Gelatin: Manufacturing, Uses, Health Affects, and Issues of Halal/Haram
Saad Asrar, M.S. Food Science
Often gelatin comes up as one of the poster child ingredients Muslims shy away from. “Where does gelatin come from?” and “where is it used?” are pivotal questions that make it so critical to watch out for it in the first place.
Gelatin, like several other products and ingredients, is considered more “Muslim Friendly,” if it is Kosher. Often Kosher foods and Halal foods overlap. Kosher gelatin however may still be problematic for Muslim consumption as will be explained later.
Consider what is gelatin and how is it made?
Gelatin is produced from the collagen in pigskin, cattle hide, fish skin, or animal bones (including cattle and pig). Collagen is a common long fibrous structural protein. Structurally collagen is composed of three long intertwined chains of amino acids (helical polymer – a triple helix). Each chain typically contains over 1400 amino acids (Protein Data Bank). There is predominantly a regular repeating sequence of three amino acids within each chain, glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline. The three predominant sources of the collagen used for gelatin manufacturing are from pig sources (Type A gelatin), bovine (Both Type A and Type B gelatin – mainly B), or fish skins.
As is the case with most polymers, heat coupled with acid or base treatment renders a change in the conformation of the material. Collagen is no exception. During the transition from collagen to gelatin the bonds holding together the strands of amino acids in the helix begin to break along with various inter- and intramolecular (Schiff base and aldo condensation bonds) and a few peptide bonds (Veis, 1965). The resulting form is gelatin.
Collagen from animals slaughtered at a young age such as those coming from pigs need a mild treatment and thus are subjected to acid hydrolysis. Typically pigskin is degreased and then soaked at a pH of 1 to 4 with a strong acid for 8 to 30 hours (Hinterwaldner, 1977b; Keenan, 1994; Cole, 2000; Ledward, 2000). The acid-treated pigskins are then washed with water to remove impurities. The skin is then extracted with hot water and the extract is filtered through an anion-cation exchange column to remove minerals. The gelatin extract is concentrated to 50% solids, sterilized at very high temperatures for short time, extruded, hot air dried, then milled to specific sizes, and blended for various bloom strengths and packaged (Hinterwaldner, 1977a).
Raw skins and chromium-tanned bovine hides go through alkaline processing for gelatin formation. Raw skin is dehaired and degreased before the lime processing occurs. When collagen is taken from chromium-tanned bovine hides, steps are taken to remove the chromium (Rose, 1990). All of the chromium is typically not removed. The hides are chemically dehaired, with a lime/sulphide solution (anywhere from 5-20 weeks) followed by mechanical loosening. Both hides/skins and bones go through a lime treatment. Once the lime is washed off the processing steps for crushed bones and hides are the same (Sakr, 1999).
Typically, fresh bones are crushed, boiled in hot water at 180-250oF, to remove grease and demineralized with four to six percent strong acid for a period of 5 to 7 days (Garono, et al, 1956). Ossein is the name given to the de-mineralized crushed bones. Once the ossein is washed with water to remove impurities it is ready for the “liming process.” Ossein is soaked with one to four percent lime (CaOH2) solution for 35-70 days with agitation weekly. The ossein is then washed. Excess lime is neutralized with the addition of acid. De-mineralized hot water extraction then removes the gelatin from ossein or gel bone. The gelatin solution is then sterilized at high heat for short time, concentrated, extruded, cooled, hot air dried for 1-3 hours and crushed to proper particle size (National Organic Standards Board, 2002). The whole process may take 3-4 months.
Gelatin is extracted from fish skins with acidified hot water. The soluble extract is filtered, concentrated, dried, milled to a standard size, then blended and packaged (National Organic Standards Board, 2002).
Meat contains collagen. Normal cooking of meat can convert collagen to gelatin, particularly in cuts high in collagen (Foegeding et al, 1996). The tenderness and flakiness of cooked fish is a result of the ease with which their collagen is converted to gelatin (Foegeding et al, 1996). Similar processes take place when bones, hides, fish skins, and tendons (connective tissues) are cooked for extended time periods. Collagen breaks down into gelatin. This process is similar to making soup out of bones. Gelatin is a product of partial hydrolysis or limited chemical or physical breakdown of collagen. During this process the chemical nature does not change very much (bonds are broken and some new ones are formed) but the major change is in the physical conformation of the collagen polymer. Renowned Muslim scholar and biochemist, Dr. Ahmad Sakr, is of the opinion that the change is physical and not really chemical. This change does not qualify to be called “Istihala,” or change in the nature of the substance. It is a process comparable in some respects to boiling an egg where liquid egg becomes hardened by physical change. The overall chemical makeup is pretty much the same. In order for any physical change to occur a change in a chemical sense must occur. However, though the collagen ‘s tropocollagen constituents begin to disassemble and break up into their individual strands, and the overall strands break up, there is not enough reorganization of the broken up molecular fragments to consider it as a totally new product. In other words the amino acids that made up collagen strands are not changed to new amino acids nor anything other than the amino acid they were while it was part of the collagen superhelix. The amino acids do not go through intramolecular changes once fragmented only intermolecular change. The only intramolecular change that occurs is one in collagens strand size and disassociation of strands, not change in amino acid composition. In gelatin as in collagen the three amino acids glycine, proline, and hydroxyproline are present in same consistency.
Gelatin has a wide array of uses, both edible (jello, marshmallows, capsules, etc.) and non-edible (e.g., textiles, photography). In most food systems an acceptable gel can be formed when the gelatin concentration is between 1.5 and 4% (McWilliams, 2001). Gelatin gets its unique organoleptic properties and flavor as a result of its thermal reversibility with water (Cole, website). One of the most common uses for gelatin is by the pharmaceutical industry in making of soft and hard gel capsules.
Gelatin is nutritionally very inadequate stemming from the fact that it is deficient in isoleucine, threonine, and methionine, and lacks tryptophan. Though most of gelatin is pure protein, the quality of the protein is quite low (since it lacks or is deficient in the amino acids mentioned above). Gelatin unlike most foods has a negative protein efficiency ratio (PER) (Johnson and Peterson, 1974).
Recently people have been afraid that bovine gelatin could cause Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), “Mad Cow Disease.” The Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America states, “No scientific evidence linking gelatin with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, commonly known as BSE or “mad cow disease,” exists” (Gelatin Manufacturers Institute of America website) but many countries restrict the importation of gelatin from countries with known BSE cases.
It is imperative for Muslim consumers to be aware of the presence of gelatin in any product. Muslims must inquire from which animal the gelatin comes from. There are a few companies that the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) have certified (after careful examination) as producers of Halal gelatin.
Often as mentioned earlier there is an overlap between Kosher and Halal products. Kosher gelatin can be made with fish bones, and/or beef or pork skins. Reliable mainstream Orthodox Kosher gelatin is accepted only from fish or kosher slaughtered animals (not pig). As a consumer, however, one would have to take time to learn which Kosher supervision agencies have standards that are acceptable to the Muslim community. As stated by Dr. Ahmad Sakr in his book, “Gelatin,” since many Jewish Kosher supervision organizations consider gelatin as parve (neither milk nor meat), some have no qualms about the use of pig gelatin (especially if from pig bones). There are those who believe that the gelatin taken from porcine sources is treated and changed structurally to such an extent that it is Judaically permissible since it has no properties of flesh anymore. Scientific and regulatory organizations, however, consider gelatin to be an animal protein derived from collagen.
Muslims are to follow the following guidelines when consuming meat and other derivatives from allowed animal sources:
The animal must be of sound health and killed by slaying of the neck (the head must not be dismembered from the body – this regulation exists for both Islamic Sharia and the FDA).
The slaughterer/blesser should be a sane and sober Muslim
The blood should be drained from the jugular veins after slaughter by a sharp blade that specifically cuts these veins.
The most important item: The name of God must be pronounced while slitting the throat.
Interestingly, up until now it has been believed by many Muslims (including me), that Kosher meets the fourth criteria mentioned above. I thought that they did some type of praise to God during slaughtering of the animals. As mentioned by the renown Food Scientist Prof. Dr. Joe Regenstein at Cornell University, “Basically they say a prayer before commencing slaughter that covers all of the animals slaughtered during that session.” This was the main reason why Kosher food until recently had been perceived of as being closer to Islamic guidelines than food from the other “People of the Book,” Christians. Dr. Regenstein further mentioned that” … the live slaughter with a horizontal cut across the neck is almost identical to that preferred by Muslims.”
Some Islamic organizations deem it acceptable to consume non-porcine and non-alcoholic products and ingredients as long as it is from the People of the Book (POB), and hence they certify such material as Halal. These people say since the meat is from an animal slaughtered by the POB, and it is an acceptable animal, then it is Halal. This is highly irresponsible and at times fraudulent. Yes, POB slaughter of acceptable animals is allowed (when Muslim slaughtered animals are not available) but the POB must follow the guidelines mentioned above (except number 2). To those who believe that all POB slaughtered meat is acceptable, I ask them why do Muslims have 4 major requirements (mentioned above – there are other details as part of these four) that must be followed for animals they slaughter and consume, but those same criteria the POB do not have to follow for animal products Muslims consume. Why is it acceptable in the opinion of those misguided Muslims to not follow the fourth criteria for a POB, namely not taking the name of God or taking the name of one that is not to be associated with God (shirk).
At any rate I believe food consumed by Muslims must conform to the four criterias mentioned above. It is not said that these four principles apply for Muslims, but if a Muslim wishes to eat an animal product that is slaughtered by POB then God need not be remembered during the slaughter process. It simply does not make sense to me. Perhaps I am the one in error for which I ask God’s forgiveness.
There are those in the Muslim community (very few but they exist) and some from the non- Muslim community who in an effort to make porcine gelatin marketable insist that the nature of the gelatin derived from pig sources has changed. They are misguided as to what is occurring (process of gelatin formation) or what it means by a “change in nature.” It must be reiterated that no new chemical species has been formed per se (no new amino acids are formed nor have the amount of the various amino acids been altered significantly) from the conversion of collagen to gelatin, though, yes, chemical change has occurred (covalent bonds have been broken, etc.). Though molecularly speaking bonds holding together the collagen super helix have at some parts disassociated giving the amorphous structure we know as gelatin, this does not constitute a new material. Looking at it in this context we come to realize that the change in chemical identity of a substance, “Istihala,” has not occurred (conversion of alcohol to acetic acid for example is istihala). Unfortunately these people are not versed in Islamic Sharia or in scientific principles.
Whatever ones personal opinion may be, IFANCA must see to it that the most liberal as well as most conservative Muslim out there has no qualms about eating a product with the IFANCA Halal logo upon it, at times this may not be possible (a total of 5% of the total population of Muslims may be either too left or right of the mainstream to accept our certification). It is IFANCA’s policy that any animal products to be certified must have come from an animal slaughtered by a Muslim according to Islamic guidelines (a POB who would follow all the other guidelines, except being Muslim, who slaughters the animal according to all Islamic mandates would be considered Halal, but this is very uncommon and not accepted by IFANCA).
The Islamic Food And Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA) to this end is working on making sure that Halal certified products are acceptable to all Muslims. IFANCA acts as liaison between the food industry and the Muslim consumers.
IFANCA’s mission is to promote Halal food and the institution of Halal. IFANCA is a not-for-profit, tax exempt, Islamic organization dedicated to scientific research in the fields related to food, nutrition, and health.
IFANCA only approves animal products or ingredients (simple or complex) if the total source of that product or ingredient and all manufacturing aids are from animals that have been slaughtered by a Muslim according to Islamic Sharia. Praise be to God, certified Halal gelatin is now available. In other words, there are a few sizeable corporations that manufacture gelatin from the collagen of animals that had been slaughtered by Muslims according to Islamic guidelines.
The following are IFANCA certified Halal gelatin manufacturers (suppliers): Nabeel Industries Pvt. Ltd. Pakistan, Kerala Chemicals and Proteins Ltd. India, Sterling Gelatin India, Raymon Patel Gelatine Pvt. Ltd. India, and India Gelatine & Chemicals Ltd. Note that not all gelatin produced from these manufacturers are certified Halal by IFANCA. IFANCA certified Halal gelatin carries a certificate specific to each lot produced and/or shipped. The IFANCA Halal Logo must appear on the package.
Several companies currently produce soft gel and hard gel capsules made with IFANCA certified gelatin. Some of the companies using certified gelatin for capsules include Amway/Nutrilite, Access Business Group/Nutrilie, Sunrider, Pfizer/Capsugel, Westar Nutrition.
God knows best.
“Please Note: Not all the products of a company are certified Halal. For actual listing please contact the company”