To Cheese or Not to Cheese . . . the Question of Halal Cheeses.

Since converting to Islam, I have been attempting to gradually change my life habits to conform with the teachings of Islam. The main area this affects is food, since the Qur’an strictly forbids the consumption of alcohol and pork.

Alcohol was really easy for me to give up– I never drank it very much anyway, and never liked the effects it produced. The fact that alcohol is forbidden in Islam has been one of the things that made me see the truth of Islam– forbidding alcohol is such a wise thing, yet so difficult for humanity to have issued themselves, that I felt it must have come from the wisdom of God. Throughout my life I have seen the devastating effects of alcohol use and abuse. Drunkenness has always been something I abhor and I am grateful to say that I have never been drunk myself.

Pork was not that difficult for me either. My family occasionally ate pork, and especially bacon, but it was never something that was a big part of my life. Plus, before I heard about Islam I had heard that pork often carries dangerous diseases and is a filthy animal. It’s funny that the first place I heard of this was actually in the Bible, in the Old Testament. Yet, Christians today continue to eat pork even though it was forbidden in the Old Testament …

I had originally thought that following these food restrictions in Islam would be very simple and black-and-white. But I have since learned that our society today has integrated alcohol and pork products into so much of what we eat that it is actually much more difficult than I thought.

The first thing I learned about was cheese. Most cheese actually is made using rennet, which comes from the intestines of animals. Most cheese manufacturers use rennet from pigs, although some also use it from cows. Rennet is often labeled as an “enzyme” in the ingredients list. Since finding this out, I have been careful to try and select cheeses that do not use animal enzymes, only “microbial” or vegetarian enzymes. Although this has been very difficult, I have found a great selection of vegetarian cheeses at my local Whole Foods store.

Cutting out cheese that uses animal enzymes has meant that there are a lot of processed foods, too, that we no longer eat. This especially means frozen meals, mac’n cheese, and even simple cheese alfredo to use with pasta. In our busy lives it is often hard to find time every day to make a nice, wholesome meal every night. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE cooking! But I don’t always have the time to make what I want to. Sometimes we need to be able to throw something together really quick, and frozen meals and pasta come in handy at those times. I especially used to love Stouffer’s frozen meals, since they were easy and tasted great too.

Fortunately, I have recently found some great alternatives to traditional frozen meals: Amy’s. I found Amy’s at our local Target, back in the last part of the frozen foods section, next to Kashi and other organic “whole” foods. Amy’s has a large variety of organic, vegetarian frozen meals, and the best part is, Amy’s is clearly marked with the “K” for kosher (Jews follow most of the same rules that apply to Muslims regarding food, such as in this case cheese not being able to have pig or non-kosher animal enzymes). They usually taste pretty good, too– at least, for frozen food that is!

A few of my favorite Amy's frozen foods!

A few of my favorite Amy’s frozen foods!

The Muslim Consumer Group has been a great resource for me in helping to understanding which foods are halal or not. You can even search for specific products on their website to see what their verdict is. You can find them at http://www.muslimconsumergroup.com

Here are a list of a few of the cheese products that I was happy to find that the Muslim Consumer Group has verified as halal:

  • Sorrento Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese (Walmart brand)
  • Daisy Low-Fat Cottage Cheese Small Curd 2% Milkfat
  • Philadelphia Cream Cheese
  • Cabot Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • Kraft Strong Mozarella 2% Milk
  • Amy’s Cheese Pizza
  • Cheez-it Original Snack Crackers
  • Sara Lee Smooth & Creamy Original Cream Cheescake
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About Meditating Muslimah

Sharing my experiences as a new Muslimah, thoughts on religion, things that inspire me, foods I love to make and eat, Islamic fashion, travel, and life in general!
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13 Responses to To Cheese or Not to Cheese . . . the Question of Halal Cheeses.

  1. sakish says:

    Let Allah be pleased by u!

  2. F. says:

    Insightful! I love cheese but never thought about rennet. Thank you for sharing

    • riz says:

      I believe it is better to buy paneer if avaialable than cheese, Paneer is vegetarian belongs to Indian food store

      • Thank you for the suggestion. I have had paneer in Indian dishes before, but to me it seems it would not be suitable for many of the other ways I use cheese. As long as the cheese is marked as using vegeterian or microbial enzymes, it is fine in my opinion. I have been able to find such cheeses at Whole Foods and Sprouts; also, the brand Tillamook has some kosher cheeses that are great.

  3. Wow. I had no idea about cheese containing pork products.
    Thank you for this post. It’s hard as a convert to know what to look out for in the ingredients list.

    • Yes I know! It takes time to understand all the details; fortunately I have had sisters around me to help me. Reading books and articles written by Muslims also has helped me, sometimes I will come across some knowledge of issues like this. There are a lot of things in our food that most people don’t know about. At first, I thought it was just good enough to look for the “U” or “K” on food, but I’ve found that sometimes even those are not halal. But Allah knows our hearts and intentions, and as long as you are trying to learn, and always striving to eat halal, I believe you will be fine!

  4. As Salaam Alaikum sister. I just thought I should point out to you and your readers something that was pointed out to me by my Imam. Just because something is kosher and permissible for the Jews to consume, does not necessarily mean it is permissible for us. Especially when it comes to cheese and other products made from animal rennet because they do not slaughter their animals Isamicly. This is in regards to your statement about the Amy’s frozen foods. You have to be very sure the cheese they use has no animal derivatives. I made a mistake early on thinking it was ok to eat hebrew nationals

    • Alaikum Salam, thank you for your concern and comments. Actually, as this post notes, Amy’s products are Vegetarian, not simply kosher. So the cheese has no animal byproducts in it. Most cheeses I have found are vegetarian, and most that are marked kosher are marked thus because they are vegetarian. I discuss the issue of kosher vs. halal more in another post: What Do All These Food Symbols Mean Anyway? I agree that not everything that is kosher is halal, but my main concern is actually alcohol, not meat. Different Muslims groups have different opinions on whether or not kosher meat is permissible form Muslims, but in my research it seems that most believe it is fine. The rules for slaughtering animals in Judaism are actually stricter than in Islam, but they do in my opinion meet all of the requirements to fulfill Islamic law, including that the animal is blessed in God’s name at the time of slaughter. By Islamic law, an animal can be slaughtered by a Muslim, Jew, or Christian, in order to be considered halal (as long as the other requirements are still met). Again, I realize there are some who believe differently, and you should follow the advice of the Imam that you seek counsel with. I found an article that goes into more detail on this issue here: Is Kosher Meat Ḥalal? A Comparison of the Halakhic and Sharʿī Requirements for Animal Slaughter. Personally, my opinion is that if zabihah halal meat is available to us, then we should eat that. But if it is not readily available to us, and kosher meat is, then it is permissible for us to eat kosher. Allah knows best. There is also a fatwah I found on this which says kosher is permissible as long as it doesn’t include alcohol: Buying Kosher Foods.

    • I have one more comment to add. I just remembered there is actually a Quran verse that applies to this issue: “This day (all) pure, wholesome things have been made lawful for you. And the food of those who were given the Book before (including the animals they slaughter unless, of course, they invoke the name of any other than God) is lawful for you, just as your food (including the animals you slaughter) is lawful for them.” (Quran, surat Al-Ma’idah: 5). I hold what the Quran says above anything else, including what Imams say. So for me, this verse means that as long as Jews and Christians have slaughtered an animal according to their religious custom, and have not done or used anything specifically forbidden by Islam, then it is permissible for us to eat.

  5. hawa omar says:

    Salam sister,
    I was always a Muslim but growing up my parents were never strict on halal. Growing up we ate McDonald’s. But for a while I have been eating halal food. It is really hard especially when you realize mostly everything in the grocery store is haram. Especially cheese. I’m the only one in the family who really checks if things are halal. My family may use cheese that are not halal, i tell them but they dont care as much. Alcohol is in artificial flavors in processed foods and it’s difficult.

  6. A sister in Islam says:

    Assalamualaikum, sister. Do you know of any brands of halal cheese from the Netherlands?

    • Sorry, but I’m not familiar with what brands of cheese are available in the Netherlands. But I would suggest reading the label closely; if it says it has ‘enzymes,’ then it is not halal unless it states it is vegetarian or that the enzymes are microbial/ not animal enzymes.

  7. Tamanna says:

    Thank you so much sister for creating this blog and sharing lots of precious information.

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