Keeping a halal bakery business can be tricky.
The hidden haraam in baked goods – an interview with the owner of ‘Fab Cakes’
Keeping a halal bakery business can be tricky.
You may not consider it as an outside observer, but keeping a bakery business halal can be a bit tricky. It’s a lesson that Fathima Faiz, Owner, Baker, and Decorator at Fab Cakes Newcastle learned throughout her working years, starting at an early age.
“My mum was home baker in Sri Lanka so I grew up seeing cakes being made all the time,” Faiz remembers. “I made my first cake at the age of 14 for my cousin’s aqeeqah (baby shower) ceremony.”
Faiz started baking for her family and friends after moving to the UK 15 years ago. She then scaled her business due to the popularity of her cakes. Now, Faiz bakes her dessert range for special occasions from Newcastle upon Tyne in the North East of England and posts personalised cookies nationwide.
Challenges of the craft
Faiz laments that many of the decorative stencils she uses to make her desserts stand apart from the crowd are only manufactured for the North America market. She sometimes has to pay as much as three times the product price in extra postage and customs charges just to get her hands on the tools needed to craft her baked creations.
“I wish I could find those kinds of things in the UK.”
But when it comes to keeping baked goods halal, it’s not the outside, but what’s inside that counts.
Because of Islamic prohibitions against consuming certain animal products and alcohol, Faiz must spend a good amount of time contacting manufactures and reading labels.
“I need to take special care to make sure that there aren’t any alcohols or animal products in the ingredients,” Faiz explains. She pays close attention to hidden ingredients under unusual names within all of the baking products she uses to craft her cakes, cookies, and other desserts.
“When I’m going to buy ingredients for baking, many of the ingredients contain animal products, especially for things like fondants,” Faiz says. She appreciates that she does have suppliers who clearly mention which ingredients are suitable for vegetarians and vegans. If it’s marked Kosher, she also feels confident to buy, so long as the product doesn’t contain alcohol.
Alcohols can be challenging to avoid or replace. Faiz notes that the most difficult ingredient with no suitable halal replacement is a cream cheese flavouring she would love to be able to use to make red velvet cake for weddings.
“It is one of the most popular flavours within the Muslim community here,” she explains, “but the only company that does the cream cheese flavouring uses alcohol.” She’s resigned herself to leaving that out of her decadent creations for now, using only buttercream filing without the added flavouring.
The hidden haram
“If I want to use colour, especially for gold work decoration, most of the liquid mixes and flavouring extracts contain ethanol or have alcohol which is listed as an E-number,” Faiz explains. “I even learned from a vegan lady I met at a local women’s centre that even some imported sugars are cleaned using dead animal bones.”
To many Muslims’ dismay, some sugars may be cleaned and refined via a process that uses cow-derived bone char – not all of which is Kosher or Halal certified.
Refined sugarcane sugar, as opposed to the beet sugar alternative with different baking properties, is usually added by bakers to their cookies and cakes and confections. Though the sugar starts as sugarcane, part of refining process involves the juice being “filtered and bleached with bone char, which results in [the] sugar’s pristine white color,” notes Food and Health Editor Kate Bratskeir of The Huffington Post.
It’s a refinement process that may get Muslims thinking about what they consume, where their ingredients are coming from, and what processes are used on the ingredients before they hit supermarket shelves.
Staying true to her values, and eschewing ingredients her Muslim clients wish to avoid, is a thin line that Fathima Faiz of Fab Cakes Newcastle walks with determination despite all obstacles.
Faiz has politely turned down orders from potential clients if taking the order would mean including ingredients that go against her Islamic faith. However, her declines of such orders and her offered substitutions haven’t seemed to stop non-Muslim community clients from ordering her cakes.
“I find that people are very understanding,” Faiz shares. It’s a sure indication of respect for her baking skills and beautiful designs.
by Janet Kozak
Janet Kozak is a Content Marketer who helps businesses grow their brand with creative copywriting and solid strategy. She can be reached at JanetKozak.com.