The father of the western medicine and a well-known physician from the Classical Greek period, Hippocrates of Kos was the first to recognize the potential of the whey consumption and its beneficial influence on the immune system. He named this product serum, and prescribed this formula to his patients frequently, but didn’t bother researching the subject thoroughly. He simply considered this product as common knowledge.
The first thorough study on this matter was conducted approximately five hundred years later, by the prominent physician and a philosopher named Claudius Galenus. In his work, On the Properties of Foodstuffs, Galen noted how one can extract whey from milk, how and why should it be used, and in what dosage. It is this research that will eventually popularize the consumption throughout the western and the eastern world, and spread the knowledge of the beneficial potential of whey.
To understand how this relates to eastern cultures and the problem behind whey protein consumption on a multicultural level, the first thing we have to clarify and explain is the very process of its derivation.
Whey protein is one of the two proteins found in milk, and a water-soluble part of milk. Literally, it is a by-product that comes from the production of cheese. Although its beneficial effect on health as a great source of amino acids is unquestionable, a matter of controversy lays in the perception of cultural preferences and religious guidelines of restrictive diets. In both Halāl and Kosher regime, there are strict rules regarding food products derived from an animal.
Halāl, or Allowed
According to the Islamic Law, the term Halāl refers not only to dieting preferences, but also to a majority of everyday life question and tribulations a respectable Muslim might have. For example, alcoholic beverages are not halāl, they are in fact the opposite – haram, or forbidden. These moral guidelines are an essential part of the Islamic culture, and although the rules may differ depending on the origin and interpretation of the Qur’an scriptures, basic halāl dietary rules are the following:
- The consumption of any form of pork is forbidden, including ham, bacon and lard.
- Rennet enzymes that can be found in cheese and other products are forbidden.
- Animal shortening, gelatine and protein are all forbidden.
- Animals killed incorrectly, or animals which are not killed in the name of Allah, are forbidden.
Whey protein is a product that is manufactured with the help of rennin, and therefore it is a problematic ingredient for the followers of the Islamic faith. A devoted Muslim will never choose to consume any forbidden component, unless it is absolutely necessary for his/her survival, as stated in the Qur’an, verse 2:173.
However, there is an exception regarding whey protein and a way for followers of the Islamic faith to consume this ingredient and still remain devoted believers. While the majority of these supplements are classified as sweet whey products, which are manufactured during the production of hard cheese, there is also a halāl approach of the whey producing process:
- To produce an acceptable supplement, the mother culture, or bacteria, and the bulk culture used for the initiation of the course has to be halāl. Usually, enzymes used for cheese production are obtained from a pig, which is unacceptable, but even when they are derived from any other animal that process needs to be indicated and performed in the name of Allah, which makes it allowed. A microbial rennet preparation has to be used, and dryers where the liquid whey is formed into a solid substance, and later in powder, shouldn’t be contaminated with haram ingredients.
If the whey protein is produced in this manner, the product should contain a halāl certification, which indicates that it is safe for use:
Kosher, or Proper
According to Halakha, or the Jewish law, the term kashér signifies the food that is safe for consumption for the followers of the oldest Abrahamic religion, or the Judaism. This ethnoreligious group has a rather similar set of strict rules like the aforementioned followers of the Islamic faith, which are used to help distinguish foods fit for consumption from the un-kosher types of food. Prohibited types of food are also called treif, which stands for torn. Basic kosher dietary rules are the following:
- Only the consumption of animals which chew the cud and have cloven hooves is permitted. Therefore the meat derived from a pig, a hare, a camel or a hyrax is strictly forbidden.
- Birds of prey, or raptors, and bats are strictly forbidden.
- Some types of locust, crickets and grasshoppers are actually safe for consumption.
- Hard cheeses and other products produced with the help of rennet are forbidden.
- Mixture of dairy products with meat, and fish with meat, is forbidden, particularly in the Orthodox Judaism.
The problem addressed regarding Islamic point of view is similar to this situation as well. Rennet, the complex of enzymes, which is used for splitting milk from curd and producing whey, is usually found in the linings of mammals. The question of consumption still remains in the domain of choice of a particular animal, meaning that the decisive factor is solely defined by the nature of the animal, whether it’s kosher or not, and the nature of its death, meaning whether it is killed according to the laws of kashrut.
The additional problem for the followers of the Jewish faith, conversely, lies in the interpretation of the very complex of enzymes used for derivation - rennet. Since every mixture of meat with dairy products is forbidden - some may interpret rennet as a questionable ingredient. This issue is mainly disregarded if the process of whey production complies with kosher laws and restrictions:
- Every ingredient has to be kosher, including the milk, which has to come from an animal that is fit for consumption. During the production, a mashgiach, or a supervisor that decides whether the food is kosher or not, has to be present. However, if the cheese is cooked below 120 F, the further consumption of the whey will be permitted regardless of the presence of a mashgiach, because in that case the whey will not absorb any disqualifying substance from the cheese curd.
If the protein is produced from the kosher whey, the product should contain a kosher certification, which indicates that it is safe for use:
The majority of kosher products can be consumed by Muslims as well, since the essential rules are based on forbidding the meat and ingredients coming from the unclean animals. Similar to Islamic guidelines from the Qur’an, followers of Judaism can also break this rule only in the matter of pure necessity. When it comes to the whey protein, it can be safely consumed by the people on Kosher and Halāl diets, as long as it is produced in accordance with the standards described above.
Edelstein, Sari. Food, Cuisine, and Cultural Competency for Culinary, Hospitality and Nutrition Professionals. Cathleen Sether, 2010.
Powell, Owen and John Wilkins. Galen: On The Properties of Foodstuff. Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Riaz, Mian N. and Muhammad M. Chaudry. Halal Food Production.CRC Press, 2003.