Islam has dietary laws that originate from religious teachings, and the most significant distinction is between halal and haram foods.
Foods acceptable to Islam are halal, while unacceptable foods are haram. Halal foods need to follow strict requirements and procedures when it comes to processing and preparation.
Since alcohol is haram, it’s often unclear if fermented food is halal because the byproduct of fermentation is alcohol.
So, is fermented food halal? I’ll get into the details of the answer in this article. You’ll also learn what to look for to ensure you’re purchasing a halal product.
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Do Fermented Foods Contain Alcohol?
Fermentation is one of the earliest methods of preserving fresh foods. As such, it has an important place in the food industry even today.
Fermented food like kimchi or yogurt has multiple benefits for our health. It makes the digestive process easier, helps absorb nutrients, improves our immune system, and most importantly, makes food more delicious.
However, there’s a distinction between natural (wild) fermentation and fermentation by starter cultures.
A byproduct of fermentation is alcohol. Ultimately, it’s difficult to establish the exact alcohol level in fermented products. However, most fermented foods contain a small amount of alcohol, except for fermented alcoholic drinks.
According to Islamic teachings and dietary laws, alcohol is haram, i.e., prohibited because of the negative impact on the body and mind.
However, when it comes to consuming fermented food, some people might not know whether the food is halal or haram due to the alcohol presence caused by fermentation.
Are Fermented Foods Considered Halal?
This question often arises due to the alcohol presence in fermented foods.
The confusion may be related to the mistranslation of Arabic ‘khamr’ to English ‘alcohol.’
Alcohol is an organic compound, and there are many different types: methanol, propanol, ethanol, etc. Ethanol is usually found in food and drinks, including those resulting from the fermentation process.
The Arabic ‘khamr’ means ‘to shroud’ or ‘to cloud.’ It refers to any substance that may affect and cloud our judgment or make us lose control over our body and mind.
According to the Qur’an, khamr is prohibited. However, ethanol doesn’t have to be khamr since it doesn’t always have an intoxicating effect.
With that in mind, determining whether fermented foods are halal or haram may seem tricky. That’s why it’s important to emphasize that most fermented foods contain only residues of alcohol, so there’s no reason for them to be prohibited.
However, due to low alcohol presence, these products are considered halal, and it’s even recommended to use them for their benefits.
The biggest concern regarding the fermentation process and alcohol is with fermented beverages.
There are also other fermented beverages or liquids used in cooking but that are non-alcoholic. Special attention should be paid when choosing these products.
For example, soy sauce can contain very high alcohol levels, i.e., ethanol, but it’s halal since it doesn’t have an intoxicating effect on the body.
Plant-based vs Animal-based Products
According to halal certification, plant-based products are safe. However, the process of manufacturing and preparation is what can change the product and make it haram.
Animal products are often used in the preparation process, and this is a problem as the origin and treatment of those animals are usually unknown.
For example, animal intestinal flora can be used in the fermentation process to make products such as kefir and yogurt thicker and sourer. In this case, these products may not be considered halal.
Furthermore, different enzymes and fillers used for improving or accelerating the fermentation process can also be of animal origin.
More often than not, these enzymes won’t be listed as ingredients since they only aid the process. This would also represent a concern, and the product wouldn’t have to be considered halal.
There are some limitations in the treatment of fermentation cultures – the microorganisms used in the fermentation process.
Before they’re added and used in the process, these cultures need to be activated in a special environment. Often, this environment can contain non-halal products or products of animal origin that are prohibited.
How To Find Fermented Foods That Are Halal
As a consequence, determining if foods are halal can be overwhelming for many people. If you want to make sure you’re eating halal food, look for the halal certification.
Any product that has the certificate is 100% safe and following Islamic law. If you don’t see the certificate, check the food label and ensure the ingredients are safe to use.
The halal certificate proves that the products manufactured for the Muslim population follow Islamic laws and teachings and are suitable for consumption.
These products are present in countries where most people or a significant part of the population is Muslim.
Although it’s usually related to meat products, the halal certificate can be found on milk and dairy products, canned food, and even cosmetics and medicine.
Products with the halal certification are labeled with a halal symbol or the later ‘M.’
However, just because fermented foods have a halal certificate, it doesn’t mean it’s good to eat them in every case.
Our digestive tract consists of millions of bacteria which create a community called a biome. In addition, microorganisms used in the fermentation process and fermented food can produce histamine levels that can be harmful.
Although these histamine levels aren’t a problem for most people, some can be allergic or unable to break down the histamine.
Also, if you feel nauseous or bloated after consuming fermented foods, you might have a problem with processing histamine. In this case, you shouldn’t consume fermented foods, even though they have the halal certificate, since they negatively affect your body.
To answer the question of if fermented food is halal, we first need to understand that even though the byproduct of fermented foods is alcohol, it’s only present in low amounts. This means the fermented food is halal.
However, the fermentation process can switch the food from halal to haram. Therefore, it’s essential to always look for the Halal certificate on the food.
If there’s no certificate, always check the ingredients to ensure you’re buying a halal product.
Hopefully, this answers the fermented food halal question, and you can now purchase goods with confidence!