Another Warning: Don’t Ignore Flavors in Your Food
Haider Khattak, Director Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of Canada
Why do I warn about this? There are many reasons behind it. It may seem like just a simple flavor, but that simple flavor may contain something which you would never accept it if it was declared on the label. Yes, it’s true. Before we go into depth about this alarming issue, one should really know what is a flavor.
Flavor is generally defined as the quality of something that affects the sense of taste. It is the blend of taste and smell sensations evoked by a substance in the mouth. Yummy…Isn’t it? Let’s investigate it further. Perceptions will definitely vary from individual to individual but our focus is on the halal nature of such flavors. In our day-to-day shopping, we come across many foods and beverages in grocery stores. Nearly all products have some sort of flavors in them, usually natural flavors, artificial flavors or a combination of natural and artificial flavors.
A flavor can contain any number of ingredients — from a single one as in salt or pepper to many, like in reaction flavors or complex mixtures. There may be hidden alcohol or ingredients of haram animal origin, such as civet oil, in the formulations. Civet oil is oil extracted from the glands of a catlike animal called a civet. Civet oil is not accepted as halal.
Flavor chemists use “natural” chemicals to make natural flavorings and “synthetic” chemicals to make artificial flavorings. Flavor chemists creating an artificial flavoring must use similar chemicals in their formulation as would be used to make a natural flavoring. Otherwise, the flavoring will not have the desired characteristics.
Consumers prefer to see natural flavors on a label, believing that they are more healthful. Distinctions between artificial and natural flavors can be arbitrary and confusing, based more on how the flavor has been made than on what it actually contains. Natural and artificial flavors sometimes contain exactly the same chemicals, produced through different methods.
Natural and artificial flavors in bakery products are the most important ingredients for Muslim consumers. The makeup of flavoring material must be plant-based (no meat). Petroleum-based propylene glycol is considered a halal solvent for flavoring.
When we say alcohol, it means either ethanol or ethyl alcohol. It is permissible to use alcohol for extracting the flavors or dissolving them. However, the amount of alcohol should be reduced to less than 0.5% in the final flavoring product. Certain countries or customers require lower allowances or even absence of alcohol for products brought into their countries. Some countries do not permit fusel oil derivatives. Note that vinegar, although it is a by-product or derivative of alcohol, is permitted in Islam. All types of vinegar are halal. Many Islamic scholars have been consulted to check this critical issue about vanilla flavorings as it may contain alcohol. The word Khamr is traditionally used for fermented beverages which are intoxicants. Alcohol used in the manufacture of vanilla flavor is ethanol from grain or synthetic sources and never from alcoholic drinks or Khamr sources.
Halal dairy ingredients are derived from processes that use either microbial enzymes or halal-certified animal enzymes. Ingredients such as whey powder, lactose, whey protein isolates and concentrates produced with the use of enzymes are questionable if the source of the enzymes in unknown. Therefore, a responsible consumer will always contact the manufacturer before he/she consumes the product.
Meat and poultry ingredients should be from animals slaughtered according to the halal requirements. The flavor manufacturers use a certain quantity of meat or poultry products in order to produce the specific meaty flavors. Flavor manufacturers keep records of animal by-products used in the flavors. These flavors can be certified halal if the flavors manufacturer is able to provide detailed information to the halal certifier. When a flavor company applies for halal certification for a flavor containing animal by-products, they must also provide an Islamic Slaughtering Certificate. Smoke flavor has been used for thousands of years to enhance and modify the flavor of foods as well as to preserve meats. halal concerns include the use of animal fats as a base for smoke and grill flavors or the use of emulsifiers from animal sources. The smoke flavor of bacon is commonly used in the flavor industry. This type of smoke makes the product Haram.
A single flavor may contain hundreds of ingredients. Even one ingredient may disqualify any flavor for halal status. Therefore, in order for us to consume 100% true halal product, we must know what’s in the flavor.
It is not possible to mention each and every critical ingredient in this article, but the two main ingredients of concern to halal consumers are animal derived ingredient(s) and alcohol. If there is animal derived ingredient in a particular flavor, it must be from halal certified meat. Similarly, a typical halal flavor is either free of alcohol or if it does, it must be less than 0.5%. A finished product must have less than 0.1% alcohol.
Find out more about halal flavors by contacting IFANCA or similar halal certifying bodies.