Halal and Haram products in baked foods
Original Author: Imam Yahya Momla. I am about to ruin bread for you so be forewarned! L-cysteine is a semi-essential amino acid found naturally in the human body. L-cysteine is found in many foods including meat, dairy products, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes. The form used in manufacturing is L-cysteine hydrochloride. As with any ingredient, in order to determine whether or not the ingredient is halal, we must determine its origin. L-cysteine used in the industry is obtained from goose/duck feathers, human hair, swine bristles/hooves, or a vegetarian option made through a fermentation process (we will not discuss this last option as it is seldom used due to cost). Let us take a look at these sources.
Human Hair It is widely known that early on, the primary source of L-cysteine was the hair of human beings. In particular, industry insiders will tell you that this hair was taken from the floors of salons and barbershops in China. If the source of L-cysteine is human hair, it is no doubt impermissible to consume. The reason for this prohibition is that scholars are unanimous that it is not permissible to use any part of the human body for consumption as this is against the karāmah (respect/dignity) of the human being given to him/her by Allah.
Swine Bristles/Hooves Allah has prohibited consuming swine in the Qur’ān. Therefore L-cysteine obtained from this source would also be considered haram. An important note: The rulings of istihāla/istihlāk (metamorphosis) may apply to the above two sources. In the near future, I intend to write more about this topic and the difference of opinion in this regard inshā’Allah. Further research is needed by experts in the field to determine whether or not istihāla/istihlāk occur. For now we will err on the side of caution and avoid L-cysteine sourced from human hair or swine bristles/hooves.
Goose/Duck Feathers Although some difference in opinion exists regarding the feathers of birds that were not slaughtered correctly, the majority opinion is that the feathers are pure and hence L-cysteine sourced from goose or duck feathers would be permissible to consume.According to the Baking Association of Canada, L-cysteine hydrochloride used in Canada is always sourced from duck/goose feathers. Products imported from other areas of the world warrant some caution as the sources of L-cysteine vary widely depending on local regulations. E.g. L-cysteine sourced from human hair is banned as a food additive in the EU while still widely used in the US.
- 1. Read the ingredients. If a Canadian made product contains L-cysteine, it is from goose and duck feathers and is permissible to consume. If a product is imported, extra diligence is required as regulations on sourcing vary from country to country. Even though the EU bans L-cysteine sourced from human hair, it is possible that the source is still haram.
- 2. If the product is vegan certified, contains no alcohol, and contains L-cysteine, it is permissible to consume.
- 3. If the product is Kosher certified (and contains no other haram ingredient) and contains L-cysteine it is permissible to consume.
- 4. If the product is halal certified from a reputable authority and contains L-cysteine, it is permissible to consume.5. When in doubt, leave it out.