What Is halal?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 11, 2022
5 min read

What is halal? Is halal food healthy? How do you prepare halal food? 

Halal is a dietary law derived from Islamic teachings, meaning “lawful or permitted.” On the contrary, foods that are not considered halal are considered haram or “not permitted.” Because there are many culturally diverse places worldwide, with more to develop over time, it’s important to cater to a wide range of people and their dietary needs. This means it is essential to consider including halal food on your menu or at your next get-together. Being mindful of specific dietary needs allows you to meet the needs of a diverse population so that others do not feel left out. 

Halal is not just all about dietary restrictions. It’s also about the treatment of animals, specifically with how they are slaughtered. Halal food must be prepared with minimal suffering to the animal and the pronouncement of God’s name during the slaughter, as the animal is being sacrificed to Him. 

In addition to including more specific dietary-friendly items on your menu, it’s also important to consider individualistic perspectives on religious practices and culture. This could include approaching local Muslims about what they want to see introduced on your menu and the best practices for preparing halal food. 

If you’re not in the restaurant or eatery business, it's still a good idea to know how to prepare halal food. For example, if you plan on serving Muslims during a neighborhood block party or a small friendly get-together, it’s important that you understand how to plan meals, snacks, and refreshments appropriate for Muslims. 

This is especially true because there are varying standards of what counts as halal between different Islamic Scholars, and many certifiers in localities help determine what counts as halal. Some Muslims believe that halal and haram extend beyond food and drink. In fact, many Muslims prohibit the use of certain alcohol-based perfumes. Others will stick to using lard-made soaps. 

In America, some of these identifiers are hard to spot. Some products, such as perfumes and colognes, contain by-products of pork. Small dessert products may even contain some alcohol products.

There is thought to be one constant rule among what is considered to be halal food and drink in the Islamic faith. The rule? There are no constants. Halal has been debated and adjusted worldwide in response to the ever-evolving Islamic faith. The definition of halal comes from the Quran, which defines what halal and haram are. However, the verses describing these two terms are often vague, leaving much of it upl to interpretation. Because of the vagueness, many Muslim scholars and leaders have turned to hadiths, or sayings, from the prophet Muhammad to help clarify what is halal and haram. 

Halal dietary and slaughter restrictions are often compared to Jewish practices. Both practices share similarities, but there are also differences. For example, both Muslim and Jewish cultures prohibit blood and swine in food and drink, but cattle are accepted. Regarding differences, Jewish laws are more restrictive, especially where slaughter, preparation, and consumption are concerned. Several Jewish orthodox individuals don’t consider halal meat to be kosher, but Muslims accept kosher meat. Jewish law also mentions that a trained and observant male Jew must be the one to slaughter the animal for food. There are some other similarities and differences between the two cultures, but the most important similarities, the treatment of the animals being slaughtered and what type of meat can be consumed, is the same for both cultures. 

While America hasn’t always catered to other cultures’ cuisine and dietary needs, many larger U.S. cities have adopted a wide range of halal products to cater to their growing Muslim populations. Even databases and applications allow consumers to find local halal products and restaurants.

What are some halal food examples?

There are many examples of halal food and a few examples of haram food. Haram foods include pork and beasts of prey, so any animal that hunts with its fangs or claws, such as lions or falcons. Alcohol is also considered haram, and its consumption is prohibited in Islam. 

While some Muslims practice avoiding pork, pork land, and alcohol and believe that to be enough to be considered halal, others believe that meat must be Islamically slaughtered and labels must be checked for haram ingredients. 

Halal food must be free of ingredients derived from haram sources. Using utensils and equipment that have not been contaminated with haram substances is also required. If that criterion is met, the following food and drink products can be considered halal: 

  • Seafood, including fish
  • Bread products
  • Pastry items, such as frostings 
  • Desserts, including cakes and pastries 
  • Cereals, including breakfast, organic, and natural
  • Pasta
  • Dairy products, such as drink mixes and whipped toppings 
  • Milk, as long as it has been taken from a source that is halal 
  • Cheese and cheese products
  • Ice cream
  • Eggs 
  • Coffee mixes and tea blends 
  • Seasonings
  • Fruits, both fresh and dried
  • Honey
  • Syrups
  • Jams and jellies 
  • Legumes
  • Nuts 
  • Peanut butter
  • Pizzas, as long as it’s made with halal meats and vegetables 
  • Vegetables, both frozen and fresh 
  • Processed potatoes, such as French fries
  • Sauces and dressing
  • Soups and soup bases

Before preparing halal food, you must take certain precautions to ensure that halal guidelines are followed. This includes: 

  • Cleaning all utensils, glasses, crockery, serving dishes, and surfaces where food will be prepared.
  • Halal meat should have its own chopping board, preparation area, and knife. 
  • All items used in the preparation of halal meals should be cleaned thoroughly before each meal. 
  • Halal and non-halal meat should be separated into different containers.
  • Halal and non-halal meat should never be cooked in the same container. 
  • If preparing meats in the oven, halal meat should be placed on the top rack, while non-halal meat is placed on the bottom. 
  • Keep halal and non-halal meat separate during serving to avoid confusion. 
  • Halal meat should be clearly identified to avoid confusion. 
  • Serving utensils should be separate for halal and non-halal meat. 
  • Fried foods should be prepared in vegetable oil only. 
  • Salads should only contain halal meat with halal cheese. 
  • When preparing cakes, biscuits, and other desserts, use only margarine and vegetable oils.

Following these steps will help you prepare a halal-friendly meal worthy of Muslim culture.