Trace Amounts of Alcohol in Food
Question: There are some products, such as Arnotts Tim Tams that, that contain trace elements of alcohol in them. Is it permissible to consume them?
Answer: There are many food items that contain small amounts of alcohol, including Tim Tams which was confirmed via email (To add to the confusion, reliable sources have informed me that they called and Arnotts has denied alcohol being used in the process, if there is doubt in this case he can consider it halal). This is important to Muslims because the consumption of alcohol in Islam is prohibited and alcohol is considered to be inherently najis (ritually unclean). Usually the amount of alcohol in these items is very small and it is assumed that the alcohol burns off because it evaporates at 172 F. But, the Unites States Department of Agriculture has concluded that traces of alcohol does in fact remain after the cooking process. No-bake desserts, such as deserts which contain creme de menthe or creme de cacao, will naturally retain their alcohol content because they are not heated up. Baked goods that had alcohol based vanilla extract in them will retain some of the alcohol. After research, it was determined that deserts with vanilla extract in them will retain 40 percent of the alcohol when cooked for 15 minutes, and 25 percent when coated for 60 minutes.
The jurisprudential question is whether such items are prohibited to consume. Sayyid Sistani clearly states in A Code of Practice for Muslims in the West : “All kinds of alcohol (whether extracted from wood or other sources) is pure, not najis. So, the medicines, the perfumes, and the food containing alcohol are pure and can be used. It is also permissible to eat such food if the amount of alcohol is very minute, e.g., 2%.” This refers to all types of alcohol except wine derived from grapes, which is considered najis to Sayyid Sistani. But, regarding this wine, if two-thirds evaporates and it becomes vinegar it would become tahir.
Sayyid Khamenei considers all alcohol that is eatable and originally liquid to be najis, according to obligatory precaution. Regarding this issue there are is a fatwa that should be considered. This is found in the newly asked questions segment of his Farsi site. He is asked: I live in the west and mistakenly purchased a cake that contains alcohol in it. Since I have purchased it, is it permissible for me to give to my Christian family members to eat instead of throwing it away?
Answer: “Giving food that has alcohol in it to others, even if they are non-Muslims, is impermissible.” This is about cake which contains alcohol. Here it is clear that the cake would not be intoxicating, there would only be trace elements of alcohol from vanilla extract, for instance. Regarding wine which evaporates, Sayyid Khamenei does hold that if two-thirds evaporates and turns to vinegar it becomes tahir and consuming it would be permissible.
Hence, according to Sayyid Sistani, if there are only trace elements of alcohol in the food it is permissible to eat. But, if the alcohol was wine derived from grapes than two-thirds has to evaporate and turn to vinegar. According to Sayyid Khamenei, if there are trace elements of alcohol in the food it is impermissible to eat.