The ‘E’ in E-number does not stand for Evil, but for European.
Defined by Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, an E-number is “a code number preceded by the letter E, denoting food additives numbered in accordance with EU directives.”. We use E-numbers to identify food, cosmetic and pharmaceutical additives that are acceptable to use in the European Union.
There are currently over 1,500 E-numbers and they are broken down into categories such as food colourants, preservatives, antioxidants, emulsifiers, flavourings etc. Some common E-numbers that you may recognise are E162 (beetroot) used as a natural red food colour or even E901 (beeswax) which can be used as a natural polymer and coating. However, when discussing E-numbers with Halal consumers in mind, we must remember that overall safety doesn’t necessarily equate to Halal compliance. This can make things a bit more complicated and when you see the list of potentially risky E-numbers, you’ll see why.
Let’s start with the E-number E570 which is Stearic Acid. Stearic acid and stearates are commercially sourced from plants, which is great, but we cannot rule out potential sourcing from animals (pork or beef, which is not slaughtered in an Islamic way). Stearic acid being sourced from pork would be Haram and being sourced from beef may call for further investigation of the origins of the beef, in order to ensure Halal integrity.
Thinking this is complex? Have a look at E1510 (Ethanol), more commonly known as alcohol. A topic of debate within the Muslim community, alcohol can cause confusion when used as an additive. As an intoxicant capable of altering your mental state, alcohol (ethanol) is not permissible under Islamic law. It sounds simple enough, but what happens with substances like grape-derived vinegar containing 1% of residual ethanol? The ruling depends on local Halal standards within a country. Products containing 1% ethanol are acceptable by GCC accreditation standards but that number may be different, depending on where you are located globally. For more detailed information on ethanol and Halal, read our blog on ‘Is Alcohol Halal?’.
Stearates and ethanol aren’t the only dubious E-numbers, here are some other additives with a doubtful origin for Halal consumers to look out for: phosphates, alcohol, gelatine, emulsifiers, enzymes, antioxidants, fats & oils, colourants, flavours, whey and amino acids.
Despite the obstacles that we may face when deciding which E-numbers are acceptable for Halal consumers, Halal certification bodies need to prioritise traceability and product origins. Obtaining signed proof from manufacturers about the origins of certain E-numbers, and in some instances, carrying out ad hoc DNA testing in specialist laboratories is how a Halal certification body ensures that a potentially doubtful additive is actually Halal compliant.
Disclaimer - The information presented here is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for professional advice. We reserve the right to update this communication at any given point of time as new information becomes available. Halal Certification Organisation (HCO) aims to provide regular updates and we advise you to frequently visit this site to get the latest information.