Gluten free dining has become increasingly popular in recent years, with more and more restaurants offering gluten free options to accommodate guests with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. One popular restaurant chain that has attracted attention for its signature unlimited breadsticks is Olive Garden. For those avoiding gluten, a common question is: does Olive Garden have gluten free breadsticks?
Quick answer: Yes, Olive Garden does offer gluten free breadsticks, but they may not be available at all locations. Gluten free breadsticks can be requested at Olive Garden, but availability may vary.
Background on Gluten Free Dining
Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley and rye. For those with celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten triggers an autoimmune response that damages the small intestine. The only treatment is strictly following a lifelong gluten free diet, avoiding any foods containing gluten.
While gluten free dining was once extremely challenging, awareness of gluten free needs has grown dramatically and many restaurants now offer gluten free options. Under FDA guidelines, for a food to be labeled “gluten free” it must contain less than 20 parts per million of gluten. Oats are inherently gluten free, but are often contaminated, so gluten free oats are used when making gluten free foods.
The gluten free trend has steadily grown, even among those not avoiding gluten for medical reasons. In a 2019 survey, 25% of US adults said they regularly consumed gluten free foods, while only 6% had celiac disease or non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Gluten free menu options allow restaurants to accommodate various dietary needs and preferences.
Gluten Free at Olive Garden
Olive Garden states on its website: “Our commitment is to make the moments that matter feel more special—and that means caring for our guests with gluten sensitivities.” The restaurant offers a gluten sensitive menu with several gluten free appetizers, soups, salads and main dishes. Entrees like grilled chicken, salmon, shrimp and steak all have gluten free preparation options.
However, Olive Garden’s famous unlimited breadsticks are normally not gluten free. According to the website, “Our breadsticks are freshly baked with flour and do contain gluten. However, we may have gluten-free breadsticks available upon request.”
So while gluten free breadsticks are not guaranteed, they can be requested. Availability likely varies by location. With over 800 Olive Garden restaurants, gluten free practices may differ across individual kitchens based on local supply and demand.
Requesting Gluten Free Breadsticks
If enjoying those warm, fluffy breadsticks is your favorite part of dining at Olive Garden, don’t lose hope! Here are some tips for requesting gluten free breadsticks:
- Ask your server as soon as you are seated if the location has gluten free breadsticks available.
- Politely explain your gluten free need. People are often happy to accommodate dietary restrictions when made aware.
- Ask the server to check with the kitchen staff to see if they have gluten free breadstick options on hand.
- Be understanding if they do not have availability; supply and procedures vary across locations.
- Consider calling ahead to ask if gluten free breadsticks can be reserved for your visit.
You may be pleasantly surprised to find that many Olive Garden locations do keep gluten free breadsticks in stock for guests who request them. If not, the gluten sensitive menu still has many delicious options to enjoy.
Ingredients in Gluten Free Breadsticks
Olive Garden’s gluten free breadsticks are not identical to the traditional breadsticks. They have some differences in taste, texture and appearance.
The traditional Olive Garden breadsticks contain wheat flour, salt, butter, yeast and honey. By contrast, the gluten free breadsticks are made with a blend of gluten free flours, usually including:
- Brown rice flour
- Sweet white rice flour
- Potato starch
- Tapioca flour
Xanthan gum or guar gum are typically added to help mimic the elasticity of gluten and bind the dough. Other common ingredients in gluten free bread recipes include milk, eggs, yeast, salt and butter or oil. So while not exactly the same, the gluten free breadsticks aim to be as close as possible to the original beloved recipe.
Nutrition Info for Gluten Free Breadsticks
How does the nutrition information compare between the regular and gluten free Olive Garden breadsticks? Here is a comparison:
- Calories: 140
- Fat: 5g
- Carbs: 20g
- Protein: 3g
- Sodium: 320mg
Gluten Free Breadsticks
- Calories: 130
- Fat: 5g
- Carbs: 21g
- Protein: 2g
- Sodium: 460mg
The gluten free breadsticks are very similar in calories, fat and carbs. They are bit lower in protein, which is typical of gluten free baked goods. However, they do contain significantly more sodium. This helps replace some of the flavor and texture lost when removing gluten.
So how do Olive Garden’s gluten free breadsticks measure up in terms of taste? Here are some reviews:
- “They were very tasty and had great flavor. You could tell the difference in texture but I was still satisfied with the gluten free version.”
- “Not exactly the same as the original but still warm, soft and delicious. I was so happy they were able to accommodate me.”
- “Very comparable to the wheat breadsticks. I would definitely get them again.”
- “They were too dense and crunchy for my liking. Not nearly as good as what the rest of my family was eating.”
- “Had a bit of an odd aftertaste. I appreciated that they were available but probably wouldn’t get them again.”
- “Nowhere near as soft or flavorful as the traditional breadsticks.”
It seems the gluten free breadsticks get mixed reviews in terms of taste and texture when compared to the originals. While likely not identical, many find them to be an acceptable gluten free alternative to enjoy along with their meal.
Those with celiac disease or severe gluten sensitivity should also consider the potential for cross-contact when requesting gluten free breadsticks from Olive Garden. Even if the breadsticks contain gluten free ingredients, cross-contact with gluten could occur:
- On shared kitchen surfaces
- In fryer oil used for multiple menu items
- From shared utensils
While Olive Garden takes steps to avoid cross-contact, it likely cannot be fully eliminated as they prepare a variety of gluten-containing foods. Those highly sensitive should keep this risk in mind.
Other Gluten Free Italian Food Options
Beyond the breadsticks, Olive Garden has plenty of delicious Italian dishes that are naturally gluten free or can be prepared gluten free upon request. Options include:
- Minestrone or other gluten free soup
- Garden fresh salad
- Grilled chicken
- Gluten free pasta dishes
Olive Garden also offers several gluten free dessert options, like tiramisu or zeppoli. Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity don’t have to miss out on amazing Italian cuisine!
Gluten Free Dining at Other Chain Restaurants
Beyond Olive Garden, many popular chain restaurants also offer gluten free menus and options:
Offers gluten free bread, pasta, desserts
Gluten free rolls available upon request
Dedicated gluten free menu
Extensive special gluten free menu
More restaurants are also training staff on gluten free practices and designating certain fryers or prep areas as gluten free zones. While diligence is still required, options continue to expand. Apps like FindMeGlutenFree can help locate restaurants with gluten free dishes in any city.
Should You Tip Extra for Gluten Free Requests?
Requesting gluten free options, substitutions or special accommodations can sometimes feel like an imposition. But for those avoiding gluten, it is a necessity. Here are some tips on tipping when making special requests:
- No need to tip extra for simply ordering a designated gluten free menu item.
- If items need modified or kitchen staff is put out, consider adding an extra couple dollars.
- An extra 5-10% tip is reasonable for complicated requests or extensive accommodations.
- If the server seems inconvenienced or reluctant to accommodate, speak to a manager.
- Thank servers and let them know you appreciate their efforts and flexibility.
While gluten free dining can require some extra work, a sincere thank you and reasonable tip for good service can go a long way.
Traveling Gluten Free
For those adhering to a gluten free diet, dining out while traveling can seem intimidating. Here are some tips to stay gluten free on the road:
- Research restaurant options in advance and call ahead if needed.
- Pack snacks, treats and even some gluten free bread.
- Look for restaurants with clear gluten free menus and policies.
- Explain your needs clearly and politely to wait staff.
- Use a translation app or card if traveling abroad.
- When in doubt, stick to naturally gluten free dishes.
- Be vigilant for cross-contact and ask questions.
With planning and care, those avoiding gluten can feel comfortable dining out whether just down the street or around the world.
Olive Garden offers a popular gluten free menu, but availability of gluten free breadsticks varies by location. While recipes differ slightly from the traditional breadsticks, many find the gluten free version to be an acceptable option to enjoy along with gluten free entrees. Calling ahead, explaining dietary needs politely and tipping generously for accommodations can help ensure a positive gluten free dining experience. Though diligence around cross-contact is still required, chains like Olive Garden provide tasty gluten free choices for guests.