Halal, Does it matter?

I get asked about halal meat a lot. Do I need to use halal meat for Middle Eastern cooking? Is there any difference between halal and non-halal meat? Can you tell the difference?

Halal, for those who don't know it, is meat from animals slaughtered according to the Islamic law. The word itself is an Arabic word means "permissible" or "lawful" and this could refer to anything allowed under Islamic rules. In non-Arabic-speaking countries the term is mainly used to refer to halal meat.

I am not going through the gruesome details of the slaughter but if you wish to read more check the Wikipedia page.

I would love to avoid the argument about the ethics of halal and kosher slaughtering or the never-ending debate if these methods cause animals to suffer or not. I simply don't know and I don't think anybody does. If you have strong feeling about this either way I totally respect it.

For me I don't chose halal or not for religious reasons. I base my choice on the taste. The main factor to make halal meat taste different is the drainage of all blood at the time of slaughter.

Keeping in mind I grew up eating halal meat so my opinion will be inevitably biased. Here are my meat choices:

Chicken: It doesn't make any difference if halal or not. All taste the same.

Lamb: halal for sure! It is a huge difference. I find non-halal lamb have a certain taste and smell that I find totally off-putting (remember the bias) so if I don't have halal lamb I will simply change the dish.

Beef: Non-halal this time although the difference in taste between the two is not purely due to the blood. The concept of hanging and maturing meat does not exist in Arabic/Middle Eastern/Islamic culture. You don't need me to tell you what a difference hanging beef makes. Nothing beats a Sirloin steak hanged for 21 days.


22 comments:

Anonymous said...

You miss the most important points of the food being halal or not. It's not for taste (maybe for your blog) or fun or anything. It's about how healthy the food is. Halal meat is much healthier than the contrary, based on facts( a little common sense also) and for reasons known and not known. I just thought i would point that out seeming as u didnt have a say in it on this post. Do you have any recipes for cookies that have syrian ingredients, because sometimes u don't find the ingredients u are asked for on betty crocker or other sites. Thanks

Kavey said...

Anon, I think it's a bit arrogant to claim that the most important point in the consideration of whether to choose halal meat or not is a health consideration.

It depends completely on your criteria and viewpoint.

For some the most important point will be their religious belief.

For others it will be taste.

And for some it might be health.

For others still it could even be about availability of one over the other.

Maysaloon said...

I have heard the argument that Halal meat is tastier or healthier to use in cooking. Personally I have never noticed much difference whether for chicken, lamb or beef, though I choose halal for religous reasons. An excellent point about beef though, but I don't see a reason why a cow slaughtered in a halal or kosher way can't be hung for 21 days to make an excellent steak...

Anonymous said...

Yes, seems like the point of doing something for religious reasons to respect the will of God. If one eats halal for religious reasons, then it shouldn't matter whether or not it is healthier or more tasty, or even if the animals suffer more or less.

If one doesn't buy the religious justification, that's when the other considerations become more important.

I wasn't aware that there was a difference in taste between halal and non-halal meat. So this was interesting.

Tammam Aloudat said...

This is a great post Kano, thank you.

I have never bothered about halal vs. not meat from a religious point of view, and as a medical person, I am not convinced that halal meat is healthier by definition.

On the taste issue, which I think is what I will follow, I am better educated after this post. I have always noticed that lamb varies in taste and smell even if cooked well. I never thought this would affect that difference. This I will certainly try.

Another educational point for me is about hung beef. I didn't know that they hang beef for 3 weeks. This might be because I live in a francophone country with less than perfect French preventing me from catching such details. I will look certainly look for a sirloin hanged for 21 days, that is when I figure out how you say sirloin in French :)

The London Foodie said...

Hi Kano, what a great posting - as a non-halal meat eater, I always wondered whether the different types of meat tasted any different. Thanks for that. I will retweet this.

Luiz @ The London Foodie

Allie said...

I mostly buy halal meat (chicken I don't), because here I'm able to find halal meat for 1/2-3/4 the cost of "regular" meat, and much, much less than kosher meat (which is usually 1.5x the cost of "regular" meat). If I were going to buy halal or kosher meat for religious reasons, I think I'd be more inclined to go w/ halal (despite being a Jew) because Islam has marginally stricter standards than Judaism. When we get meat that isn't halal, it's usually some ridiculously expensive dry aged or kobe beef, which is reserved as a rare treat for special occasions.

I agree the lamb lacks a lot of the gamier flavour when it's halal, though I don't know if I consider that good or bad (I like both flavours for different things).

Halal chicken here is more costly, so I don't buy it.

Kano said...

Thank you everyone for reading, commenting and creating an interesting discussion.

I don't believe halal meat is more healthy than "regular" meat. I definitely can't think of any scientific or medical reasons for it to be healthier.

Regarding the taste, I personally can taste and smell the difference in the case of lamb. This is not a fact but a personal preference. Taste and perception of flavours varies a lot from person to another.

@Kavey
I totally agree. I choose meat on taste, Maysaloon chooses his on religious belief and Allie go according to cost.

@Maysaloon
Of course halal butchers can hang the meat if they wish but it is cultural difference. For us in Syria and all the Arabs I know a good meat is fresh meat. The idea of leaving meat in the fridge for three weeks before eating it is completely off-putting to people back home especially the meat gets darker with time and loses its bright pink colour we Arabs love.

@Tammam
I think Sirloin is faux-filet in French. If you want my advice I prefer rump steak. Although a bit tougher I find it more flavoursome.

@Allie
It is very interesting what you said about Halal vs. Kosher. I thought it is the other way around and kosher rules are stricter than halal. By the way most Muslims consider kosher meat to be halal.

Kano said...

@Luiz
Thank you for the tweet.

gastrogeek said...

Kano what an excellent post! As a frankly rubbish muslim, I don't eat halal meat nearly enough, it's good to be reminded of the reasons why I should.

Allie said...

Yeah, my understanding is that with Halal meat, each animal has to be individually blessed and dealt w/, as opposed to Kosher meat where you can bless/deal with the animals in groups. I personally think that attention to the individual is marginally stricter, in that when you handle the animals one at a time, there's no chance one slips through the cracks without everything that should be happening happening. For all intents and purposes though, I mainly think Halal and Kosher meats are pretty much the same thing. Except of course, the extraordinary cost difference (at least in the States; can't say how expensive Kosher v. Halal meat works out elsewhere).

The Grubworm said...

Interesting post - i had considered the welfare angle before, but never really considered what effect the draining of the blood would have on the taste. I will have to do a taste test now to compare and contrast.

Before now the only reason i had really gone to Halal butchers is that you could get mutton slightly easier than you could in regular butchers.

This is my first visit (The London Foodie recommended you) and it's a great blog. I really enjoy Levantine food so it is's a real treat to read through some of your recipes - looking forward to trying them out.

Kano said...

@gastrogeek
If it makes you feel any better, I am an equally rubbish Muslim :)

@Allie
I do agree with you that Halal and Kosher are essentially the same thing.

@The Grubworm
Welcome to my blog. I am really glad that you like Middel Eastern Food and that you enjoy the blog.

I equally like your blog. Very good start with some interesting dishes and flavour combination.

Looking forward to the results of you halal meat tatse test.

tasteofbeirut said...

I buy halal meat from the Palestinian grocer and it is based on taste and cultural preference; I prefer to spend my money there than at the large supermarket chains.

The London Foodie said...

Kano,

Just sent you a couple of mails to your gmail account regarding the Syrian Supper @ London Cooking Club, could you pls have a look at them and get back to me?

Thanks.

Luiz @ The London Foodie

Victor E. Sasson said...

Hi Kano:

Whether it's halal or kosher doesn't guarantee that the animal was raised naturally. I imagine antibiotics and growth hormones could be used to raise a halal or kosher animal, so that's another criteria for shoppers. Here in the U.S., where many animals are raised on so-called factory farms, I find that Australian beef and lamb and New Zealand lamb are uniformly raised without antibiotics and growth hormones, so those are the ones I buy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the interesting post. I'm another person who tends to buy halal/non-halal based on a combined consideration of convenience vs price. I do have to bear in mind the group of friends I am meeting, as some consider halal meat to be cruel (I reserve judgement).

Any recommendations regarding the other major protein sources, e.g. farmed fish, venison, pork, game?

Kano said...

@anonymous

I am not the expert on the other type of meats to give credible advice. I personally try to buy fish from the fish mongers if I can (not always easy and the supermarket is always the easy option)

Anonymous said...

You are all so hopeless living in the dim dark ages with no idea what you are eating, so why not leave the ridiculous outdated traditions behind and just eat non tortured meat.

Ad Dip Professional Catering said...

The thing that everyone here need to understand is the corporate markets have found a loophole by not informing the public. the reason being from fear of controversy towards the non ethical method of slaughtering animals in this manor. it is recognised by the scientific community that by not using the currently humane developed methods of slaughtering you WILL to some extent cause harm to the animal. The main reasons for the marketers using the halal meat is due the the preservation of the meat using this method. By allowing the blood to drain in the halal method is twice as quick, in comparison to the current methods. It also ensures less residual blood left in the meat this intern will provide a longer shelf life ensuring more profits. i would just like to add that halal meat should taste better !

Ad Dip Professional Catering said...

I apoligise if my post was a little irrelevant from the previous posts. i may have misunderstood the topic of discussion. i thought the the blog was relevant to the recent news regarding halal meats being used by food markets without informing the public (correct labelling of products).

Jasmine Grayson said...

Halal meat UK is a hot topic for shoppers right now amid accusations that supermarkets and restaurants have been selling it without telling customers.

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