Food consumed by Muslims meets the Islamic dietary code and is called halal food. Similarly, food consumed by Jews is called kosher food. Muslims use two major terms to describe food, halal and haram. Halal means permitted or lawful, and haram means forbidden or unlawful. Kosher means the food is fit or proper for consumption by Jewish consumers, while "traif"? means it is not kosher. Although kosher and halal requirements are similar, there are significant differences between the two.

Supplements and Nutraceuticals

In the past several decades, the number of supplements available to consumers through specialty stores, supermarkets and especially through multi-level marketing has seen tremendous growth worldwide. The line between pharmaceuticals (products that heal) and nutraceuticals (products that help maintain well-being) are becoming blurred. The purpose of this article is not to determine the effectiveness of these products, but to reflect on their compositions and determine if any of the components present a problem for the Muslim and Jewish consumers.

Although both the Islamic and Jewish traditions allow one to consume a religiously questionable product as a medicine under compulsion, consumers generally avoid knowingly taking anything that is religiously doubtful. For example, some people may take a prescription medicine in a potentially prohibited gelatin capsule. Gelatin capsules, unless certified halal and/or kosher or labeled bovine, are generally made of pork gelatin. Muslim consumers consider pork gelatin haram, and it is unacceptable to most Orthodox Jewish consumers as well.

Medicine that is used to cure a disease or to help overcome illness is considered exempt from halal food regulations. Prescription drugs generally do not have alternative products available to replace a prescribed drug. If a drug is available in capsule form only, one is obligated to take it. However, multivitamins and other dietary supplements are not normally taken to cure serious illness, but to improve one's health. Moreover, there are many alternative forms of multivitamins such as tablets, liquids, vegetable capsules, etc., so one does not have to take vitamins in gelatin capsules.

Many Muslim consumers try to purchase alcohol-free products (e.g., cough syrups). They also may ask the pharmacist for tablets rather than gelatin capsules. Jewish consumers may be concerned about the source of the alcohol, especially as more grape-derived and baking-derived alcohols are used. For Passover, kosher consumers also will want to avoid corn and grain alcohols.

General guidelines for the production of nutritional supplements are similar to those for producing other food products. Dietary supplements often are composed of botanicals and plant extracts. It is the animal-derived ingredients one has to avoid in formulating the supplements. The botanical elements have been used in various cultures and traditions for centuries--such as ginseng in Chinese culture, black seed in the Islamic tradition, asphoetida in India and many other botanicals from other cultures and historical traditions.

Ingredients to Watch

Ingredient databases often are comprised of thousands of entries. Companies may use several thousand different ingredients in a given time period. It is beyond the scope of this article to describe the halal and kosher status of every ingredient used in this industry. Only some of the ingredients with potential concern for halal and kosher standing, as well as the type of products in which they may be used, are discussed.



  • Flavors and colorants may have hidden alcohol or ingredients from haram or traif animal origin, like civet oil, in the formulations.


  • Beta-carotene ingredients often use small quantities of gelatin to encapsulate the beta-carotene and to protect its color and other characteristics. Some companies use fish gelatin for encapsulation, which makes the product halal as well as kosher. Manufacturers also may use halal or kosher bovine gelatin or plant gums as encapsulating materials.


  • Gelatin is very commonly used to make capsules, both softgel and two-piece hard shell. Halal gelatin, cellulose or starch can be used instead of porcine gelatin. Kosher-certified gelatin (bovine and fish) also is available. However, gelatin-free products made from vegetable materials could be halal, kosher as well as vegetarian (vegan)--all at the same time.


  • Stearates from animal sources may be used as free-flow agents in powders, or tableting aids in tablets. For halal and kosher products, manufacturers can use stearates obtained from plant sources.


  • Tweens (a series of synthetic emulsifiers) are sometimes used to coat and polish tablets. Vegetable-derived tweens should be used in halal and kosher products.


  • Glycerin is used in the manufacture of capsules and other products. Glycerin of plant origin can be kosher and halal-suitable for such applications.

    Types of Products

    Nutritional food products come in many physical forms, such as powders, liquids, tablets, one-piece capsules (soft-shell) and two-piece capsules (hard-shell). Nutraceutical ingredients also may be incorporated into food matrices such as juices, snack bars or energy drinks.




  • Tablets. Tablets may be coated with gelatin (gel tabs) or with specialty lipids such as polysorbates. Manufacturers should use halal- or kosher-certified gelatin and/or plant-originating lipids. Sugars and plant proteins such as zein also may be used as a tablet-coating material in both kosher and halal products.


  • Liquid supplements and drinks. Many liquid formulations are standardized with ethyl alcohol, as a preservative or solvent. Alternatives such as mixtures of propylene glycol and water may be used. Whereas there are minimal restrictions for ethyl alcohol in kosher products, the amount of residual alcohol in the final halal finished product must be reduced to an insignificant level.


  • Softgel capsules. One-piece soft capsules used to be made exclusively from gelatin. They also can be made with vegetable ingredients such as modified starch, cellulose gum and other plant gums. Halal- and kosher-certified bovine and fish gelatin also is available for this purpose. Besides the main ingredient, softgel capsules may also contain glycerin or fat-derived chemicals, which, for halal and kosher products, should be from plant sources.


  • Two Piece Hard-shell Capsules. Like softgels, hardgel capsules used to be made exclusively with gelatin. Now, there are vegetarian capsules especially for nutritional supplements. The vegetarian capsules may be made from modified cellulose, modified starches or other plant materials. Glycerin and other ingredients may be used as processing aids. All such ingredients should be from vegetable or petroleum sources. Halal- or kosher-certified bovine or fish gelatin also may be used. Other incidental ingredients should also be halal- and/or kosher-suitable.

    To assure almost universal acceptability, it is recommended that pharmaceutical products, nutritional and dietary food supplements be manufactured by avoiding all traces of animal products, so that the product is acceptable for halal and kosher as well as vegetarian (vegan) standards.

    Halal and Kosher (Similarities and Differences)

    There are certain similarities and some differences between kosher and halal. In both religions, pork and pork products derived from pigs and swine are prohibited. Also, carnivorous animals and birds (other than poultry) are not allowed as foods in either religion. The permitted animals (i.e., ruminants and poultry) have to be killed by a Jew to make them kosher, and by a Muslim to make them halal. Blood and blood by-products are not permitted under either set of rules.

    Among fish and seafood, only fish with fins and removable scales are kosher, whereas all fish and seafood are halal for most Muslims (as long as the animal lives in water all of the time). However, some Muslim denominations do not accept fish without scales and/or seafood. Consequently, the marketing company needs to be aware of such markets and groups.

    Enzymes derived from microbial or biotech (GMO) sources are acceptable as kosher and halal. Enzymes extracted from kosher-killed animals are kosher, and those extracted from halal-killed animals are halal. Enzymes from non-halal-killed animals may be accepted by some groups and countries, but not all. Porcine enzymes are not accepted as either halal or kosher.

    Besides halal-certified gelatin, some countries also accept regular bovine gelatin as halal--under certain conditions. Most commercially produced fish gelatin is from fish with scales and may qualify as both halal and kosher.

    For cheese to be kosher, a Jew must add the cultures to the milk. There is no such restriction for halal, where any person may add in the cultures. Alcohol, especially from alcoholic drinks, is not allowed for Muslims, but the Jews consider most alcohol as being kosher. There are, however, some restrictions about the source of alcohol for kosher products as noted earlier.

    Also, for kosher observance, it is important not to combine meat and dairy products, but no such restriction is observed for halal. To clean equipment used for halal products, it usually suffices to thoroughly clean the machinery, which then can be used immediately. For kosher standards, after a through cleaning, any equipment that has been used at a temperature above 120ËšF (this varies with each religious supervision agency) will need to be left idle for 24 hours. Subsequently, the machinery will have to be religiously kosherized using boiling water.

    Insects are neither kosher (except certain grasshopper-types) nor halal (except locust). Insect by-products, such as carmine, are not considered kosher but are considered halal. Lac resin (shellac) and honey are acceptable to most kosher supervising authorities. All plant materials are kosher and vegetarian. Plant materials are halal only if they do not contain alcohol or other intoxicants. The rules of halal apply year-round; however, there are additional rules that go into effect for kosher products during the eight days of Passover.

    In addition to their religious significance, many food companies consider halal and kosher certification as a seal of quality. A large number of consumers perceive halal and kosher foods as being specially selected and supervised at all stages of preparation and processing to achieve the highest standards of wholesomeness and hygiene. A food company that wants to introduce halal or kosher standards into their product line should obtain appropriate certification of their food product. Many Muslim countries require that food products imported to their countries be certified as halal by recognized halal certifying organizations.

    In many countries, including the U.S., Muslim consumers are looking for and demanding halal-labeled products. The halal and/or kosher certification is an authoritative, reliable and independent testimony to support a food manufacturer's claim that his products meet the certain religious requirements. Customers will have greater confidence in consuming such products or foods.

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    Mian N. Riaz heads the Extrusion Technology Program at the Food Protein Research and Development Center and is a graduate faculty in the Food Science and Technology Program at the Texas A&M University (College Station, Texas). Riaz conducts research on extruded snacks, texturized vegetable protein, pet food, aquaculture feed, oilseed processing and biodegradable packing material. He has a Ph.D. in food science from the University of Maine. He has published more than 50 papers and articles, is editor of the book, Extruders in Food Application, and co-author of Halal Food Production, published by CRC Press this year. Riaz can be reached at 979-845-2774 or

    Joe Regenstein, Ph.D., is from Cornell University's Kosher Food Initiative, Dept. of Food Science in Ithaca, N.Y.