The halal food industry is projected to produce $2.0 trillion globally by 2024. In the U.S., with 3.45 million practicing Muslims and many other adherents to the halal lifestyle, the industry continues to expand and is projected to grow by $8.17 billion by 2024.
However, many people still do not fully understand what halal food is. For Muslims, this can lead to uncertainty when consuming food not otherwise marked halal. For people of other creeds, it can lead to confusion or the belief that somehow this food is not for them.
But halal food is not mysterious or secret or exclusive. It is more a set of principles for healthy eating passed down by tradition.
We can help break down the intricacies of halal food by answering the following questions: What does halal food mean? What food is considered halal? Can Muslims eat food without knowing how it was prepared?
The Meaning of Halal Food
Halal is an Arabic word that means “lawful or permitted.” Although halal encompasses all products and life choices, it’s widely-associated with food and drink. Halal food, like every aspect of halal, is inspired by the Quran. The core principle is that we should only consume food that is good for us and avoid food that is unhealthy.
Food must go through a specific process from farm to package or plate to be considered entirely halal. Food labeled halal must undergo halal certification so consumers can have the confidence it is what it claims to be.
Food that isn’t deemed halal is considered haram (“forbidden”) and shouldn’t be consumed by halal adherents. The preparation of halal food is considered sacred, and is also part of the criteria for halal-certified food. For example, if halal meat is prepared using utensils that have touched haram meat, it is no longer considered halal. Similarly, if a vegetarian dish is prepared in a pan that used cooking wine (or other forms of alcohol) for a prior meal, the dish is now haram.
In supermarkets or specialty stores, pre-packaged halal food will include a certified halal sticker or symbol. If food trucks or restaurants promote their establishments as halal-compliant and have separate prep areas, cooking utensils, and plates for their food, as well as an established halal food and supplies vendor, then they can serve halal-certified food.
The scope of permissible halal food is wider than many assume, and most plant-based food falls into accordance with halal. Many popular food items are available for halal followers. However, it’s important to note all ingredients in a dish, as some food additives (such as gelatin and lard) may not considered halal.
Some believe halal food has a little room for interpretation. At times, restaurants will adopt the word as interchangeable with Middle Eastern cuisine, although the two don’t always overlap. Different Muslim sects may interpret more specific instructions when it comes to halal food. Nonetheless, the fundamentals of halal persist, and by following these fundamentals, food becomes easier to categorize.
What Food is Considered Halal?
Halal food is any food that isn’t forbidden by the Quran. Chapter 2 of the Quran states in verse 168, “Eat of what is lawful and wholesome on the earth.” Broadly speaking, we say halal foods are those foods that are life-giving
Halal food ranges from fruit to meat to desserts. Any food which is hygienic and free of alcohol, harmful (or toxic) ingredients, intoxicants, and pork products, and any meat which has undergone halal slaughter and preparation may be considered halal.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are always halal food — unless they’ve been sprayed with non-halal chemicals or injected with haram preservatives. Halal adherents can enjoy, among other plant-based food, common organic fruits such as apples, blueberries, and strawberries.
Grain dishes, sans haram ingredients, are also great halal options. Food like pasta, rice, and bread can be halal food. Cheese and dairy products must be made from halal microbial enzymes or bacterial cultures, including the rennet or gelatin that may be used in the process. Legumes and nuts are included in halal food diets. Desserts and soups without alcohol or other haram products are also halal food.
Halal meat must go through a halal-certified slaughter and preparation process, known as dhabihah (or zabiha). Meat from non-halal slaughterhouses is never considered halal food. Thus, even meat allowed by halal regulations, such as cow, poultry, and sheep, isn’t halal unless it’s procured through halal slaughter. Meat that died of natural causes (for example, a deer that dies on its own in the woods) and meat killed by a hunter’s arrow or gunshot isn’t halal. Swine and exotic meats such as alligator and rattlesnake are not halal food, either.
Seafood, including shrimp, is enjoyed by many who follow a halal lifestyle. Seafood doesn’t require the same slaughter practices as halal meat. In fact, pescatarians looking for halal-friendly dishes can enjoy most seafood and freshwater fish.
There are also a vast number of drinks that can be halal-certified, but again, all ingredients (even the most miniscule) are an important component. In a broad sense, most carbonated beverages, fruit juices, teas, coffee, almond milk, soy milk, and milk from cows or goats are permissible. However, if a haram ingredient is added to these drinks, they’re no longer halal.
Can Muslims eat food without knowing if it’s halal?
Muslims cannot eat food before confirming that it is halal food. It’s vital that Muslims are intentional about what they eat. Even if food seems like it may be halal, scanning the ingredients of a product or searching for a halal-certified symbol can verify whether or not food is halal.
In the U.S., specialty food stores and Middle Eastern grocers are great places to purchase halal food. There are many online stores that sell halal food as well. You can also find halal food options at national grocery chains like Whole Foods and Costco. Halal food is available worldwide, and offers many delectable, nourishing options for all consumers.
When shopping or at a restaurant, your surest bet is to look for a halal certification icon such as our green H.