks
  • 1/2 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 cup fine cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 2 cups vegetable oil for frying
  • Marinara sauce, for serving


  1. Cut mozzarella block into 1/2-inch thick, 3-4 inch long stick shapes.
  2. In a shallow bowl, mix together rice flour, cornmeal, garlic powder and salt.
  3. Place eggs in a separate shallow bowl, beat well.
  4. Dip mozzarella sticks into the egg mixture, then toss in the flour mixture pressing to adhere.
  5. Heat 2 inches oil in pan to 350°F. Fry mozzarella sticks 3-4 minutes until golden brown.
  6. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Serve warm with marinara sauce.

Be sure to use certified gluten-free ingredients and thoroughly clean cooking tools and surfaces to prevent cross-contact. Enjoy gluten-free mozzarella sticks!

Nutrition Info for Gluten-Free Mozzarella Sticks

Here is the nutrition information for a 3-stick serving of homemade gluten-free mozzarella sticks made with part-skim mozzarella cheese and coated in rice flour and cornmeal:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 221
Fat 13g
Carbs 12g
Protein 12g
Sodium 419mg

The gluten-free cornmeal and rice flour coating adds a crispy texture with minimal added carbohydrates. These homemade mozzarella sticks provide protein and calcium from the cheese along with fat from the vegetable oil.

Should You Make Mozzarella Sticks Part of a Gluten-Free Diet?

Mozzarella cheese sticks can be enjoyed on a gluten-free diet if made with certified gluten-free ingredients and preparation methods. They provide protein, calcium, and other nutrients from the cheese.

However, fried gluten-free mozzarella sticks should be consumed in moderation as part of a healthy gluten-free diet, which focuses on:

  • Lean proteins like chicken, fish, beans, and eggs
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole gluten-free grains like rice, quinoa, and millet
  • Healthy fats from oils, nuts, seeds, and avocado
  • Low-fat dairy products

An occasional gluten-free mozzarella stick can be a tasty indulgence, but make sure your diet is full of nourishing whole foods overall. Pair them with a fresh salad and gluten-free dipping sauce.

The Bottom Line

Unless specifically labeled “gluten-free,” most restaurant and frozen mozzarella sticks contain gluten from wheat-based breading and should be avoided by people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. Checking ingredient labels, menus, and using dedicated gluten-free fryers reduces gluten exposure.

To enjoy gluten-free mozzarella sticks, choose brands that are certified gluten-free, check restaurant gluten-free menus, or make your own at home. With the right ingredients and preparation, you can still enjoy this tasty, cheesy appetizer on a gluten-free diet.

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