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Halal Foodways

Chef Darryl L. Mickler

As Professional Chefs, we have the opportunity of serving guests from around the world. This opportunity can also bring challenges and these challenges may be particularly acute for the professional chef. We are regularly called on to provide options for our guests with dietary allergies, medical dietary restrictions and any number of personal diets. However, one area where many chefs are challenged is in developing menus and options for our guests whose dietary requirements are based on religious or ethical systems that are unfamiliar to us. One such area is the set of dietary laws to which the observant Muslim must adhere.

The halal requirements are stringent but, for the chef who is willing to take the time to learn them and plan ahead, they are very manageable in the average kitchen.

What is Halal?

Halal is an Arabic word which is translated most commonly as "lawful, permitted or acceptable." In the context of food the term "halal foods" is often used. This means, in context, the foods that are lawful or permitted for the observant to consume.

The opposite of halal is Haram. This term means prohibited. Items that are designated as haram are totally forbidden in any context and for any use.

A third term which is often used is Mushbooh. Items that are designated as mashbooh are items whose status is doubtful or questionable. Muslims who are exceedingly strict may reject all mashbooh items , certain sects within the faith will also reject some mashbooh items that other Muslims would accept.

The Quran on food:
"O men, eat the lawful and good things from what is in the earth, and follow not in the footsteps of the devil. Surely he is an open enemy to you." 2:168

The first condition of Halal is that food and drink be lawful. The lawful things encompasses not only the non-forbidden items, but it also means that the items must have been lawfully acquired; they could not have been acquired through theft cheating…etc.

The second condition is that the items be good (taygib). This term has the sense of pleasant, delightful, delicious or sweet in addition to the sense of pure and clear. Items which offend the taste are not to be used. The object of the prohibitions is clear in the final section of the passage. The Quran links the physical and spiritual sides of man. Errors committed in the physical realm are reflected in the spiritual.

There are two additional general guidelines on diet. They are an interdiction on excess (7:31) and an interdiction on self-denial and asceticism (5:87)

The Prohibitions:

The items which are designated Haram are clearly expressed in the Quran. Modern foodstuffs are determined to be Halal or Haram (or Mushbooh) based on the interpretation and extrapolation of the following passages and in some instances from references to details from the life and preferences of Mohammed.

The Quran states:

" O you who believe, eat of the good things that We have provided you with, and give thanks to Allah, if it is he Whom you serve. He has forbidden you only that which dies of itself, and blood and the flesh of swine, and that over which any other name than that of Allah has been invoked. Then whoever is driven to necessity, not desiring or exceeding the limit, no sin is upon him; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (2:172,173)

1. 'That which dies of itself"

Included in this category are: "The strangled animal, and that beaten to death and that killed by a fall and that killed by goring with the horn, and that which wild beasts have eaten."

2. Blood.

This prohibition mirrors the Noachian, Levitical and early Christian prohibitions on the use of blood as a food. This typifies the interrelationships of the "People of the Book.". The avoidance of blood is also critical to observant Jews.

3. Swine.
"Say: I do not find, in that which has been revealed to me, anything to be prohibited for the consumer to eat, unless it be carrion, or flowing blood, or the flesh of the pig for it is unclean…" (6:145)
This is, of course, also forbidden to observant Jews.

The three prohibitions are known as prohibitions of uncleanness. The next prohibition is quite different and is arguably the most important concept. It is Fisq, a transgression of the divine commandment. The first three prohibitions directly effect the intellectual/physical/moral nature of man. The fourth prohibition directly effects the spiritual nature of man.

4. "…and that over which any other name than that of Allah has been invoked." and "…what is sacrificed on stones set up." (5:3)

In this case the prohibition arises not because of intrinsic uncleanness, as with carrion, but because the use of this type of food would associate one with idolatry. The Islamic religion fiercely opposes idolatry and use of images. This prohibition also addresses the slaughter of animals. The particular requirements of Halal slaughter are very specific.

Other prohibition that have arisen are either according to tradition, the writings of Islamic jurists or based on what Mohammed personally rejected or prohibited. These items are:

· All beasts of prey.
· All birds of prey
· Tame asses but not wild ones.
· The mule, but not the horse.
· Vermin: Rats, snakes and scorpions. If they are poisonous or then they are harmful, therefore forbidden.
· Weasel, pelicans, kites, insects (other than locusts), carrion eating birds, hyenas, foxes, elephants and crocodiles.
· There is disagreement over the status of the lizard.

Eating raw onions or garlic, if one is going to mosque or out in public, is also discouraged lest one give offense to others.


"And eat not of that on which Allah's name has not been mentioned, and that surely is a transgression." (6:122)

According to Islamic law, all animals that are allowed as food must be slaughtered in such a manner that the blood flows out. The preferred method is to cut the windpipe, esophagus and jugular. As noted above, when the slaughter occurs it is necessary that the name of God be invoked. The specific form is "Bismillah, Allahu akbar."

It is interesting in that the Quran expressly allows hunting. One may hunt with a trained animal or bird as well as by bow and arrow (bullets are extrapolated to be arrows). In this instance when one lets off the bird or animal or releases the arrow or fires the gun the "Bismillah" must be uttered beforehand. One cannot kill game by throwing stones or other blunt trauma as it does not cause "blood to flow." Electroshock methods of killing are disallowed.

There are also traditional directives as to the condition of the animal prior to slaughter. Animals lacking the major portion of the tail or ear are not permissible nor is an animal with a stillborn fetus.

The food (slaughter) of other "followers of the book' is expressly allowed in the Quran. Tradition also allows that the animal slaughtered by the "followers of the book" (Ahl al-Kitab). Some Islamic jurists add the condition (Zuhri) that if the slaughtered is heard to utter a name other than that of God, then the flesh is not to be eaten. However, as noted above , modern western slaughtering methods generally make non-Halal certified meats unacceptable to Muslims. The allowance for food from the other "followers" reflected the similar slaughtering methods that were practiced among the three faiths, particularly among the Jews.

In cases where the meat is questionable as to its ritual sanctity there are several traditions (Dhabihat al-Arab, 'A'-ishah) which indicate a certain pragmatic liberality of view when one did not know whether the name of God had been mentioned or not. The prophets reply to the question was: 'Mention the name of Allah over it and eat it." (Bu, 72:21)

"Lawful to you is the game of the sea and its food, as a provision for you." (5:96)

Fish and other "game of the sea" need not be slaughtered as described. They may also be used irrespective of who caught them. There is some disagreement as to whether shrimp are fish (samak) in the view of the Quran. Frogs, crabs and lobster are not "fish" as they live both inside and outside the water. There is some disagreement about whether fish that are found dead may be eaten. The apparent majority view is that they are lawful.


The prohibited beverages are:

· Wine, which is the juice of grapes that has fermented and emitted froth.
· Grape juice which has been boiled until less than two-thirds of it disappear and it becomes intoxicating (Tila). If more than 2/3 has been boiled away it becomes acceptable.
· An infusion of dates that ferments and becomes intoxicating (Sakar).
· An infusion of raisin that ferments and becomes intoxicating (Naqui)

The fermented juice of dates and raisins is acceptable if it has been cooked. There is some allowance, among some jurists (Abu Hanifah and Abu Yusuf) for the drinking the fermented juice of honey, wheat, barley and corn without cooking. The caveat is that it not be drunk for fun or amusement and the Muslim be reasonably sure that it will not intoxicate him.

When wine turns to vinegar, it becomes permissible.

These are the basics of the Halal requirements. While the basic dietary laws are very clear and are easy to follow, the food technology of today can create a product that is far removed from its origins. It can be very difficult to determine whether common food products are allowable. As mentioned earlier, any non-halal food items would make the item unacceptable (Haram). Note the chart below with some common items and there expected status:

Item Halal Haram Mushbooh
Acetic Acid X
Alcohol X
Ammonium Sulfate X
Ammonium Chloride X
Animal Fat X
Animal Shortening X
Ascorbic Acid X
Aspartame X
Bacon X
Benzoate/Benzoic Acid X
Calcium Carbonate X
Calcium Sulfate X
Carrageenan X
Cholesterol X
Citric Acid X
Cocoa Butter X
Collagen X
Corn Meal/Corn Starch X
Corn Syrup X
Dextrin/Dextrose X
Dicalcium Phosphate X
Diglyceride(animal derived) X
Diglyceride(plant derived) X
Emulsifiers X
Enzymes X
Ergocalciferol X
Ergosterol X
Ethoxylated Mon/Di Glyceride X
Fatty Acids X
Ferrous Sulfate X
Fructose X
Fungal Protease Enzyme X
Gelatin/Kosher Gelatin X
Glucose X
Glyseride X
Glycerol/Glycerin X
Glycerol Sterate X
Glycogen X
Gum Acacia X
Hormones X
Hydrogenated Oil X
Hydrolyzed Animal Protein X
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein X
Lard X
Leavenings X
Lecithin(dependent on source of product) X
Malt X
Malto Dextrin X
Molasses X
Monocalcium Phosphate X
Mono Saccarides X
Monoglycerides X
Nitrates/Nitrites X
Nonfat Dry Milk X
Oxalic Acid X
Vegetable Oil X
Pectic Materials X
Pectin X
Pepsin X
Phospholipid X
Phosphoric Acid X
Pork X
Potassium Benzoate X
Potassium Bromate X
Potassium Citrate X
Propionate X
Propionic Acid X
Renin/rennet X
Saccharine X
Salt X
Soaps/Soap Pads(soaps are unacceptable if derived from lard, beef tallow is acceptable) X
Shortening (depending on source of product) X
Soy Protein X
Soybean Oil X
Sucrose X
Tapioca X
Tricalcium Phosphate X
Vinegar X
Whey X
Yeast X

According to the Muslim Consumer Guide the following companies produce acceptable foods. As products change this may not always be the case, the chef must still be aware of what is in the product if he is going to serve it to his Muslim guests.

In addition to the products noted below Halal certified meats and poultry are availible through purchasing with sufficient notice.

Nestle: No products contain animal by-products. Lecithin is from soybeans.

Kellogg: Gelatin is derived from beef/veal in their "Pop-Tart" line.

Frank Food: QT frosting

Proctor and Gamble: Duncan Hines Cake Mixes

Great Atlantic and Pacific CO: A&P Creamer

Topco Assoc.: Food Club non-dairy creamer

Penn Maid Food: Natural and Swiss Yogurt (gelatin is derived from calf skin)

Jolly Rancher Candies

American Home Foods: Crunch n' Munch

Entenmans: all products except those containing cheese or marshmallows

Huber Baking: Roman Meal Breads

Pepperidge Farm: Rolls, Breads, Cakes. The layer cakes made by Pepperidge Farm are unacceptable.

Pillsbury: 1896 Brand Buttermilk Biscuits

Sunshine Biscuits: all products

Baskin Robbins: All products except those containing marshmallows.

Meadow Gold: Ice creams except those containing marshmallow

Kosher and Halal and the commercial kitchen

The kosher system of dietary laws appears on the surface to be similar to the Halal regulations. This can be misleading as they are distinctly different in very important areas. The chef cannot assume that Kosher will be acceptable to the Muslim consumer. Distinct differences include:

Meat: Kosher, generally, allows only the meats of the forequarter. The ritual slaughter performed is likely to be unacceptable to the Muslim of today. The kosher slaughter ritual distinctly does not include the "name of God." It is true that the Quran allows for use of animals slaughtered by the other "peoples of the book", however this reflects the practices of the time when the Quran was written, not modern practice.

Additionally there are items forbidden in Kosher cookery (trefah) which may be acceptable in Halal cookery. These may include: rabbit, wild duck, wild hen, shellfish…etc. Some items, as noted for meat, that are Kosher are distinctly Haram such as: cheeses, gelatin, wine.

A salient difference between kosher and halal is the absence of regulations concerning food combinations or the stringent requirements that pertain to the physical kitchen. Cross contamination of halal and haram is certainly and issue, but Halal guest requests can readily be accommodated by the chef who has sufficient knowledge and respect for these traditions.

For additional information the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council has a very good site at www.ifanca.org

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