Is Nacho Cheese Gluten Free – Popular Brands and Recipes

  • Nacho cheese is a cheese sauce that’s served as a dip with nacho chips.
  • It is not any specific type of cheese; different types of cheeses may be used to make it.
  • This American favorite has changed since its inception, due to mass production.
  • If nacho cheese contains a glutinous texturizer or flavoring agent, the sauce ends up with gluten.

Is nacho cheese gluten free? That’s like the only question I really need to know. I just eat so much of this stuff you might think this is the only thing I eat.

Seriously though, while it may sound like only cheese, we already know that gluten can sneak up on you, so in this article we will give you info on nacho cheese and some popular brands that are safe to eat.

What are nachos without a layer of rich, golden cheese on top? The creamy, peppery cheese dip adds life to the crispy tortilla chips.

The melted cheese sauce has come a long way since nachos were first served at a Mexican restaurant to the wives of soldiers.

Now, nachos and nacho cheese are mass-produced, and you can buy them in cans or bottles. But, is nacho cheese gluten free?

Nacho cheese is actually a kind of cheese sauce, which includes melted cheese, usually processed cheddar.

Other cheeses are also used in making nacho cheese, especially in the homemade or gourmet versions. So, the main ingredient in the sauce is cheese, which is gluten free.

But it also contains flour, vinegar, spices, and other additives that can add gluten to the cheese sauce. 

Is Nacho Cheese Gluten Free?

Whether you’re at the movie theater or in the gallery watching a match, nachos are a popular snack.

Crispy tortilla chips in a paper plate, with the golden, gooey goodness spread on them – it’s part of the great American experience, just like hot dogs and coke.

Without nacho cheese, the tortilla chips would have been dry and dull. It’s the deliciousness of nacho cheese that changes the nacho game.

Simply put, nacho cheese is a form of cheese sauce. It uses processed cheese that’s shredded and melted and then mixed with other ingredients, like thickeners, vinegar, coloring agents, spices, and more to make a delicious sauce.

These add-ins and fillers may contain gluten. Thus, your favorite cheese sauce that’s available in markets and may end up with gluten content.          

Like most other cheese sauces, nacho cheese, too, may contain flour. It may also contain wheat-based vinegar.

Additionally, the coloring and flavoring agents may also have gluten, thus making the store-bought nacho sauces unsafe for you.

So, even though it’s a delicious dip that you can enjoy with any chips or fries, it might be unsafe for you if you are gluten intolerant. 

By now, you know the protocol of purchasing any food product: you must check its ingredients list to ensure that there’s nothing glutinous in it.

Of course, it’s always best to look for a brand that is labeled as gluten free. This label means that the sauce has been tested, and its gluten content is less than the permitted level, i.e., 20 ppm.

The same applies to a bottle or can of nacho cheese, too!

What is Nacho Cheese?

is nacho cheese gluten free

You must have heard of different types of cheeses – brie, cheddar, blue, mozzarella, and more. When you hear the name, “nacho cheese”, it might sound like something similar.

But don’t be fooled by the name. Nacho cheese is not any specific form of cheese.

It’s just a cheese sauce made by melting any kind of cheese – popularly processed cheddar – and served on top of nachos. Hence, the name!

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This sauce also contains peppers, spices, vinegar, flavors, tomato paste, and more. There are many brands of cheese sauces available in the market.

You can buy cans or bottles of nacho cheese from the market if you don’t want to make it at home.

It’s easy to check their ingredients or the “gluten free” label. The problem lies with the sauce that’s spread over a serving of store-bought nachos.   

The combination of nachos and cheese sauce is available everywhere – movie theaters, sporting events, schools, and more. Even restaurants sell their fancy versions.

Undoubtedly, it is an extremely popular snack-dish in America. But the current versions of the sauce are different from the nacho cheese that was made initially with freshly-grated real cheese and served with tortilla chips. 

Interestingly, neither nachos nor the cheese sauce is a traditional dish. It was invented in the kitchen of Victory Club restaurant in 1943.

The wives of the soldiers stationed at Fort Duncan were out shopping, and they reached the restaurant afterward.

The maitre d’ at the hotel, Ignacio Anaya, had little time in hand, and he whipped up a new snack for the ladies.

Anaya fried tortilla triangles and shredded some cheddar cheese on top of them. Then, he heated them before adding some peppers and pickled jalapeno to the dish before serving.

When asked, he named his newly invented snack Nacho, after his own nickname – El Nacho.

Thus, a new American favorite was born: a delicious combo of tortilla chips served with melted cheddar and jalapeno, aka nachos.

The mass-production of nachos, topped with concession cheese, which you get easily today, didn’t become popular until 1978.

During a Monday Night Football match, the celebrated sportscaster named Howard Cosell mentioned the name of his favorite snack, i.e., the ballpark nachos, in his broadcasts. So, now you know why nachos are so popular at sports events! 

Best Nacho Cheese Brands

Let’s check out some of the best nacho cheese brands available to you:

Ricos

When we talk about store-bought nacho cheese, we can’t miss Ricos. This brand fancies itself as the originator of concession nachos.

It has various types of nacho cheese sauces, including the Gourmet Nacho Cheese, Hot & Spicy Cheese, Salsa con Queso Cheese, and Cheddar Cheese Sauces. Their cheese dips contain the following ingredients:

  • Cheddar cheese
  • Cheese whey
  • Soybean oil (partially hydrogenated)
  • Modified food starch
  • jalapeño peppers
  • Distilled vinegar
  • Sodium phosphate
  • MSG
  • Monoglycerides and diglycerides
  • Salt maltodextrin
  • sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate
  • Artificial colors
  • Natural flavors

According to the website of Ricos, all of its cheese sauces – as well as nachos – are free from gluten content.

That’s because they are made of non-gluten products. However, the containers do not contain a label.

So, to be on the safe side, consume small amounts of the cheese sauce to make sure that it doesn’t trigger allergic reactions. You can try their Portion Cup for the same. 

Besides Ricos, there are several other gluten free nacho cheese brands. Check them out: 

El Mexicano

Besides Ricos, the nacho cheese sauce produced by El Mexicano is one of the most popular nacho cheese variants in the market.

This nacho cheese sauce is certified as gluten free, just like the other products of this company. It’s available online, as well as in all your favorite supermarkets. 

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It’s a plain sauce with no added peppers or spices. To enjoy this cheese, you will need to heat it before you can spread it over the nachos.

It has the mild flavor of cheddar, with the flavors of Mexican spices. But it’s not hot at all since it does not contain peppers. So, you can add it to taste.

Rosarita Nacho Cheese 

Another favorite nacho cheese brand is Rosarita that also makes its cheese sauce with gluten free ingredients.

However, the product is not labeled as gluten free, nor does the package mention specifically if it is free from allergens.  

It is a good idea to test this product in small amounts only. The Rosarita nacho cheese is easily available at all supermarkets and is one of the best Mexican nacho cheese sauces in the market.

It has a mild flavor of cheddar cheese and is not overly spicy as it contains light chili. 

Homemade Nacho Cheese

If you want to consume nothing but completely gluten free nacho cheese sauce, it is a good idea to make it at home.

You can choose any cheese that melts well to make your own cheese sauce at home.

Let’s start with the kinds of cheeses that you can use for these, after which we have a couple of delicious nacho cheese sauce recipes. 

Best Cheeses for home made Nacho Cheese Sauces:

  • Cheddar: This cheese is the most popular young cheddar as it melts easily. You can use sharp cheddar for a tang to cut through the creaminess.
  • Mozzarella: This stringy cheese pairs perfectly with microwave nachos. It has a milky taste, and it can make a great nacho cheese sauce.   
  • American: We’re talking about the good old white American cheese slices that melt easily and give you a silky queso sauce.
  • Monterey Jack: This is a creamy and smooth cheese, and the nacho sauce you make out of it has a buttery texture. This tangy cheese also melts well.
  • Pepper Jack: If you’re planning to make a spicy cheese sauce, go for Pepper Jack. This semi-soft cheese has a hint of chili, like jalapeno.  
  • Blue: Blue cheese is strong, and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But if you love it, you’ll fall for the spicy, rich blue cheese sauce, too.
  • Provolone: This semi-hard cheese is popularly used in Italian cuisine. Provolone can make a fine sauce when paired with peppers.
  • Queso Quesadilla: This is a versatile cheese that adds a mild and nutty flavor to a nacho cheese sauce. It goes well with guacamole nachos.
  • Cream Cheese: This cheese has a sweet, slightly lactic touch with a salty undertone. It will give you a rich and silky cheese sauce.     

You can actually use any good melting cheese to make some delicious nacho cheese sauce. Use fresh cheese and serve hot to get the best taste!

Nacho Cheese Recipes:

Now that you know the kinds of cheeses to use in your nacho sauce, here are two delicious recipes for you to enjoy. 

Gluten Free Nacho Cheese Dip Recipe

illustration only – recipe may look different

Do you want to make a gluten free nacho cheese sauce? Here’s a recipe for a deliciously spicy dip, which uses amaranth as a thickener. It’s also spiced with homemade seasoning. It’s perfect for your tortilla chips, to be served to your guests or just to enjoy all by yourself! Check it out! 

Ingredients:

Taco Seasoning:

  • Onion powder: 2 tbsp
  • Garlic powder: 2 tsp
  • Salt: 1 tbsp
  • Chili powder: 1 tbsp
  • Dry red pepper (crushed): 1 ½ tsp
  • Cumin (ground): 1 ½ tsp
  • Oregano (dry): 1 tsp
  • Cornstarch: 1 ½ tsp
  • Sugar (ground): 1 tsp
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Cheese Sauce:

  • Amaranth flour or sweet rice flour: 2 tbsp
  • Butter: 2 tbsp
  • Milk: 1 cup
  • Cheddar (shredded): 1 cup
  • Taco seasoning: 1 ½ tsp
  • Garlic powder: ¼ tsp
  • Onion powder: ¼ tsp
  • Salt: To taste
  • Jalapenos (freshly chopped): 2 tsp

Instructions:

  • Put all the ingredients of the taco season together in a small container and shake it to mix them all. Set this spice mix aside. 
  • Put the saucepan on medium-low heat and melt butter in it. 
  • Add the flour in the melted pan and whisk it properly to form a paste. 
  • Keep whisking till you see bubbles forming. Cook for a couple of minutes. Be careful not to let the mixture turn brown or get burnt.
  • Now, add milk to the mix and continue to whisk until it’s smooth and thick, without lumps.    
  • When you see bubbles forming, remove the soil from the heat. 
  • Add grated cheese to the sauce immediately and stir well till the cheese melts completely. 
  • Add the onion powder, garlic powder, and the 1 ½ tsp of the taco seasoning that you made. 
  • Mix well and add the chopped jalapenos. Give it one last mix.  

Your gluten free nacho cheese sauce is ready to be served with tortilla chips. Instead of cheddar, you can use any of the other cheeses that we have mentioned above. 

Vegan Gluten-free Nacho Cheese Sauce

illustration only – result may look different

Ok, a vegan nacho cheese sauce might not exactly be the same as a sauce that uses the original dairy product. But you can still whip up something really delicious, which will not allow you to miss real cheese. Check out this fantastic recipe: 

Ingredients:

  • White miso: 1 tsp
  • Warm water: 1-2 tbsp
  • Soy milk or any plant-based milk (cold): 1 ½ cups
  • Nutritional yeast: ⅓ cup
  • Corn/potato starch: 1 tbsp
  • Tapioca starch: 1 tbsp
  • Salt: 1 tsp
  • Turmeric: 1 pinch

Instructions

  • In a small bowl, take the miso and water and mix them properly. Set it aside. 
  • In a saucepan, add the plant-based milk. 
  • Add the starches in the cold milk, with nutritional yeast, turmeric, and alt. Whisk them together.
  • Turn the heat on to medium and keep stirring the mixture constantly. 
  • Bring the sauce up to a boil, which will happen in a few minutes, and the sauce will thicken. 
  • Allow the sauce to boil for another 30 seconds before removing the saucepan from the heat.
  • Allow the sauce to rest and get cooled for a minute. 
  • Now, add the miso mix to the thickened sauce and stir well to make the mixture smooth. 

Your gluten free vegan nacho cheese sauce is ready to be poured over veggies or nachos. If you want to make the sauce a little stretchier, like a mozzarella sauce, add an extra tablespoon of tapioca starch. This sauce can last for up to 5 days if you can keep it in a sealed container.    

Conclusion:

Nacho cheese sauce might be absolutely delicious, but it may not be the safest dip for you to enjoy, especially when you’re unable to check the ingredients or the label of the product.

The commonly used nacho cheese at various public events may contain flour, wheat vinegar, or glutinous flavoring or coloring agents. So, it’s best to avoid those entirely. 

There are a couple of brands that make a nacho cheese sauce with gluten free ingredients. You can try those, though it’s best to consume them in small quantities to make sure that they do not cause allergic reactions in your body if you have gluten intolerance.

The best option, of course, is to make gluten free nacho cheese sauces at home.

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About the Author: Johnny

I am the senior editor and writer of Gluten Free Heroes, before that, I wrote for various well established online magazines about food and health. I love working out, traveling and eating healthy.