What's Not Halal About... Butter?

by Jumaiyah Mahathir Oct 15, 2015


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As we say good bye to both 'Eid, and enjoy the last bits of our cookies at home, let's think about the good people behind the kueh & pastry making, and the care they had to put in to ensure that the cookies you're enjoying are fit for Muslim consumption. A little while ago I wrote about "What's not halal about cake?" And from there, I've had requests for me to write about the staple ingredient of all baking products - butter. As mentioned before, butter is a complicated product to talk about. But since there are no other articles I can find that talks about butter in a halal perspective, then I suppose that it's important that I write about it.

So first, let's understand how butter is made. In fact, did you know that you can make your own butter at home? Just take some halal full cream milk (oh my, is that another topic?), and agitate the milk so much that the membranes of the fat globules will start to break apart, allowing some bonding action to happen amongst the fat particles so that coagulation will start happening and voila! You get butter! If that had too many science-y words for you, just watch the videos below.

Now, in the olden age, this was the only way that butter can be made - just pure cow's milk and a lot of shaking, stirring and agitation - completely halal! But in our time, butter is no longer made of just milk. Commercially-made butter are sometimes packed with something extra for you. The video below shows how butter is commercially made - but obviously, this is just the basic butter that they make, no one will share their "secret ingredients" publicly. You can watch the video to understand it better, even though it isn't exactly the full story.

Basically, butter is made from the cream of milk. Raw milk from the cow will be centrifuged to separate the fat (called cream) from the rest of the milk. After the fat is separated, the rest of the milk will be sold as skimmed low fat milk. This cream is then taken out, and agitated further until butter is formed. Nothing non-halal about it so far.

As I proceed, do keep in mind the word "commercial"; Commercially produced products also means that companies will try to cut cost while attempting their very best to produce something that people want to buy.

So here goes.

Halal Risk Factor 1 - The Gelatin Sieve

When cream is first made from milk, the cream needs to be strained from the milk. To do this, a very high quality strainer with fine pores are needed to separate the two liquids of different densities. The better the sieve used, the better the quality of the skimmed (low/non fat) milk produced. The quality of the butter depends on the quality of the cream, which in turn depends on how well these two liquids of different densities are separated. The high quality strainer in this case, could be the gelatine sieve, made of pig gelatine because it has really fine pores. *Refer to the video at the end of this article.

Once the butter is formed, the remaining liquid in the mixture would need to be drained. Once drained, the butter needs to be washed with water, and strained again to ensure that the butter has a longer shelf life, again possibly with the use of the gelatin sieve. Quite possibly, preservatives would also be added at this stage to ensure that the butter has longer shelf life. Let's not get into what type of preservatives can make the butter not halal. Click on the video later, minute 5:02. The sieving process is demonstrated here by this very nice lady on Youtube who makes the butter at home with her cheese cloth. Click on the video, minute 5:04. Just imagine it bigger and part of a huge machine at a factory, and made of pig parts, instead of cheese cloth.

For this reason, if the company is going for halal certification, a halal inspector would inform the company to change the process, or change the sieve to exclude pork-derived materials from coming into contact with the butter. But since this gelatin isn't an ingredient in the making of butter and it is just part of the process, then this differs from madzhab to madzhab. Refer to this article regarding halal standards, and halal certification processes.

Halal Risk Factor 2 -  Alcohol usage 

From the Muslim Consumer Group website, you will get this description of butter (http://www.muslimconsumergroup.com/ingredients_description.html)

The salted butter is made with cream mechanically separated from cow's milk and salt. So all salted butter from any brand is Halal regardless of Halal or kosher symbol. Ingredients of Unsalted Butter: The ingredients of unsalted butter is pasteurized sweet cream and natural flavoring or pasteurized sweet cream and lactic acid. Unsalted butter is Halal only if it is made with pasteurized sweet cream and lactic acid. But some times dairy companies add lactic acid and termed it as natural flavoring. It is better to call companies to confirm it. The natural flavoring is also made from Starter Distillate. Starter Distillate in many unsalted butter brands contains Diacetyl. As we reported in our Ingredients section about Starter Distillate as "Besides diacetyl, starter distillate also contains minor amounts of acetaldehyde, ethyl formate, ethyl acetate, acetone, ethyl alcohol, 2-butanone, acetic acid and acetone. Since this minor amount of ethyl alcohol Starter Distillate is considered not Halal. If the dairy companies guarantee that their Starter Distillate do not contain minor amount of alcohol, then it can be used. But our advice is to always use salted butter or if you see Pasteurized Sweet Cream and Lactic Acid under ingredients statement of Unsalted Butter then you can use the unsalted butter for example Horizon's Organic Unsalted Butter. 

Yikes! that's a lot of chemical terms! Let's just put it this way;- Have you tried to make your own butter yet? How did it taste? If the taste didn't suit your tongue, but the store-bought one did, then  likely, there's something in there which is not in your home-made butter. Flavourings that contain alcohol could have been possibly added to your butter to make it taste better - which in turn can make it non-halal. Things that taste better, will also sell better, so there is a high motivation for these companies to add things into the unsalted butter. I normally do not like to define the "halal-ness" of a product based on "small amounts of alcohol" which does not intoxicate the consumer - when I say small, I mean 0.05%. But that said, if you have halal-certified options, then you should go for the halal-certified option just because it is the better (halal) option as it means someone has checked and looked into its production process

Halal Risk Factor 3 -  Whey butter, not milk butter 

Here we talk about commercially produced butter that is not necessarily from milk only. As mentioned previously, butter is made from the cream that is derived from milk. This process sometimes involves the usage (and mixture) of cream from whey, which is a by-product of cheese-making. Cheese has a higher halal risk factor because of animal-derived enzymes used in the production of cheese. Source of this info is here: http://www.webexhibits.org/butter/making.html Or here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butter#Whey_butter Farm made butter uses the cream directly from whole milk whereas commercially made butter is made by extracting small amounts of cream from whey, a by-product of cheese-making, using large centrifuges. Whey, because of its high protein content, are found on protein shakes, milk shakes and health shakes normally found on supermarket shelves and those health supplement stores. In the halal certifications industry, whey is considered a high risk ingredient because the protein could possibly be derived from animals. In the event that the whey used in butter is not halal, then this makes the butter itself not halal.  

Halal Risk Factor 4 - Lard Usage

Nowadays, people want the butter but not the fat. So here comes "low fat butter".  When they try to remove the fat from the butter, what gets removed along with the fat is the texture and the taste. Naturally, low fat butter does not taste nice at all! Make your own butter at home with all the natural fat and you'll know what I mean. So how do they still make butter with the right texture, tasty and low fat at the same time?

You have to add fat (lower in concentration) from another source - yep, you guessed it - pig gelatin. And, for some reason, there is no literature that has been written on this that I can get my hands on. The only thing I got was this lady on TED who investigated what happens to a pig after they are being slaughtered at the farm. Click on the video, minute 2:57.

I leave this video with you as a closing to my article, which I hope has been beneficial. If commercially produced butter does not bear the halal logo, it means no one has visited the factory or looked into the ingredients for the purposes of verification. Now that you know what goes into commercial butter-making, remember to make you own intelligent and wise choices at the supermarket!

Do you have any questions about halal food? Ask us on Instagram or Facebook. We'll be LIVE on Facebook this Thursday, 8pm for you to ask any questions on halal food. You can comment below, or DM us on Instagram or Facebook to ask us questions and we will answer to our best knowledge then. 

     

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