Q. I have noticed halal gelatine on food labels. What does it mean?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Monday, 19 August 2013.
Tagged: additives, diets, food labels

Q. I have noticed halal gelatine on food labels. What does it mean?

A. Halal is an Arabic word meaning 'permitted', 'lawful' or religiously appropriate. In Islam, halal describes many things including food. All the food groups are halal with the exception of meat which must meet certain criteria. For meat to be halal it must come from a permitted source and it must be slaughtered according to Islamic rites. Pigs, for example, are not a permitted source because they are considered 'impure' and so pork is not halal.

Why is gelatine a problem?

Because of this, gelatine is a problem for Muslims as it is extracted from the bones and skins of animals, usually cattle or pigs. These are by-products of meat production.   As you can imagine, when you read ‘gelatine’ on an ingredient list of a food label, it’s impossible to know whether it’s made from cows (acceptable) or pigs (not acceptable); and if from cows, whether the cow has been slaughtered in the correct (halal) manner.

So a perfectly acceptable halal food like yoghurt can become unacceptable if it contains gelatine to thicken and set it.  But if the label spells out that it’s halal gelatine, then the buyer knows it’s fine for a halal diet.

Often it’s easier for Muslims to simply avoid all animal products and just eat vegetarian.  So you may come across the words 'vegetable gelatine' on a label.  It has nothing to do with gelatine. It simply means another non-meat gelling agent such as agar seaweed extract or a plant gum like carrageenan or guar has been used.

For more information visit www.halal.com.au or the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.