Halal Food Preparation

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

For culinary arts students in today's world, halal food preparation may become a vital skill. In this lesson, we will examine this concept and see what halal cooking looks like.

Halal

Many people in the Western world will be at least vaguely familiar with kosher food, that which adheres to Jewish dietary restrictions. Fewer are familiar with halal food, that which adheres to the laws of Islam. Considering that Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world today, however, more modern chefs are taking the time to learn a bit more about these practices.

Halal food is prepared in accordance with Islamic law and the Quran.
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Technically, halal refers to anything that is acceptable within Islam and in accordance with the laws of the Quran. The word ''halal,'' which is Arabic, best translates to ''lawful'' or ''permitted.'' If something is not halal, it is haram, or unlawful. While all aspects of Muslim life should be halal, the term is still most often used to refer to food. In Islam, food restrictions have an important function. They are meant to guarantee health so that people can be strong, have a high quality of life, and are able to serve their society.

What Foods Are Halal?

To start, let's see what foods are halal and which are haram. As a general rule in Islam, a food is halal unless it is haram; the list given in the Quran is exclusive, and not inclusive. Haram ingredients include the following:

  • Anything from pigs, including lard.
  • Carnivorous animals, including dogs, crocodiles, and alligators.
  • Frogs.
  • Scavenger birds and birds of prey.
  • Aquatic animals that are toxic or poisonous.
  • Plants that are toxic or poisonous.
  • Any animal Islam permits you to kill outside of food purposes, including rats and scorpions.
  • Any animal the Islam prohibits you to kill, including ants, bees, and woodpeckers.
  • Most enzymes, gelatins, and rennet.
  • Intoxicants, including alcohol.

This is not an exhaustive list, and you should check every ingredient you use if you plan to start cooking halal. In general, however, all fruits and vegetables are halal, as are fish and shellfish, cows, goats, sheep, bison, venison, chickens, and turkeys. As long as none of these is mixed with haram ingredients or byproducts, they're OK. The same goes for processed foods, but this can be trickier to determine. Many processed foods use lard, animal fat that has not been halal-certified, or other haram products.

Beef is halal as long as the animal is treated properly and slaughtered properly.
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As one final point, it's worth remembering that there actually are rare situations in which it's acceptable to consume haram foods. The Quran values human life, so breaking the law is better than death by starvation. If your only option is to eat bacon or die, eat the bacon.

Preparation of Halal Food

For food to be halal, it has to be more than the right kind of food. It has to be prepared the right way. There are two major points of concern in halal food preparation: cleanliness and halal-approved meat.

Cleanliness

Let's start with cleanliness. Cleanliness is a huge priority throughout the Quran, and not just with food. For food to be halal, the kitchen must be clean and sterilized as must all cooking and serving utensils — and even the chefs themselves. Wear clean, protective clothing like aprons and hairnets.

Beyond the obvious reasons for wanting a clean kitchen, this matters because halal ingredients become haram if there is any cross-contamination with filth or prohibited items. To prevent this, halal products should be stored away from haram products. Utensils, cookware, and hands should be washed regularly throughout the cooking process, and nothing that touches haram or unclean items should be used to prepare halal food. Purification practices do exist in Islam, but it you plan to make halal cuisine a part of your kitchen, it's probably wise to get a set of halal cookware and never let it touch anything haram.

Halal-Certified Meat

According to Islamic practices, meat not only has to come from the right animal, but that animal also has to be killed in a very specific way. If a cow is not slaughtered appropriately, that beef is haram.

To meet halal standards, the following must occur:

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