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Formulating Halal Foods

November 23, 2003
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Halal-certified foods are moving beyond commodity-based products to include convenience foods, also.
There is growing interest in the food industry for halal-certified food products and ingredients, for both the domestic and foreign markets. While there are about eight million Muslim consumers in the U.S., the majority of product development technologists and scientists in this country do not have enough information about the specific requirements for halal certification of food products and ingredients. This article will provide a list of requirements for halal certification when developing various food products, with a focus on bakery products.

Bakery Products

Flour enrichment: The enrichment must come from halal sources, either plant- or chemical-based.

Alcohol treatment: Flours and cereal ingredients must not undergo alcohol treatment during processing. For example, some soy products, such as soy protein isolate, use alcohol treatment during processing. Defatted soy flour made after hexane extraction is acceptable.

Emulsifiers/dough conditioners: Emulsifiers and conditioners should be obtained from vegetable fat.

L-Cysteine: L-Cysteine is a non-essential amino acid used as a reducing agent in bakery products such as bagels, pizza crusts, hard rolls and croissants to reduce mixing time. It also prevents shrinkage of pizza crusts made with high protein flour and helps in the machinability of dough. L-Cysteine obtained from human hair is not considered a halal ingredient. Some halal-certifying organizations accept L-Cysteine from duck or chicken feathers. Synthetic L-Cysteine from petroleum is acceptable.

Dairy ingredients used in bakery products (i.e., whey, lactose, caseinates and unsalted butter): These require halal certification, whereas non-fat dry milk is acceptable as a halal ingredient (as long as dryers are not used for non-halal ingredients).

Baker's yeast: Baker's yeast is considered halal.

Brewer yeast's extract in bakery snacks: Most Muslim consumers avoid food products made from brewer's yeast extract since it is a by-product of beer. Alcoholic beverages are prohibited in halal-certified food products.

Natural and artificial flavors: 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.

Ethyl alcohol is not an acceptable halal solvent. The argument, however, is that it is evaporated during baking. Most halal-certifying organizations will not accept this argument, since the alcohol was originally present as a raw material in the initial stage of production. Alcohol, in a minute amount, produced naturally, is acceptable—such as in over ripened fruits and during yeast fermentation of dough for bread baking.

Vinegar: Only distilled vinegar is acceptable, due to the presence of a very minimal amount of diluted alcohol leftover in the vinegar. Not all alcohol is converted to acetic acid and water. Wine and balsamic vinegars are not considered halal ingredients.

Shortening: Only vegetable oil, vegetable shortening, or vegetable shortening with vegetable fat based emulsifiers is acceptable.

All ingredients that go into a spaghetti dinner, from starter cultures for cheese to the type of vinegar in the sauce, must be reviewed for their halal status.
Vanilla extract and vanilla sugar: Vanilla extract in cookie products or in ice cream is not acceptable as a halal ingredient because it contains 35% or more alcohol. Vanilla sugar made with sugar and vanilla extract also is not acceptable as halal, for the same reason.

BHT and BHA: They are acceptable as halal ingredients only if the carrier is a vegetable oil.

Beta carotene: Several processing aid ingredients are used in beta carotene color. Only fish gelatin or vegetable oil is acceptable as a carrier, or as a processing aid ingredient.

FD&C colors: FD&C colors without any carriers are acceptable as halal colors. The problem arises when glycerin is used as a solvent in liquid FD&C colors. Only plant-based glycerin or vegetable oil is allowed in the certification of halal liquid FD&C colors.

Soy sauce: Soy sauce made with wheat and soybean is not accepted as a halal ingredient because it is a fermented product, resulting in the presence of 2-3% leftover ethyl alcohol. Soy sauce or all-purpose soy sauce made with hydrolyzed vegetable protein, water, salt, corn syrup and sodium benzoate is considered halal.

Gelatin: Gelatin or kosher gelatin in toaster pastries or in cookies such as Devil's cake is not acceptable. Fish gelatin or gelatin obtained from cows slaughtered according to Islamic law is fine.

Cereal products: The vitamins, gelatin in marshmallows, dairy ingredients, flavors and colors in cereal products are ingredients to consider in developing a cereal product for halal markets. The source of the above ingredients must be from a halal source.

Dairy products: This is the most important category of food ingredients because it is used in many different food products.

Fortified milk: The source of vitamins A and D3 must be from halal sources. Vitamin D3 from sheep's wool, lanolin, is acceptable as halal. Vitamin A is produced by reacting calcium carbonate with water. When this esterifies with only a vegetable fat-based palmitic acid, it is considered a halal vitamin A for milk fortification. The most important ingredient in the vitamin mix is the emulsifier, which is considered the processing aid ingredient and is not reported on the milk bottle label. The emulsifier is usually polysorbate 60 or 80, and it must come from a vegetable fat source.

Starter cultures: Developing a natural cheese product for halal markets requires much attention. The starter cultures generally are desirable bacteria that produce lactic acid, gas for eye development, flavor, color and texture, and give milk its consistency. The starter culture bacteria are considered halal, but the source of media used to grow mother cultures and milk starter cultures cannot be ignored in halal-certified dairy products. Only unfortified milk or halal certified milk, used as media, is acceptable. If whey, lactose, pancreatin, autolyzed brewer's yeast or extract is used along with the milk, then those ingredient sources must be halal.

Cheese enzymes: The majority of cheese manufacturers now are using microbial rennet, which helps in developing a halal cheese product. Lipase from kid, calf and lamb is not acceptable unless they are slaughtered according to Islamic law. Only microbial lipase is acceptable. It is the same for dairy flavors using enzymes. The same principle is applied for acid/sweet whey, lactose and all other dairy ingredients and products.

Annatto color: This is acceptable if it does not contain alcohol (i.e., is alcohol-extracted).

Salted butter: When made with cream and salt, it is considered a halal butter. In unsalted butter, the flavoring must be from a halal source, and alcohol should not be used as a solvent.

Snacks: Developing potato chips, pretzels and popcorn products for halal markets requires close attention to dairy ingredients, yeast extracts, flavors and colors.

Powdered and liquid soft drinks: The flavors, vitamins and colors, including carmine color, are the main ingredients to investigate for their halal status. Carmine red color from beetles obtained from South America is not acceptable because all insects except grasshoppers are not allowed in the halal diet.

Mayonnaise, salad dressing, ketchup and sauces: The main ingredients to look for to certify as halal are sources of flavors, natural flavoring, colors, vinegar and emulsifiers. Wine in salad dressing and in mustard is not acceptable. For natural flavoring, acetone as an extraction solvent is acceptable.

Spaghetti sauce: Romano cheese, flavor and shortening are main ingredients to investigate for their halal sources. Wine in spaghetti sauce is not acceptable.

Candies and chocolate bars: Emulsifiers, gelatin, flavors, waxes and colors are main ingredients to investigate for halal status. Shellac (insect secretion) is acceptable as a halal ingredient.

Macaroni and spaghetti products: All macaroni products that fall under the FDA's standard of identity are considered halal. Pasta products made with flavors or macaroni products used in dinners are not considered halal unless the flavors in pasta or other products in the dinner meet halal requirements.

Chewing gums: Gum base, softener, gelatin, flavor and color are the critical ingredients to consider in formulating chewing gum products for halal markets.

Fruit juices: Flavors and colors are two main ingredients to investigate before developing products for halal markets.

Nutritional or energy bars: Vitamins, gelatins, flavors, colors and soy isolates are the main ingredients to be considered in developing products for halal markets.

Fermented vegetable products: Fermented vegetable products, such as pickles and sauerkraut made by brining (salting), without production of alcohol, are considered halal products if no other ingredients (such as flavors) are added.

Meat products: Pork is not acceptable in a halal diet. Beef, chicken, lamb and turkey meat is acceptable only if the animals are slaughtered according to Islamic law. The animal's feed also plays an important role in halal meat. Feed for animals must be from a vegetable source; no meat feed is allowed. Growth hormones are not allowed because they are made with pork-based material. Stunning should be avoided, and most Muslim consumers accept the hand slaughter method. Blood is prohibited in a halal diet, so all blood must be drained from the slaughtered animal.

The Muslim Consumer Group for Food Products, a non-profit group, educates Muslim consumers about halal status of food products through its website, www.muslimconsumergroup.com, and the book, A Comprehensive List of Halal Food Products in U.S. Supermarkets. It also provides halal certification services.

Website Resources

www.unichef.com/halalfood.htm—Halal foods introduction and an ingredient checklist
www.ifanca.org—Home page of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council
www.PreparedFoods.com/archives/1999/9910/9910halal.htm—An article on halal foods
www.fao.org/DOCREP/005/Y2770E/y2770e08.htm —The Codex Alimentarius Commission's guidelines on the use of the term “halal”
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