The word “enzyme” probably brings you back to your high school biology class. If you have an elephant’s memory, you likely can utter the phrase “enzymes are catalysts,” but what does that really mean? And how does that apply to you now as a halal consumer? What is the role of enzymes in the human body and the foods we eat?


What are Enzymes?

Enzymes are special proteins. They play a role in almost every function that occurs in our bodies. The human body utilizes enzymes in over 4,000 necessary biochemical reactions. About half of these reactions are related to food digestion. Not all enzymes can perform the same job. For example, macronutrients are broken down by the enzymes protease (for proteins), lipase (for fats), and amylase (for carbohydrates). Protease could not break down fats or carbohydrates and so forth.

Enzymes can be isolated and used to manipulate reactions in a laboratory. They are considered catalysts for biochemical reactions. Catalysts are agents that increase the rate of a reaction without being changed during the reaction.

Within the human body, the pancreas and intestines produce enzymes for digestion, however enzymes can also be ingested from different food sources. Some examples of foods known to aid in digestion for their enzymatic properties are pineapple (bromelain to break down protein), avocado (lipase to break down fats), and bananas (amylase to break down carbohydrates). You can also use the enzymes naturally found in foods as healthy alternatives to chemical additives. Try using pureed unripe papaya to tenderize raw meats in lieu of store bought meat tenderizers. The enzyme called papain in this fruit will break down proteins that can be difficult to chew even after cooking.


Enzymes and Food Production

Historically, enzymes were used for fermentation, the production of alcoholic beverages and teas, and cheese manufacturing. In the modern food industry, there is a wide range of applications. Dr. Saeed A. Hayek, a food scientist with the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America (IFANCA®), explains that in “food products, enzymes are used to control the production process, improve quality, and increase production.” Overall, industrial enzymes hold the same properties as enzymes naturally found in raw food materials.

According to Dr. Hayek, enzymes are mainly used in producing baked goods, ingredients, and dairy products. In baking, enzymes facilitate the handling and fermentation of dough. They are also processing aids for buns, breads, cakes, biscuits, snacks, and pasta in terms of production process improvement and high product quality. For ingredient production, Dr. Hayek shares that important ingredients such as glucose and maltodextrin require the use of enzymes in the production process. To obtain glucose from cornstarch, amylase is needed to break down the long chains of glucose to single molecules. Cheese cannot be produced without the use of enzymes. These enzymes can come from plant, animal, or microbial sources.


Are Enzymes Halal?

The most common food that causes concern is cheese. Rennet (containing the enzyme rennin) is often used in cheese production, while the enzyme pepsin is used in more specialized cheeses. Rennet is found in the stomach of young calves. Their rennet allows them to process their mother’s milk. If a cheese was produced using rennet and the animal was not slaughtered by halal means, the final cheese product is not considered halal. Additionally, depending on the type of cheese and enzyme used, the animal source may be pig, thus not halal.

Dr. Hayek brings attention to an issue many may not have even considered. “Several other products also contain enzymes or ingredients processed using enzymes. They are found in nutritional supplements to help with digestion.” Enzymes are frequently considered a processing aid and not an ingredient so they may not be listed on the label. Digestive enzymes are often incorporated in nutritional supplements and baby formulas. It can be difficult to know which enzymes are used without contacting the manufacturer; therefore it’s best to use supplements that are halal-certified by IFANCA. Fortunately, there is a wide range of halal-certified supplements and baby formulas available*.

Halal consumers should also be aware that many types of bread are produced using enzymes. Enzymes are used to increase loaf volume, increase crust and shelf life, and adjust color. Enzymes used in breads are generally fungal based; however, some bread companies still use animal sourced enzymes in their production. A call to the company becomes necessary for the halal consumer if the product does not fall under IFANCA halal-certified breads*. Snack foods using cheese powders or whey powders also contain enzymes. Again, it is difficult to know the source of enzymes without contacting the company. Halal consumers are safest purchasing snacks containing cheese powders that are halal-certified.*

Nowadays, many companies accommodate different consumer diets, sourcing microbial enzymes to produce cheeses. However, Dr. Hayek says, consumers should be aware that the culture media used to source microbial enzymes could contain blood, beef extracts, or other doubtful ingredients. It would be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible, to find out this information. The best way to avoid this issue is to look for halal-certified cheese products*. Additionally, concerned consumers can also look for products made without the use of enzymes, which may be available at specialty or health-focused grocery stores.


Mystery Solved

Taking a closer look at enzymes, the halal consumer should be most concerned with animal sources used in dairy products such as cheese. Always remember to check food labels for ingredients, but also keep in mind that enzymes are sometimes used as processing aids; processing aids are not required to be listed with the ingredients. Microbial sources tend to be safer than animal, but the culture media still must be investigated for cross contamination with non-halal ingredients. You can call the manufacturer service line to inquire on the enzyme sources, check if enzymes are halal-certified, or simply look for a Crescent-M on the package. While vegetable sources of enzymes are a safe bet, IFANCA halal-certified products leave you with peace of mind by taking the doubt out.



  • Abbott
  • 4Life Research
  • Agropur, Inc.
  • Aloe Vera of America, Inc.,
  • Boscogen, Inc.
  • Herbalife
  • Incontec
  • Melaleuca, Inc.
  • Univera
  • Noor Vitamins
  • Nutrilite
  • RBC Life Sciences
  • Re-Vita International
  • Reliv International
  • Salaam Nutritionals
  • Solgar, Inc.
  • Sunrider International
  • Trace Minerals Research
  • UAS Laboratories
  • Unicity International


Dairy Products:

  • Cabot Creamery
  • Baskin Robbins
  • Cropp Cooperative/ Organic Valley
  • Love and Quiches Desserts
  • Mariposa Dairy
  • Saputo Dairy Products Canada GP
  • Whitehall Specialties


Baked Goods:

  • Kontos Foods Inc.
  • Old Colony Baking Co., Inc.
  • Olympia Food Industries, Inc.


Snack Foods:

  • Sunrider International
  • Super-Pufft Snack Corporation


*See the chart for a listing of IFANCA halal-certified products.

Zaira Ahmad, MS, RD, is a licensed and registered dietitian based in Dallas, Texas.