“But its just cake!”
That is what I hear commonly amongst my friends when confronted with the question of whether or not the delectable cake that is sitting in the glass casing at a store is permissible to be eaten. And, after reducing the importance of the matter, we normally would attempt to reason out why the food item should be permissible by default. “I mean, it’s just cake, right? When you bake cake, you don’t purposefully put alcohol in it, nor do you use meat to make the cake – well, unless its flavoured rum & raisin. So, an innocent chocolate cake or, the red velvet cake should be alright, yes?”
Being fully aware of the different standards of halal in different countries around the world, and also the different scholars’ views on the matter, what I write this article merely with the intention to inform, so that our readers are able to make better choices – halal choices – as opposed to the decisions they would make if they had not known.
Fresh & Natural Ingredients – good!
Surely, in this day of social media, we have come across chefs who strongly advocate the use of only fresh and natural ingredients in their food. This means, they will reduce or entirely avoid the use of additives, emulsifiers, flavourings, colourings, improvers and the likes, in their food. I vividly recall how Chef Mimi taught us how to extract the lavender flavour from lavender flowers, as opposed to using the more convenient lavender flavourings in bottles which we can easily purchase off the shelves in specialty baking stores. Only when the cooks, chefs, bakers, use only natural ingredients that we know when a food product is truly halal.
Shortcuts to baking and cooking often involve the items previously mentioned, like additives, emulsifiers, flavourings, colourings, sauces and the likes. These items are created and put into your food for the purposes of enhancing the flavours, to make the preparation easier, make it last longer, or to change the texture (softer, harder, stronger, lava-ish). Since these items are manufactured and processed, absolutely anything and everything can go into these additives.
For example, certain types of emulsifiers would contain gelatine derived for animals. Gelatine that is derived from animals can be halal, yes – but majority are not. If the animal parts used in the manufacturing of these gelatine and flavour enhancers are extracted from the animal after it is slaughtered, then we’ve got to ask if the animal was slaughtered the halal way – if not, then whatever animal parts that you take from the carcass, be it the whole meat or simply an enzyme, it becomes non-halal, and not fit for muslim consumption. Emulsifiers and Gelatine are both largely used in the production of chocolates and other baked items.Another good example of these sort of extraction of animal parts as an ingredient to an additive, would be the extraction of rennet (an enzyme) from a calf (baby cow) that is used in the production of cheese. Yes, darlings, cheese isn’t just made from only milk. Enzymes are required to coagulate the milk, so that it can turn into the blocks of cheese you see on the supermarket shelves. More often than not, these enzymes are extracted from animals.
Other than the animal content that could probably be found in the ingredients that are used to make your favourite bakes, there are also those with the alcohol content. In the baking industry, you would have heard about bakers looking for vanilla extracts, as opposed to just vanilla flavouring? It is REALLY hard to find vanilla extracts that is halal. Just like how wine is being added as one of the final ingredients before they plate the food to enhance the smell (since alcohol is volatile), much of the flavourings used also contain alcohol to enhance the taste or aroma, in the same way.That gives me an idea – maybe we should sell halal vanilla extract on the specialty store for halalfoodhunt.com. That would be cool.Other than the halal additives mentioned, care should also be taken into consideration when choosing the basic ingredients for baking – like butter. Oh. Butter. Don’t even get me started on butter. Read: What’s Not Halal About Butter.