Halal Meat: Tastier and Healthier Than Regular Meat
By: Noah Robertson/Arab America Contributing Writer
While Halal meat is well known in the Arab and Muslim World, as well as in Arab American and American Muslim communities, much of the world does not know what it means for meat to be halal. What most non-Arabs or non-Muslims do not know about halal meat is that it is healthier and tastes better than the generic meat most Americans consume. So, what is halal meat, why is it sometimes controversial, and why does it taste so darn good?
To be certified as a halal meat producer, or for a family to butcher in a halal manner, they must follow these strict guidelines:
- During the animal’s lifetime: it must be treated properly, provided with enough space to roam, clean water, vegetarian food, and fresh air. This includes no use of impure substances such as antibiotics or hormones, and a sick animal cannot be slaughtered.
- The slaughter can be done by any Muslim who has reached puberty
- The name of Allah (God) must be pronounced before or as the animal is slaughtered (the blessing is called the Tasmiyah)
- The animal’s face should be pointing towards Mecca
- The knife must be sharp and without nicks (it cannot be sharpened in the presence of animals, nor can other animals witness the slaughter)
- The killing stroke must be one swift cut across the throat to sever the carotid arteries, jugular vein, and trachea
- The animal must be allowed to completely bleed out
- Pork and alcohol cannot be mixed with/contaminate the meat
Regularly Slaughtered Meat
The typical slaughtering process of most meat products, (but may not be true for small/local farms,) in the U.S. is not well-publicized, but it is pretty simple:
- Animals are transported from their farm to massive slaughterhouses and put in a cramped pen
- The animals are taken from the pen and led to the slaughter room
- Once inside, the animals are stunned in some manner (this varies by the type of animal)
- CO2 gas, a metal bolt is shot into the brain, electric shocks, or other similar methods are common
- The blood is drained from the animal and then it is cleaned
This process does vary by animal, for example, a chicken and a cow are very different, but nonetheless it is an assembly line-like process with little regard to the health or stress of an animal.
The Controversy Over Halal Meat
While not a big deal in terms of taste or health concerns, ethically some people have issues with halal butchering. There is controversy over the traditional Muslim idea that an animal should not be stunned before the butcher slices its throat. A traditional halal slaughter can be done humanely if the throat slice is done perfectly, but if not, many objects over the possible pain and suffering as the animal bleeds out. The Muslim community is split over the idea of using stunning before slaughter, but those who object say it could kill the animal before its throat is cut, which is haram (impermissible) under Islamic law. All slaughterhouses are required to stun an animal first, but halal butchers most often receive exceptions.
Why Halal Meat Is Healthier
The idea behind halal rules is that Muslims should care for their bodies, so what they eat matters. For this reason, true halal farmers – there are some who try to pass off fake halal meat – adhere to high standards of quality and cleanliness. As discussed, part of this means no added growth hormones, antibiotics, chemicals, or animal by-products intended to rapidly fatten animals. Farmers must also practice proper sanitation in order to be certified as halal. Sanitation in massive non-halal farms is often low on the priority list because not putting money into it helps farmers’ bottom line. Meat is also less likely to be contaminated with these practices because blood is completely drained, which avoids potential bacteria growth.
All of this of course sounds great, but does science back it up? Yes, it does. While studies have mainly looked at organic meat (which requires no added hormones, antibiotics, etc., no animal by-products, and full outdoor access) it is similar to halal in many ways. The studies showed that in organic meat:
- Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were 47% These fatty acids are known to reduce inflammation and protect against cardiovascular disease and cognitive decline.
- Antibiotics are often used on animals, outside of illness, because they alter gut composition to produce fatter animals. “Antibiotic residues have been detected in meat and other animal products at low levels, despite the required USDA withdrawal period before slaughter. Organic products are also less likely to contain antibiotic-resistant bacteria.” This means organic and halal meats will contain less potential “superbugs,” which can be extremely dangerous.
- Meat with hormones in it can be dangerous because while we probably do not ingest enough from the animal to hurt us, there have been unconfirmed studies linking hormones in meat to cancer. In fact, the European Union and some other countries ban rBGH hormones.
Why Halal Meat Tastes Better
Besides the health benefits, halal meat is generally considered by many non-Muslims who try it to taste better. There are those who disagree and say it is drier because the blood is drained from it, but if one is cooking their meat properly, that should be a non-issue. Multiple studies have shown that the more an animal is stressed prior to slaughter/during its lifetime, the more it leads to lower quality meat. In an unstressed animal, the muscle glycogen is converted to lactic acid that gives tender and flavor to the meat. When stress occurs, glycogen is decreased leading to less lactic acid and tougher and less flavorful meat. In addition, less lactic acid often results in the meat spoiling quicker.
Stress is very likely to occur in conditions that are not halal (or organic) because animals are often raised in close quarters, not given quality outdoor time, and mistreated. When slaughter comes around, they are transported in stressful conditions, squeezed into massive slaughter pens, and many argue that various forms of stunning cause extreme pain if done incorrectly – especially, the pre-slaughter stress, (but all stress will cause lower meat quality and taste.) An animal allowed to grow at a natural pace produces meat that is agreed upon by many to be better tasting.
Halal meat may sound foreign and strange to many, but in reality, it is simply healthier and more flavorful, as well as cheaper in some instances. Opinions do vary and the science behind this can be contested, but you should still go out and give some halal meat a try!
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