Monosodium Glutamate and Vanillin

Published: 2004-02-11
I am still awaiting a reply to the question below. I realise it is hard to keep up with the vast amount of queries yo must receive, but I would appreciate it if this question could be answered as nearly everything contains these ingredients.

I was wondering if you could tell me whether or not Monosodium Glutamate is Halal or not as this is in a lot of products in the UK and I have heard it is Haraam.

Also, I have also read on the Canadian website that vanilla extract is dissolved in alcohol and therefore not Halal. Is this the same in the UK and what products can be eaten? For example, vanilla coffee or ice cream?

Thank you
Views: 4,189,082
Updated: 2004-02-11
Checked and authorised as correct by Hadhrat Maulana Mufti Abdullah Sahib on: 11 February 2004
 Bismihi Subhanahu Wa-ta'ala
Assalamooalaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
Respected SisterBrother
We would like to thank you for the great confidence you place in us, and we implore Allah Almighty to help us all to serve His cause and render our work for His Sake.  Hereunder is the response to your query subject to disclaimer: 
1. Monosodium Glutamate
I have found some information on Monosodium Glutamate (E621) in our literature. Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid (620). It is an amino acid (several amino acids together make up a protein). The various forms of glutamic acid are referred to as 'glutamates'. Glutamate is a common substance widely found in plant and animal tissues. It occurs especially in foods such as meat, fish, poultry and milk. Today 90 per cent is manufactured by fermentation using molasses from cane or beet sugar, and 10 per cent in South-East Asia from sago and tapioca starch, or from plant proteins rich in glutamic acid such as wheat protein and sugar beet.
Monosodium Glutamate is Halaal.  There have been rumours of animal enzymes being used in MSG from south Asia but to date these are rumours and nothing concrete has been seen.  Certainly, we have not come across any doubtful monosodiumn glutamate to date.
2.  Vanilla Extract
We regard vanillin as Halaal.  See question ID 85:
This is also the view of Mufti Yusuf Sacha.
Extract of vanilla, properly made, is the pure essence of the vanilla bean, dissolved in alcohol.

Although there are fifty or more kinds of vanilla plant, the only one with a fruit suitable for use in flavoring extract is Vanilla planifolia, so called by botanists for its flat leaves. It is a native of the valley of Mazantla, in Vera Cruz, Mexico, seemingly the only place where conditions of soil and climate suffice to bring it to its highest point of cultivation. The other vanillas, native to various parts of Spanish America, are fit only for use [pg 57] in perfumery and soap, because, though aromatic, they are rank in taste.

48. Nature of vanilla plant.--The plant of vanilla is an orchid, having roots in the air as well as in the ground. It clings to trees or frames, twining around them as it grows, and favors most a light, loose soil, well drained, with "quilted sunshine and leaf-shade," a condition naturally brought about by the foliage of the protecting trees. In Mexico it is grown from cuttings set out in the forest, one to a tree; this support, together with 70 to 90 degrees of continued heat, frequent rains, and a final dry season being needful to its best growth. Frost is deadly, and in too close planting disease is likely to ravage the crop.

After eighteen months, the vine is clipped to check its growing until it bursts into flower, which occurs in September. The stem of the vanilla is thick and round, the leaves large, smooth and pointed, the flower beautiful, much resembling the tuberose, and delightfully fragrant.

Formerly the blossoms were fertilized by a small bee, which carried the pollen from one to another, for the plant is of two sexes. At present this is done by hand--a better way, inasmuch as only the best flowers need be fertilized, the plant thereby keeping vigorous and healthy. Artificial pollenizing developed from transplanting vanilla in the island of Reunion, where the crops originally failed for lack of insects to carry the pollen.

Following each blossom comes a small pod, but most of these pods fall off. The remaining ones mature in about six weeks, growing in bunches of six to ten, and resembling bananas, being five to ten inches long, yellow green, and banana-like in shape. They are watery and tasteless, without the pleasant aroma of vanilla, the [pg 58] well-known taste and smell of which must be brought out by curing. If left on the vine, they ripen slowly, but usually they are picked before they ripen, as otherwise they split in curing. When this happens they are known to the trade as "splits," and are considered undesirable on account of their full and heavy flavor.

49. Curing vanilla beans.--After picking, the Mazantla beans are transported to Papantla, the largest town in the valley, to be cured. The process is laborious, and although somewhat primitive, very simple.

The beans are exposed on frames to the sun by day and by night are wrapped in blankets under cover. This continues, in fair weather, for about a month; then the beans are dried indoors for forty days more, until they turn a deep rich brown in color, and become delightful to the smell. If the weather is wet, they are moistened, blanketed, and heated in ovens, the heat being moderate and varied with the size of the beans; after which they are by turns exposed to the air and heat until cured. The sun drying is preferred, as it gives the beans better keeping qualities. Such is the process in effect, but in fact each bean is treated separately; for proper curing, to bring out the desired fine qualities of taste and smell, is of the utmost moment; and only native judgment, or the skill born of long handling, ever gives the real adroitness. Badly cured beans lack any stable taste or smell, and are likely to become moldy. Their use in trade is made possible, in this ease, by scraping and chopping them up with poor and broken beans and those that fell early from the vines; then they are sold under the name of "Mexican cuts," chiefly to manufacturers of cheap ex tracts.

50. Marketing vanilla beans.--The long fine beans,[pg 59] resembling thin cigars, are molded, pulled, and tied in bundles of 100 to 150, varying in length frpm six to eleven inches, and in weight from twelve to twenty-four ounces. The bundles are packed forty to a tin, and shipped four tins to a ease in sweet-smelling cedar boxes. The entire Mexican output is consigned to the United States, where it brings from seven to ten dollars a pound.

The Aztecs knew the properties of vanilla, and are said to have called the plant thilxochitl. They used the bean in making chocolate, through which it became familiar to their Spanish conquerors, ana thus to Europe. The name vanilla is derived from the Spanish word vaina, meaning sheath or pod, and the suffix -illa, little. The use of vanilla in chocolate was its only notable one for many years, although during that time great medical properties were claimed for it. It was not until the eighteenth century that some person now unknown discovered its general utility for flavoring.

51. Production of vanilla beans.--Vanilla cultivation in Mexico was in the hands of the Indians for centuries, but in 1896 the government, claiming they had no title, drove them off and sold the land to Greeks, who now control the industry there.

Almost every European power has tried to grow vanilla in the tropics, outside of Mexico. Many of the early trials were failures; none has been a complete success, at least in so far as rivaling the fine quality of the Mexican product is concerned. Cuttings were transplanted in the island of Reunion and grown by artificial pollenizing, as has been said, but the resulting beans were not as good as the parent beans of Mexico. Reunion was formerly known as Bourbon Monarchy, but the French, who had [pg 60] every reason to hate the name, rechristened the island; the beans, notwithstanding, are still called Bourbon beans.

Vanilla grows in Reunion much as it does in Mexico, except that it takes longer to develop. The great difference is in the curing, for there, owing to the climate, the sun treatment is inexpedient. The beans, placed in baskets, are plunged into hot water for about twenty seconds, drawn out to drain for as many minutes, and then wrapped in blankets to be sunned during the warm hours for five to eight days. They are housed at night as in Mexico, but drying is also hastened chemically with chloride of calcium (the basis of lime). After curing, .the beans are straightened, graded by size, smell, and soundness, bundled and packed in tins which weigh, when ready for export, from ten to twenty pounds each.

Tahiti exports a particularly inferior quality of beans. They are grown from Mexican or Bourbon slips, but the change of soil and climate imbues them with an unmistakable rankness, to which, up to within a few years, were added careless growing and packing, in nowise improving them. Although inspection by the French colonial government has somewhat bettered the care of these beans, their flavor is probably unchangeable. Tahiti beans are all shipped to the United States, whence those not used are reshipped to Europe. They are sorted here into three grades: pink label, best; white, fair; green, poor; but the only real difference is their length and appearance.

A small crop of beans grown from Mexican slips is raised in the island of Guadeloupe; they are known to the trade as "South Americans," and are of low quality, without the finer characteristics of good vanilla. [pg 61]

The average world's production (1913) of vanilla is as follows:

   Whole beans....................... 240,000 pounds
   Cuts..............................  80,000   "
   (From all sources)................ 700,000   "
Tahiti............................... 450,000   "
South American.......................  25,000   "

       Total....................... 1,495,000   "

52. The ingredients of vanilla extract.--Vanilla beans, glycerine, sugar and alcohol are the only ingredients requisite or advisable in a vanilla extract; consequently the excellence of such an extract rests in the quality of the beans and of the alcohol employed, and in the means and skill devoted to employing them.

The process at its best is chopping or grinding the beans and treating them with dilute alcohol of 20 to 70 per cent strength, in the proportion of one part of the bean to ten parts of the liquid, the alcohol acting as a solvent. The old-fashioned and as yet unequaled way is to treat the beans by steeping and dissolve out the soluble matter. The chopped beans are placed in a cask and the dilute alcohol poured over them; they are then left to soak for one to twelve weeks, when the extract is drawn off and the sugar added to it, and it is either bottled immediately or aged. Aging greatly improves it, but few manufacturers care to assume the added cost.

Another method of obtaining the extract is by distillation; that is, by evaporating and condensing the liquid in which the beans have been steeped. There is also a machine which effects the result more rapidly by pumping the liquid steadily through the chopped beans, at an even temperature. Many other means are also employed. They are all cheaper than the old-fashioned way, but have nothing to recommend them from the consumer's point of view. Distillation, for example, might ruin the delicate flavor of choice Mexican beans; while no process would ever impart one to Bourbons or Tahitis.

53. The chemistry of vanilla.--Given the highest grade of Mexican beans and pure cologne spirit--the trade name for doubly distilled alcohol--with the old-fashioned method of compounding them, and there remains to vanilla extract-making only the knowledge and skill available in the process. These, however, are far from comprising the whole secret of success. Although seemingly a matter of chemistry, extract-making has always been a stumbling-block to the chemist. Chemically, there is no difference between the richest Mexican beans and the wretchedest Tahitis, but to even a normal nose the difference is striking and immediate.

There is still much to be learned about the chemistry of vanilla. Its flavor is known to be due to natural vanillin, the chief flavoring principle of the plant, and to certain gums and resins, but of these last next to nothing is known. Yet if aptitude and experience still play the leading part in well-made extracts, chemistry without question takes the center of the stage in the adulterated ones.

Under the present law (1913), an extract may be sold as "extract of pure vanilla" if it is made of genuine vanilla beans; consequently "Mexican cuts," "splits," and rank Tahitis can be and are sold under this label; whereas some extracts, though strictly speaking not adulterated, are really worse than some adulterated ones. These "cheap vanillas" are made possible by the difference in cost between fine Mexican beans and poor, defective ones, [pg 63] or beans of other growth; a matter, as a rule, of four or five dollars a pound; and are readily exposed by a comparative test in cookery or on the tongue.

54. Adulteration of vanilla extract.--A common adulterant of cheap vanillas is artificial coumarin. Real coumarin is an aromatic crystalline substance found in the Tonka bean or cumaru. Tonka beans were formerly rampant in imitation vanillas, but their present high price, due to their use in cheap tobacco, has practically curtailed this activity. The Tonka, with its real coumarin, was bad enough--the theory has even advanced that hay fever is due to the presence in the air of coumarin from plants--but artificial coumarin, as flavoring, is worse. It is a powerful drug; a coal tar product, heart depressant and active poison.

Artificial vanillin produced by chemistry also is employed plentifully, not only in substitution but also for strengthening weak pure extracts. The real vanillin is one of the odorous principles of the vanilla bean, taking the form of tiny crystalline needles of hot bitter taste. It is imitated chemically by combining oxygen and eugenol, a colorless compound from oil of cloves, of bay, of cinnamon leaves, or of allspice; or by coniferin, a compound ether obtained from wood. Lacking the necessary gums and resins, it does not taste like real vanilla, and needless to say, its composition is not such as to inspire confidence.

Coumarin and vanillin are ordinarily used together in adulterating; the mixture is then sweetened and artificially colored, with prune juice added. This sometimes brings a substantial profit of 150 per cent to its manufacturer.

Fortunately detection of these subterfuges by simple means is not difficult. A suspected extract can be tested [pg 64] by holding a tablespoon of it over a lamp or other flame until about two-thirds of the liquid has evaporated; then, if on adding water to the remaining third until the spoon is full, the extract renmins clear, undoubtedly it is not vanilla but an artificial product. Taste and smell, if one is familiar with true vanilla, are often test enough; coumarin in particular can be recognized by its odor, which is like that of Indian grass or "wood grass."

The best test for the quality of vanilla is to pour a few drops on a lump of sugar, and then suck the extract through the lump. To determine the relative values of two or more extracts, a separate lump should be used for each. The distinction between good and bad will then be marked sharply. Finally, to avoid adulterated extracts, the label should be read carefully.

This information is derived from a 1913 book on making Ice Cream, and has been licensed from the IBUKI Archive, by Internet Productions for

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