Broadly speaking, halal chips are any chips — typically a potato-based snack food or side dish — that are prepared, seasoned, and served according to Islamic law. Though Islam is often thought of primarily as a religion, its laws and regulations pertain to most aspects of life, including food consumption. “Halal” basically means “permitted”; foods like chips are generally considered halal so long as there isn’t something about them that contradicts the rules as set out in the Koran and other holy teachings. Among other things, Islamic law prohibits adherents to eat pork or any pig product, and the only meats that can be consumed are those that have been processed from slaughter onward according to Islamic tradition. This means that chips can’t be fried in pork fat or any pan that has previously contained pork fat, and can only touch animal fat if the meat from which that fat was rendered is halal. The same restrictions apply to seasonings, and usually also to presentation: the chips can’t touch anything that may have come into contact with pork or a non-halal meat. Home cooks in halal kitchens don’t normally have a problem with this, but it can set up practical hurdles for business owners and restaurateurs who also prepare foods that don’t meet Islamic standards.
Understanding Halal Foods Generally
Islamic law sets out a number of restrictions, rules, and guidelines to help adherents, commonly known as Muslims, live a daily life that is in harmony with the religion’s main tenets. “Halal” is usually thought of as one of five major categories of these laws. It is joined by “fard,” which covers mandatory actions; “mustahaab,” meaning “recommended”; “makruh,” which means “disliked” or “disfavored”; and “haram,” which covers actions that are prohibited. Halal practices include a lot more than just food, and basically means that there is nothing objectionable.
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Perhaps the most important food-related restriction concerns meats and the process of animal slaughter. The law also requires that adherents avoid animal by-products in foods or other products, including cosmetics. Pork and all pig products are always haram.
How Potato Products Are Impacted
Potatoes in and of themselves are typically permissible, regardless of how they’re grown or where they’re harvested. As such, there isn’t anything particularly problematic about chips, on their surface at least. In general there are two types of chips, and both can be halal under the right circumstances. American chips are thin, crispy slices of potato that are deep-fried, flavored, and eaten as a snack or served alongside sandwiches. These are often called “crisps” in other countries. British chips are wedges of potato that are deep-fried and combined with other foods such as fried fish or burgers; British chips are often known as “fries” or “French fries” in most of North America.
Pork is usually the biggest concern where chips of both varieties are. In many establishments pork fat is a common frying agent; other animal oils are also sometimes used, particularly duck fat. In order for a chip to be halal, it must be fried in an oil that is completely plant-derived, such as sunflower oil or vegetable oil, or else sourced from a specifically halal butcher or processor. Most of the time, the fryers used must have never touched pork or any other animal fat.
Flavorings and Seasonings
Flavoring is another consideration, and chips can’t usually be salted or flavored with products that contain pork, pork products, or any other animal products. Flavors such as salt and vinegar, sour cream, barbeque, and others are fine so long as they do not use pork products or do not come into contact with machinery that is tainted with such products.
Chips can also be tainted based on foods they come into contact with and are served alongside. They are commonly accompanied by foods like beef steak, fried fish, lamb and mutton, which typically must also be halal in order for the meal as a whole to be in compliance with the law. Condiments such as mayonnaise and ketchup are fine in most cases, but anyone with concerns is usually wise to scrutinize the label or ask the manufacturer for clarification..
Considerations for Restaurants
Depending on the circumstances, both British and American chips can be more expensive to produce to the specifications set out in Islamic law. This is not because vegetable oil is necessarily more expensive than pig fat oil, but rather because companies such as potato chip manufacturers usually have to use different machines for halal and non-halal chips. They cannot use the same machine for a bacon-flavored chip and then use it for a halal chip with a different flavor, for instance.
In restaurants, implements such as chip-scoops, baskets, and cutlery typically also have to be separated to rule out contamination. This would include pork-only scoops for pork products and even separate fryers if the restaurant wants to offer both halal and non-halal chips. Such considerations can make business more complicated.