Probiotics are microorganisms that live in food in sufficient quantities and can benefit the digestive tract’s health. People are more familiar with probiotics as lactic acid bacteria or healthy bacteria. Probiotics have therapeutic benefits, such as helping treat lactose intolerance, preventing colon cancer, and lowering cholesterol levels in the blood. What is its halal aspect?
The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted for more than three years and has increasingly raised public awareness about maintaining health and increasing body immunity. One way is to consume products that contain probiotics, which are believed to help treat various diseases and increase the body’s resistance to disease attacks.
Probiotic comes from Greek. “pro” means promoting, and “biotic” means life. Probiotics appeared at the beginning of the 20th century. They were introduced by Elie Metchnikoff, who concluded that the health of residents in Bulgarian rural environments could improve and dementia was rare due to the role of good bacteria in the intestines obtained after consuming sour milk as a source of probiotics.
Probiotics and prebiotics are related to various forms, roles, and benefits. Probiotics are bacteria that bring health benefits, especially digestive tract health. These good bacteria can be obtained from food, drinks, or supplements. Lactobacillus (such as L. rhamnosus) and Bifidobacterium (such as B. Bifidum) are examples of the most common probiotic bacteria. Meanwhile, prebiotics are a type of food, usually high-fiber food, which functions as an intake for good bacteria in the human body to maintain their numbers. In short, probiotics are good bacteria, while prebiotics are food intake to support the growth of these good bacteria.
Innovation technology has now discovered more types of good bacteria. There are several types of probiotics and various health benefits of each probiotic. These types are identified based on the genus, species, and probiotic strain.
The professor of IPB University, Prof. Dr. Ir. Sedarnawati Yasni, M.Agr. explained that probiotics are often found in fermented foods and drinks that do not go through a heating process, such as tapai, tempeh, kombucha tea, kimchi, yogurt, and other fermented products.
Probiotics are known as natural antibiotics and antivirals that can help suppress the growth of harmful bacteria. As released by Kompas.com, several types of probiotics have the potential to provide health benefits, including:
Lactobacillus. Lactobacillus occurs naturally in the digestive, urinary, and genital systems of the body, with more than 50 species of Lactobacilli. Types of food that contain Lactobacillus probiotics are yogurt and several supplements. Lactobacillus is commonly used to treat and prevent various health conditions and diseases, such as fungal infections, bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, and preventing respiratory tract infections. Apart from that, Lactobacillus can also treat lactose intolerance, blisters, eczema, acne, and canker sores.
Bifidobacteria. Bifidobacteria are found in the large intestine with around 30 species. This bacteria can appear several days after the baby is born, especially for babies who consume breast milk. Bifidobacteria has been proven to improve blood lipids and glucose tolerance and is effective in alleviating symptoms of digestive tract irritation such as stomach ache, bloating, and other digestive disorders.
Apart from the probiotics above, there is also Saccharomyces boulardii, the only fungal probiotic proven to be effective in preventing and treating diarrhea due to the side effects of antibiotics. Apart from that, Enterococcus faecium is a type of bacteria found in the intestinal tract of humans and animals. At the same time, Streptococcus thermophilus is a bacteria that can produce the enzyme lactase in large quantities and is reported to be able to prevent lactose intolerance. Leuconostoc has been widely used in food processing, including pickles, which people have generally liked for a long time.
Prof. Sedarnawati added that probiotics are generally safe to consume in the right dosage, except for people with impaired immune function. Apart from that, make sure to consume hygienic probiotics that have received food safety guarantees from health authorities.
How to check halalness?
Even though it contains many benefits and is safe to consume, Prof. Sedarnawati reminded Muslim consumers to be careful in choosing food or beverages that contain probiotics. “You have to pay attention to the halal aspect,” said Prof. Sedarnawati.
For example, miso is a fermented food product that originated in Japan around 500 years after Christ. Miso can be used as a food flavoring ingredient or consumed directly. Currently, miso has yet to be produced in Indonesia but has the potential to be developed in Indonesia as a functional food that is good for health. The benefits of miso include reducing the risk of cholesterol, preventing lung cancer, helping maintain digestive health, anti-diabetes, and reducing the risk of cancer. Research results report that consuming a cup of miso three times a day can reduce the occurrence of breast cancer.
Miso-making consists of two stages, namely, the koji-making stage and followed by the miso-making step. In making koji, fermentation uses rice and mold (tempeh yeast) to produce various kinds of enzymes by the mold. This enzyme plays a role in breaking down raw material macromolecules into simpler molecules. At the stage of making miso, fermentation is carried out with a mixture of salt, nuts, and koji.
Fermentation aims to develop miso taste by adding Rhizopus sp. contained in tempeh yeast to increase the beans’ nutritional value and digestibility. Fermentation using mold can improve the N-amino content needed by the body to help maintain body health. So that the two microorganisms develop well, sometimes fermentation media is added, which can be critical. Plus, to stop the fermentation process and prevent the formation of unwanted aromas, the final stage of making miso often uses alcohol, which can come from liquor.
Another example is making a type of fermented product from milk. When making kefir, lactic acid bacteria (LAB) such as Lactobacillus acidophilus are added as a starter. These bacteria and yeast break down the carbohydrates in milk and convert them into lactic acid and ethanol. Kefir has a sour taste typical of fermented products, with a lower carbohydrate (lactose) content because bacteria have utilized it. According to MUI fatwa guidelines, Kefir may contain ethanol exceeding the 0.5% limit.
From the two examples of food types above, caution must be exercised because probiotic products are microbial products obtained through fermentation. The fermentation process is a biological process that, in its series, involves several stages that allow the product’s halal status to change, including the medium for bacterial multiplication and the by-product product (in kefir, there is alcohol).
However, if the materials and media used are guaranteed to be halal in this process, then the product from the fermentation process is halal.
Currently, many kombucha teas are circulating that are popular among the public. The fermentation process produces a by-product of alcohol at a certain level. The average alcohol content made by kombucha is less than 0.5 percent.
In the Fatwa of the Indonesian Council of Ulama (MUI) No. 10 of 2018 concerning Food and Beverage Products Containing Alcohol/Ethanol, it is stated that fermented beverage products containing less than 0.5% alcohol/ethanol are halal.
However, in the process, there is the use or contact of ingredients with pork elements and their derivatives, then the status of the fermented product becomes non-halal. (***)