IFANCA receives many questions about Halal food, ingredients and marketplace inquiries. Some of the frequently asked questions and their answers are summarized here for the Halal Consumer Magazine. For a detailed listing visit our web site at www.ifanca.org. 


1. Isn’t All Cheese Halal?

No. Not all cheeses are Halal. While most cheeses are Halal, some are doubtful or Mashbooh. The production of cheese requires the use of enzymes to coagulate or curdle the milk and the addition of other ingredients for various functions. The enzymes can be derived from animal, vegetable or microbial sources. The animal sources include pigs and cattle. The enzymes derived from pigs are called pepsin and trypsin, and are haram. Another enzyme derived from pigs or small cattle is lipase. (Lipase can also be made by microorganisms, which is Halal.)

One of the enzymes derived from the inner lining of the fourth stomach of calves is called rennet. It may come from Zabiha calves or non-Zabiha calves. The enzyme can also be produced from microbial sources. Microbial enzymes are not derived from meat and are Halal. The active enzyme in rennet is called Chymosin. Today, purified chymosin is also manufactured through genetic modifications of microorganisms when chymosin gene from calf is duplicated and inserted into microbial cells. Calf rennet is still used by specialty cheese manufacturers. Moreover, pig enzymes, such as lipase, are still used in high flavor, ripened cheeses, like Romano. While, IFANCA has certified some specialty cheeses, most cheeses in the North American markets are questionable.

Ingredient labels on cheese products do not usually list the source of the enzyme, so one must ask the producer where the enzyme comes from. Of course, it is possible the source will change without notification. Finally, cheese products may contain many other ingredients, which must also be examined. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, knows best. 


2. Is Chocolate Liquor Haram?

No. Chocolate liquor is Halal. When cocoa beans are roasted and ground, the resultant material is a thick syrupy liquid called liquor. Sugar and other ingredients may be added to this chocolate liquor to make sweetened chocolate liquor. It is used in making candy, drinks and other chocolate flavored products. It does not contain any alcohol, so it is not haram. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, knows best. 


3. Can We Eat Products with Gelatin?

Only if the gelatin is Halal. Gelatin is a protein product obtained by the hydrolysis of animal hides and bones. It can also be produced from fish. The main sources for today’s gelatin are pigskins, cattle bones and cattle hide. The most common source is pigskins.

Gelatin is used in the preparation of baked goods, ice cream, yogurt, jellies and gelatin jello desserts. It is also used in the medical and pharmaceutical industry and has other non-food uses, such as photographic film and carbonless paper.

If the word gelatin appears on a label without reference to its source, it is generally derived from pigskins and cattle bones, so it must be avoided.

It is possible to produce Halal gelatin by using the bones and hides of Halal slaughtered cattle. In such a case, the gelatin would be certified Halal and labeled as Halal gelatin. IFANCA certified Halal gelatin made from fish bones or Halal slaughtered cattle is now available for the food and pharmaceutical industries. Products containing IFANCA Halal certified gelatin should display an IFANCA or other reputable certification mark to ensure they are Halal. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ ala, knows best. 


4. Is Vanilla Flavoring Halal?

Vanilla is a plant product. It is extracted with alcohol as the solvent of choice, from the vanilla bean and is normally kept in a solution containing alcohol. It can be used in powder or liquid form. If you examine a bottle of vanilla extract, you will find it lists alcohol as an ingredient, along with the percentage of alcohol. (In the USA, a minimum of 35% alcohol is required for it to be called natural vanilla.)

Some may feel it is okay to use baked goods containing vanilla extract because the alcohol evaporates during the baking process. However, not all the alcohol evaporates during baking or cooking. IFANCA does not certify this type of product.

Vanilla can also be used in the powdered form. In this form, the beans are either crushed without the addition of alcohol, or they are crushed, dissolved in alcohol and then purified. During purification, the alcohol is distilled off so there is no alcohol remaining. In this case, the use of vanilla is acceptable. For specific products, the label will only show vanilla or vanilla flavoring, so you cannot determine which form was used. In such cases, you would need to contact the manufacturer of the product to determine if the product is acceptable or not.

Vanillin and ethyl vanillin are flavorings present in vanilla beans. In their powdered form they do not contain alcohol.

In current practice, most of the vanillin and ethyl vanillin is produced synthetically; however, the food companies may also dissolve them in alcohol before they are used in the food items.

As far as alcohol is concerned, there are a number of Ahadith, in Sahih Al-Bukhari and other sources where the Prophet, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, has stated that all intoxicants are haram. Also, the Prophet, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, was asked about a drink made from honey and he responded that all intoxicants are haram. The Prophet, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, was also asked about drinks made from corn and other grains and he asked if they cause intoxication. When told they do intoxicate, he responded that all intoxicants are haram. In another narration, the Prophet, salla ALLAHu alaihi wa sallam, said all intoxicants are Khamr and all intoxicants are haram. So in general, all intoxicants, regardless of the source, are haram. (Khamr is commonly considered to be ethyl alcohol, also known as ethanol.) It is also haram to buy, sell, produce, transport, grow the raw materials for or in any way be associated with the alcoholic drinks (Khamr). Vanilla is not a drink, but it does contain a large amount of alcohol. Even though it is used in small quantities, it is better to avoid it. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, knows best. 


5. Is the Food in Fast Food Restaurants Halal?

We assume the question concerns restaurants in predominantly non-Muslims societies.

There are three basic considerations: one is the meat or poultry itself, another is the method of preparation and segregation and the third is the other items that combine to make up the meal.

Let’s start with the other items. Most meals will have a bun or bread, some other additives, condiments, etc. One needs to be certain these items are Halal. That is not always the case for these items may contain animal derived ingredients. Next, let us consider the meat and poultry itself. There are some who interpret the ayah about the food of the People of the Book (Ahlul Kitab) to mean Muslims can eat the meat of Halal animals slaughtered by Christians and Jews. Others take the ayah about not eating meat that has not been slaughtered with the recitation of the name of ALLAH to mean if Ahlul Kitab do not recite the name of ALLAH during slaughter, then their meat is not acceptable. There does not seem to be a consensus. Others add the Hadith that what is Halal is clear and what is haram is clear, and that between these two ends are unclear things. The Hadith tells us that the one who avoids these unclear matters has protected himself from committing sin and whoever does not avoid them may fall into sin. They feel this means if it is not clearly Halal, then it is best to avoid it.

After all this is said, it may still leave room for personal consideration. At IFANCA, we have decided we will not certify meat that is slaughtered without Tasmiyyah, so we would not certify the meat and poultry used in most of these fast food restaurants.

As to the final matter of preparation and segregation, most restaurants serve pork products as well as beef and chicken. The degree to which they keep these products segregated and the way they handle them also has an impact on the final sandwich or meal. Unless they use clean gloves to prepare each sandwich or wash their hands after touching the haram items and before touching the non-haram items, they would contaminate the non-haram items. In addition, common grills are sometimes used, as well as common utensils, fryers, etc.

Therefore, unless the restaurant has been certified, we would consider eating their risky, at best. It is best to avoid such indulgence. As of today, we are not aware of any restaurant chains with any Halal certified locations. The same advice probably applies to school cafeterias, college dining halls and general restaurants. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, knows best. 


6. Are Kosher Products Halal?

The short answer to this is that being Kosher does not make a product Halal. The product is either Halal because it meets the Halal requirements or it is haram because it does not meet the Halal requirements.

Some of the specific concerns with Kosher products are:

  • Kosher practice does not require pronouncing the name of God on the animals while slaughtering. Muslims are told to “eat of the meat upon which ALLAH’s name has been pronounced”; so Kosher meat is no different than meat slaughtered by Christians.
  • Many Kosher products contain alcohol or wine, which is prohibited in Islam.
  • Gelatin is considered Kosher by many Jews regardless of its source of origin; so much of the gelatin in Kosher products may be derived from pigs. In fact, gelatin derived from Zabiha animals would not be Kosher.

There may be other differences between Halal and Kosher that make the Kosher questionable for Muslims to consume. While these differences may seem minor to some, indulging in haram is a very serious offense against ALLAH and the punishment may be severe. Consuming alcohol or pork is a clear violation of ALLAH’s commandments and should not be taken lightly. The pronouncement of the name of ALLAH at the time of slaughter is also a major act of worship and obedience. Remembering and pronouncing the name of ALLAH is very dear to Muslims and it is required at the time of slaughter. In addition to being an act of worship, it also is the key to many blessings and bounties. One can easily taste the difference in meat slaughtered while pronouncing the name of ALLAH and meat slaughtered without pronouncing the name of ALLAH.

It is best to seek Halal certified products or to read the ingredient labels carefully. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, knows best. 


7. What Are Monoglycerides and Diglycerides?

Monoglycerides and diglycerides are the esters of fatty acids and glycerol and are used in food products as emulsifiers. Emulsifiers help make oils and fats miscible in water or water miscible in oils and fats. (As you know, oils don’t mix with water. The oil will normally float on the top of the water. In foods requiring both water and oil, such as salad dressings, the addition of an emulsifier allows the oil and water to mix and results in a more homogenous texture to the product.)

Mono and diglycerides can be derived from plants or animals. When derived from plants they are Halal. When derived from animals, they are haram, unless the animals are Halal slaughtered according to Islamic Law. Unless the ingredient label says vegetable mono and di-glycerides, you need to check with the producer to determine the source.

And of course, it is best to stick with Halal certified products. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, knows best. 


8. What Is Lecithin and Is It Halal?

Lecithin is an emulsifier. (See What are Monoglycerides and Diglycerides? for more information about emulsifiers.)

Lecithin is found in plants such as soybeans, egg yolks and animal sources. If derived from plants, egg yolks or Halal animals slaughtered according to Islamic Law, it is Halal. While most lecithin produced in the USA is currently derived from soybeans, it is still possible it might come from animal sources.

Unless the ingredient label says soya lecithin or vegetable lecithin, you need to check with the producer to determine the source.

Again, it is best to stick with Halal certified products. And ALLAH, Subhanahu wa ta’ala, knows best.