05 December 2014

# Halal Food Guide # Halal Przewodnik

Halal Food Guide - look out for...

If anyone still remembers, a while ago I wrote an amateur series on halal and haram foods. 

So everyone knows that alcohol and pork (and pork products like gelatine) are forbidden in Muslims' diet. But apart from that, there are a few ingredients that are quite as important in making food products OK to eat. 

Here's what to look out for:

  • E120 - Cochineal/Carmine/Natural Red 4
Bright-red pigment obtained from certain scale insects. To prepare carmine, the insects are boiled to extract the carminic acid; then the solution is treated with alum. 

It is used as a food dye in many products - juices, yoghurt, candy. It is present not only in red-coloured items, but can also be used in shades of pink and purple.

Examples of products containing E120 colour:

And some of the products that use other, halal and vegetarian friendly colours, like beetroot red:

Muller is actually the one that frustrates me a little - they use carmine for their strawberry rice, but the corners are fine.

And my personal confusion for the end:

It actually seems to bit of a grey area - these hot dog sausages can be found on the halal food shelf, and are actually certified halal by some authority. However, majority of sources deem carmine forbidden for consumption, so (as much as I like them) I prefer to choose ones without it.

  • E904 - Shellac
It is a resin secreted by by a female lac bug. Processed as dry flakes, it is dissolved in ethanol to produce liquid shellac, later used as food glaze. 

This glazing agent is present in many pills and candies. It is also used as 'wax' coating on citrus fruit, which is supposed to prolong their shelf life, and to replace the natural wax of the apples, which is removed during the cleaning process.

  • E542 - Bone phosphate
Anti-caking agent, emulsifier and mineral supplement (source of calcium and phosphorus) made from animal bones. It is, however, mainly used in cosmetics - toothpaste, for instance.

  • E920 - L-cysteine hydrochloride and E921 - L-cysteine hydrochloride monohydrate
L-cysteine is an essential amino acid, present in all protein. It is commonly derived from animal proteins and hair, including human hair, and used in bakery as a bread enhancer - it stabilises the bread structure. 

Currently, however, majority of L-cysteine used in commercial baking is synthetically produced - it has been confirmed by major producers and suppliers, such as Warburtons or Kingsmill, after BBC journalist Justin Rowlatt raised his concern about human hair in the bread back in 2009: 

At that point many people started questioning whether or not their bread is safe for consumption according to their dietary requirements. You can find responses from some of the bread manufacturers here:


Warburtons bread - label specifically states that the E920 additive is vegetarian.

Kingsmill goes a step further - not only is it labelled suitable for vegetarians, but it's also been approved by the Halal Food Authority.

Hovis is also markes vegetarian-friendly. Just like in the Kingsmill bread above, there is no E920 at all.

Sainsburys own - vegetarian too, and again Ascorbic Acid is used as flour treatment agent.

  • Rennet/Rennin

It is a complex of enzymes produced in stomachs of ruminant (plant-feeding) mammals. It is widely used in cheese production. Its key component, chymosin, curdles the casein in milk, which helps young mammals digest their mothers' milk. 

Natural rennet is extracted from the lining of the fourth stomach of slaughtered unweaned calves - the stomachs are a by-product of veal production. 

In cheese making, the rennet is used to separate the milk into curds and whey. Some cheeses are always made using animal rennet, for instance Parmesan (Parmigiano Reggiano) - in order to be called 'Parmesan' it must be prduced using the traditional methods. Grana Padano and Gorgonzola are also the kinds to watch out for. There are 'Parmesan-style' cheeses available - these are suitable for vegetarians, hence halal diet-friendly too.

There are, however, non-animal sources of enzymes, including plants, microbial sources and fungi. 

Currently most popular is the use of fermantation-produced chymosin (FPC). Rennet-producing genes from animal stomachs have been extracted and inserted into certain bacteria, yeasts or fungi, to enable them to produce chymosin during fermentation. Cheeses produced with FPC can be certified halal or kosher, and are suitable for vegetarians if there was no animal-based alimentation used in chymosin production. 

Many soft cheeses are produced by acid coagulation, without any use of rennet. Cheeses like paneer or cream cheese are traditionally made this way. 

I found this in Sainsubry's once - their own brand hard cheese, suitable for vegetarians. Makes for an alternative to parmesan, which contains animal rennet.

Plain mild Cheddar is not an issue - it's usually the hard and traditionally prepared trademark cheese, where rennet is used in the production process.

My personal advice - go for the "V" sign. That makes me sure that there are no unwanted products of animal origin in the food I buy.

Disclaimer: I do not claim to have any authority to deem any foods halal or haram. The above post is a result of my own research and was written according to my own beliefs and choices.


  1. nice post, thanks.

  2. Informative..thanx

  3. hello useful thank you, but i think that E472e :
    Mono and diacetyl tartaric acid esters of mono & diglycerides
    used on bread alot
    Halal only if it is obtained from plant fat. If the fat source is from soy fat then it is Halal. If it is from pork fat then it is Haram. If it is from non zabiha beef then it is not Halal. If a claim appeared on food package "Suitable for Vegetarian" containing E-Number 472e the it means the E Number 472e is from soy fat. The food product is Halal if all other ingredients are Halal..
    i think they well use non veg one because its cheep.

  4. Very Useful information. Thank you

  5. I am not really understanding, why you think those products are not halal (except E542). Animal enzymes? Ok, coming from animals, same as milk or eggs. Animals do not die when enzymes are taken. In the same way, all yoghurts contain bacterial strains from the human intestine. People are not killed though. Carmine? It is nowadays fully synthetic. But even if historicaly it was produced from inscets, they were from the same subdivision as locust, which is halal. Alochol used in production? Alcohol is not unclean. It can be used by muslims for many purposes expect drinking. For cleaning or perfums for instance. As far as there is no promiles in food, alcohol use is halal.

    1. Thank you for the input. As for the alcohol, each to their own - I do realise in some foods it would evaporate during the cooking process etc., but personally we choose to avoid foods with alcohol. My main concern here are things like, for example, chocolates and desserts where he alcohol is evident. As for the other stuff I wrote about here, I did say I don't claim to be an expert and just follow the information available.

  6. Spirit vinegar is also Haram and the Warburton bread says that it is vegetarian e920 but does that mean it doesn't have human hair?

    1. Yes, I suppose you're right about the spirit vinegar - we tried to research wine vinegar just couple of days ago, and according to most schools it seems to be haram indeed, doubtful at best so we're avoiding that. Can't remember Warburton's, but some of the branded breads had the halal sign so should be fine. Human hair only if someone wouldn't be careful enough, I guess ;)


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