grape juice, pasteurization, and Islam

Q: Is it okay to drink grape juice in Islam?

A: The question, on the surface, seems quite trivial. At the level of detail provided here, the answer is quite simply: yes, there is absolutely no problem in drinking grape juice.

Q: What about commercially sold grape juice?

A: Again, that grape juice is commercial or not has no relevance to the permissibility of drinking it.

Q: But most – if not all – commercial grape juice is pasteurized. So is it okay to drink pasteurized grape juice?

A: Now the question is getting interesting. J

I believe that most people who will consult the works of scholars on this issue may end up quite confused with the cryptic language, and the lack of logical organization and addressing of the different scenarios and permutations. So if that’s how you ended up on this blog, I completely understand. And hopefully, that’s where I come in.

What is sure is that the consumption of fermented grape juice (i.e. wine) is prohibited. [Might be a good idea to take a look at this previous post]. That which renders grape juice illicit for drinking is not pasteurization, but fermentation.

Pasteurization is the process of deactivating or killing some of the bacteria and enzymes contained in a product by heating it to a certain temperature, then cooling it (or letting it cool). This is done to ensure that the product (usually a liquid such as milk or juice) is now safe for consumption, and that any bacteria or enzymes therein will not cause any illness or disease for us humans. (This post is obviously not going to address how much nutrients are left in juice or milk once they have been pasteurized, though this could make for an interesting post later…)

Fermentation is a chemical process which transforms sugars and yeast (in the chemical sense of these terms) into alcohols – and therefore, grape juice into wine. This process also kills bacteria, which means that the product will not mold (or at least, not as quickly), and you can preserve it (even without refrigeration) much longer.

If all of this is understood, the real question which we must first answer is the following: does pasteurization necessarily imply fermentation? In other words, can we assume that any grape juice that has been pasteurized has also been fermented?

The short answer is no, absolutely not.

In 1869, Thomas B. Welch became popular because he stopped the fermentation of grape juice by pasteurizing it, therefore preventing it from becoming alcoholic. (This is what launched Welch’s Grape Juice Company…)

 

Dr. Thomas Bramwell Welch launches the processed fruit juice industry when he successfully pasteurizes Concord grape juice to produce an “unfermented sacramental wine” for fellow church parishioners in Vineland, N.J. (see)

In addition, if we’re talking about commercial grape juice, before pasteurization takes place, preservatives are added once grapes have been crushed into juice. This is an important detail, because preservatives (e.g. potassium sorbate) prevent fermentation by preventing mold and yeast from growing. (And yes, there are ways to neutralize the effects of the preservatives or to add yeast back in there… but this post is not really about ways to convert pasteurized grape juice into wine again).

So long story short, pasteurized juice has not and should not ferment (on its own), and it is therefore completely permissible to consume it without any fears that it may have turned into wine in the process. But there is more…

All we have done so far is dealing with the first half of the problem. What we have established is that pasteurized grape juice has not fermented, so it is not wine. But wine is not the only thing Muslims are not allowed drinking! We may also not drink grape juice that has boiled, even if it has not turned into a fermented wine.

As soon as grape juice is heated to the point of boiling, it becomes illicit to drink it without evaporating two thirds (2/3) of it first. Only after evaporating two thirds of grape juice that has boiled does it become licit to drink it again. AND only if that remaining one third (1/3) is not in wine form (which can apparently happen depending on the method of heating), in which case, the only way to be allowed to drink it again is by changing it into vinegar…

So our new question is: does grape juice reach the boiling point, during the process of pasteurization?

If you’re pasteurizing water yourself, it is recommended to heat it to at least 65 C (or 149 F) for at least 1 minute…

What about juices?

Lucky for us, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration of the USA) has already done all the necessary experimentation, and they recommend the following temperatures and durations for apple, orange, and grape juice:

Between

At least 6 seconds at 160 degrees Fahrenheit (71.1 Celsius)

And

At least 0.3 seconds at 180 degrees Fahrenheit (82.2 Celsius).

They also say that 15 seconds at 71.7 C (or 161 F) is adequate.

As a working figure, let us say that grape juice, which like other fruit juices is mainly made of water, has a boiling point that is slightly higher than water’s. In this case, and based on what the FDA recommends the industry uses to pasteurize these commercially sold fruits, it would be safe to say that the pasteurization of grape juice does not (and should not) imply it reaching the boiling point – and therefore becoming illicit for consumption to Muslims.

Okay, I understand this may be a lot of detail to take in, but I hope that my modest entry and personal research on this topic gave you a taste of the kind of combination of knowledge and investigative work often required to reach at least a respectable answer when it comes to a question as trivial as the one we started with in this post.

[Venting alert!] And this is why it is simply laughable to the practicing Muslim when all sorts of “thinkers” and “authors” are presented in the media and on glossy book covers as “expert on Islam”, or “reformer of Islamic thought”, when they have not even established to the Islamic community that they have understood the most basic teachings of Islam, let alone the technical fields of investigation.

[venting still going] And by the way, having lived in an “Islamic society /state” and studying language and medieval philosophy does not make one an expert on Islam (Daniel Pipes…); nor being born to Muslim parents, as violent as they or the rest of the tribe may be (Ayaan Hirsi Ali…); nor simply carrying a raw hatred of Muslims and Islam qualifies you as a specialist on anything Islamic (Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller)… none of these do. (So hard to believe, I know!) [okay, venting over. Sorry]

So when it comes to grape juice in Islam, here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Wine is fermented grape juice. If grape juice has not undergone fermentation, it is not wine;
  • Pasteurization of grape juice does not make it into wine;
  • Boiling of grape juice does not make it najis, but it does render it illicit for drinking;
  • For boiled grape juice to become licit for drinking again, it must be heated until 2/3 of it evaporate, and the remaining 1/3 is not wine;
  • If after 2/3 of boiled grape juice have evaporated the remaining 1/3 is wine, it is only licit to consume it after converting it into vinegar;
  • Pasteurization does not require a heat reaching boiling point.

So the final answer is (yes I am sure, and no I will not call a friend):

(Unless you are sure that the pasteurization of the grape juice brought it to its boiling point), there are absolutely no issues (from Islamic law perspective) in drinking grape juice, commercial or otherwise.

a non-alcoholic bottoms up to all!

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