Chocolate glazed: permissible?
August 11, 2006 4:48 AM   Subscribe

Why are my Indonesian bottled water and donut labeled "halal" when there don't seem to be any questionably non-halal/haram processes or ingredients involved in the making of either product?

I was enjoying a donut from Dunkin Donuts today (yes, they really are everywhere...) when I noticed the "halal" label on the donut bag AND my accompanying bottle of water.

On most food here, meat and non-meat, there's usually a little seal with (I think) the Arabic word "halal," plus an official registration number from "MUI", the Majelis Ulama Indonesia, which seems to be a sort of national watchdog for Islamic issues (could be wrong there, too), but clicking on their website's link for "halal food information" takes me to the website for Indofood (a company that holds the record for creating the world's largest packet of...instant noodles).

A cursory examination of Wikipedia's "halal" article tells me that forbidden foods include "pork, alcohol/intoxicants, gelatin, blood, carrion, fanged beasts of prey, and any animal not slaughtered in the name of Allah."

Since I don't think any of those ingredients/processes are in play here, does the halal seal extend to a whole company's practices, not just the food/drink inside a particular container? Does anyone have experience with halal certification who can shed some light on this?
posted by mdonley to Food & Drink (15 answers total)
Well, some frostings might contain gelatin?

But I bet it is just a marketing device.
posted by k8t at 4:55 AM on August 11, 2006

Since I don't think any of those ingredients/processes are in play here, does the halal seal extend to a whole company's practices, not just the food/drink inside a particular container?

Well, if the bottle of water contains no pork, alcohol, gelatin, blood, carrion, fanged beasts of prey, or inappropriately slaughtered animal, it must be halal, right?

I think it's a bit like how you see "94% fat free" written on foods. What that really means is "6% fat", but who's going to put that on a label? In this case, "halal" is a useful marketing term, and it can be applied to foods that would always be halal.

Sidenote: Indofood make damn nice instant noodles.
posted by Jimbob at 4:58 AM on August 11, 2006

I don't have experience with halal certification, but outside the US, animal-based oils and lubricants are used in industrial processes, including water purification and food sterilizers, both potentially used for your water and donuts. I imagine that halal certification would apply here if animal-based fats, oils and lubricants are used.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:04 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

There are tons of haram ingredients that could be used in donuts. Lard, animal fats from animals that weren't properly slaughtered, L-cysteine made from human hair (which is actually used in some Dunkin' Donuts donuts in the US), and animal-derived "natural flavors," if derived from pigs or animals that weren't properly slaughtered, to name a few.
posted by leapingsheep at 5:21 AM on August 11, 2006

There was a big to-do a few years ago about a brand of soy sauce in Indonesia supposedly containing an enzyme additive that was a pork by-product.
posted by gimonca at 5:38 AM on August 11, 2006

Well, it could be said in the case of the water that it implies other products which don't have the label are not halal.

Hypothetical case : You buy only halal goods. You're after water, you see one bottle labeled `Halal' and another without a mention of it. Which do you buy? It's worth it to the manufacturer to print it on the label, it costs them nothing but gains sales.

It's more than just `x% fat free', it's like marshmallows labelled `FAT FREE!'. Sure they are, all marshmallow are fat free, they're just made mostly from sugar. But if it makes one customer in a hundred reach for that bag of marshmallow rather than a competitors brand, printing the words on the bag have paid off for the manufacturer.
posted by tomble at 5:44 AM on August 11, 2006

Water: Now with no trans-fats!
posted by kookoobirdz at 6:18 AM on August 11, 2006

You see the same thing with kosher certifications in the US and Canada. Bottled water, dish soap, aluminum pans, salt -- you name it. Generally, it signifies that no non-kosher animal by-products have been used in the manufacturing of the item, but as others have noted, it's a good marketing ploy too.
posted by greatgefilte at 7:25 AM on August 11, 2006

I lived in Indonesia in the 90s and I seem to recall that halal labelling was mandatory. I certainly remember that it was on every food/drink item that I saw in the shops.
posted by Lucie at 7:45 AM on August 11, 2006

plus an official registration number from "MUI"

Betcha dollars to, uh, donuts that there was also some sort of shakedown involved on MUI's part as well ("You really need one of our reasonably priced registration numbers if you want to do business here...").
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 8:05 AM on August 11, 2006

Following up on other responses - pork lard and gelatin would be my guess on the possibles for the donut and the water bottle. With the bottled water - fatty acids derived from animal fats are used as raw materials for additives/process chemicals in plastics. It appears some people consider this a big deal in keeping halal/kosher, some don't. See this article on kosher plastics.

This I learned from a job many years ago where I was researching plant-derived industrial chemicals, I remember being struck by this particular aspect at the time.

And indeed any chemical food/industrial additive containing the term stearate or stearic has a good chance of being animal derived, tallow is a prime source of stearic acid, a fatty acid. Word to the wise to my vegetarian/vegan brethern (who I don't think have generally caught on to this fact yet).
posted by nanojath at 8:25 AM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Oh, and it ain't just outside the US,Blazecock. Waste tallow is a cheap source of fatty acids and it is used everywhere it doesn't defy religious conventions.
posted by nanojath at 8:27 AM on August 11, 2006

Durng the early and mid-1990s, when anti-cholesterol hype was rampant, I remember seeing bottled water clearly labeled "CHOLESTEROL FREE!"
posted by elmwood at 12:01 PM on August 11, 2006 [1 favorite]

Islamic law also forbids alcohol. If the producer uses alchol, or something derived from it, in the manufacturing process, then from what I understand, this would prevent the product from being halal.
posted by dantodd at 12:16 PM on August 11, 2006

Also, if a contract arrangement requires halal-certified foods only - which many will, like catering services, cafeteria service organizations, etc - then the service company has no choice but to use items that are clearly certified as halal, water or no.
posted by Dunwitty at 2:20 AM on August 13, 2006

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