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06/17/2014 06:52 EDT | Updated 06/17/2014 12:59 EDT

What Is Halal Food? How Do You Prepare It?

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With Ramadan approaching, you'll likely hear plenty of talk in food circles about halal food.

But what is it, exactly?

The word "halal" means "permissible" in Arabic, and when it comes to food, it means nourishment that follows Islamic law, according to BBC News.

It is the opposite of "haram," which means forbidden.

Under Islamic law, meat must come from an animal that was killed according to specific practices. The animal must have been alive and healthy when it was slaughtered, and the kill must come from a cut to the jugular, carotid artery and the windpipe, BBC News reports.

A dedication known as a tasmiya or shahada to honour Allah is also spoken during the kill.

But halal doesn't just refer to meats. Islamic law sets out a series of foods that are considered "halal" and "haram."

Halal foods include grain products such as rice, pasta or bread, but they can't have been prepared with products such as alcohol, lard or vanilla extract, which are considered haram, according to Toronto Public Health.

Fruits and vegetables are considered halal, but like with grains, they can't be prepared with booze, animal shortening, bacon and other haram ingredients.

Halal originates with a series of passages in the Qur'an, according to the U.K.'s Halal Food Authority (HFA).

In Surat Al-Baqarah 2:168, Allah commands Muslims to "eat from whatever is on earth [that is] lawful and good and do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Indeed, he is to you a clear enemy."

Another passage reads, "And eat of what Allah has provided for you [which is] lawful and good. And fear Allah, in whom you are believers."

There are some similarities between halal and kosher foods, but they are not the same. Both the Qur'an and the Old Testament forbid the consumption of pork and blood of animals, but people who are kosher cannot consume dairy and meat together, and that is not the case for halal. Generally speaking, people who are halal can eat kosher foods, but not necessarily vice versa, according to Muslim Musings.

They have also both been controversial. Halal and kosher meats were banned in Denmark over concerns about animal rights, and whether slaughtering livestock in these ways could be considered humane.

A petition launched by certification and monitoring group Danish Halal called the move an interference on religious freedom, while an Israeli minister said it was anti-Semitic.

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CORRECTION: This article originally implied people who eat halal cannot eat kosher food. This is not the case, as noted above.