Alcohol is widely used in the food industry as solvents in flavours, colours and preservatives. Besides foods, alcohols are also widely used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and other industrial products. The total value of alcohol used in these industries amounts to billions of dollars and in the soft drink sector alone, Coca Cola reported sales of USD43.49 billion in its 2016 annual report (Forbes, 2016). Based on the amount of alcohol used in the food and other industries, it is difficult for any food industry to switch their industrial practices from using alcohol to alternative ingredients. Currently, some of the issues related to the halal status of food products are the presence of alcohol in foods and beverages, one of the critical parts in issuing halal certificates is the level of permissible alcohol content in food products.
In some ASEAN countries,such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand, the permissible alcohol content is stated at 1% whilst Singapore benchmarked the level at 0.5%. Whereas, in other cases such as Brunei, United Kingdom and Canada, alcohol is not allowed to be present in Halal food products. The guideline which is set at 1% in Malaysia was established based on a fatwa of Islamic scholars and research conducted on the fermentation process of different substrates ranging from cereals, fruits and palm sugars. Applying the principle of analogy (Qiyas) in this matter, Islamic jurists have concluded that other substances that have the same effect as ethanol i.e., intoxicating and harmful, for example drugs such as morphine, cocaine and heroin are also prohibited.
Fundamentally, alcohol or specifically ethanol is generated through the fermentation of fruits or grains, sugar or starch with the existence of yeast, If the amount of ethanol produced from fermentation is high enough, it could have an intoxicating effect and therefore not allowed for consumption by Muslims. If the fermentation is allowed to continue in the presence of oxygen, the intoxicating alcohol is converted to acetic acid or vinegar. In Islamic law, for the first stage of the fermentation process, that is, the conversion of carbohydrate or sugar to alcohol (alcoholic fermentation) is termed “التخمر” while the second stage of the fermentation process, that is, the change from alcohol to vinegar (acidic fermentation) is known as “التخلل”.
Fermentation for preservation, flavour improvement, increasing of nutritive value and preparation of beverages has been used for a long time. Later on, fermentation using various fruits such as apple, pear and strawberry, pineapple and oranges were used to produce home wine. Generally, fermentation is a kind of process that involves the production of organic products such as ethanol and acetic acid by converting the sugar or carbon source with the help of microorganisms such as bacteria, yeast and fungi. The fermentation process had been applied by humans since ancient time in making wine, beer, cheese and mead (honey wine). For fermentation, the fruit is macerated, where the fruit are softened and broken into pieces by pressing the fruit in order to extract the juice.
The fermentation of fruit juices will yield several products based on the period of fermentation including cider, wine and cider vinegar. Cider, either in the form of soft cider or sweet cider is defined as an unfiltered, unsweetened, non-alcoholic fermented juice by adding yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) and fermenting for a period of usually for 12 hours and above. The alcohol contents in cider vary from 2% to 8.5% (ABV of alcohol by volume). The classifications of cider vary from country to country. For example, in Spain the percentage of alcohol in cider is 4% to 8%, while in Sweden the cider must contain at least 15% of apple juice. In United States, the percentage of alcohol in cider is 0.15%. According to the definition given above, cider is the product formed at the early stage of stage 1 (alcoholic) fermentation and the later middle stage of stage 2 (acetic acid) fermentation. The latter would usually known as cider vinegar.
From the viewpoint of Islamic law, the permissible of alcoholic fermentation is based on a hadith of the Prophet (S.A.W.) that permits the consumption. It was narrated in a several hadith from the Prophet (S.A.W.) as bellow:
“Ibn ‘Abbas reported that Nabidh was prepared for Prophet (S.A.W.) in the beginning of the night and he would drink it in the morning and the following night and the following day and the night after that up to the afternoon. If anything was left out of that he gave it to his servant, or gave orders for it to be poured out.”
(Sahih Muslim, Book 33, Chapter 9, Page 1040, Hadith 4971)
“Ibn ‘Abbas also narrated that nabidh was prepared from raisins for Prophet (pbuh) in water skin and he would drink it on that day and on the next day and following day. On the evening of the third day, he would drink it and give it to (his companions) and if something was left over, he would throw that away.”
(Sahih Muslim, Book 33, Chapter 9, Page 1041, Hadith 4974)
“Yahya Abu ‘Umar al-Nakhai reported that some people asked Ibn Abbas about the sale and purchase of wine and its commerce. He asked (them): Are you Muslims? They said, Yes. Thereupon he said: Its sale and purchase and its trade are not permissible. They then asked him about Nabidh and he said: Prophet (S.A.W.) went out on a journey andthen came back and some persons amongst his companions prepared Nabidh for him in green pitcher, hollow stump and gourd. He commanded it to be thrown away, and it was done accordingly. He then ordered them (to prepare it) in a water skin and it was prepared in that by steeping raisins in water, and it wasprepared in the night. In the morning, he drank out of that and on that day and then the next night, and then on the next day until the evening. He drank and gave others to drink. When it was morning (of the third night) he commanded, what was left of that to be thrown away.”
(Sahih Muslim, Book 33, Chapter 9, Page 1041, Hadith 497)
The term Nabidh in hadith is literally derived from the word ‘Nabaza’ which means whoever takesit or he takes dates or raisin and the word ‘Yanbuzu’ is the act of putting something into a pot or something similar (seeka) and subsequently adding water and left to ferment (ya’furu) until it becomes an intoxicant. At this juncture, it is important to clearly define the Arabic terms which are related to the fermentation process and to align the understanding of these terms with current terminologies or terms related to fermentation or fermented products. Although there are different definitions ascribed to some of the terms found in the Arabic lexicon, for the purpose of this aricle the following definitions are adopted. Similar to Nabidh, the terms ‘asir’ is defined as juice, obtained from grapes or other fruits. Consequently, the term ‘Nabidh’ is taken to mean the fermented juice, but which has not reached the intoxicating stage. On the other hand, fermented juice that has reached the intoxicating stage is known as ‘Khamr’.
From what have been described above, there is a transition stage during the early part of the fermentation process of dates or raisins before they become alcoholic (khamr). The product during this transition state, between juices to khamr is known as nabidh. In Islamic law perspective, is permissible and consumable. However, this permissibility is, from the understanding of the hadith, limited to nabidh not exceeding three days fermentation. In Islamic law, the first stage of fermentation, that is, the alcoholic fermentation is known as takhammur. Takhammur is a fermentation process involving a material containing carbohydrates such as dates, grape and raisin changing into alcohol, with a cider stage in between. While for the second stage of fermentation, which is conversion of alcohol or more specifically, ethanol to vinegar or acetic acid is known as Takhallul.
It can be concluded that to ascertain the status of a fermented product, the consideration must be based on the fundamental principle of Islamic Law and supported through scientific evidence. Today, owing to the progress and advances made in analytical instrumentation and techniques, the precision of measurements have tremendously improved and this means that a better control and monitoring system can be put in place to determine the halal status of alcohol containing fermented products.