The fascinating story of halal caviar

This article describes the perplexing process by which Iran turned forbidden fish into halal fish and kept making a load of money from it. Seems even religious law can be flexible, if contorted, when the controllers have an agenda…

Politics | H.E. Chehabi

How Caviar Turned Out to Be Halal

from Gastronomica 7:2

When the Shiite clergy acquired control over the Iranian state in 1979, they found themselves in a position where, in addition to enunciating the prescriptions of divine law (shari’a), they also had to supervise the actual enforcement by the state of the religious injunctions it comprises. Islamic law contains detailed rules about food, drink, and culinary etiquette,1 and although the actual practice of Muslim societies has never fully conformed to these rules,2 the obvious importance of food and drink in the daily lives of people confers upon religious dietary laws a subjective importance for Muslims that helps define the boundaries of their community.3 An Islamic state, as defined by modern-day Islamists, must therefore be a state in which Islam’s dietary laws are legally enforced.

The Koran explicitly forbids the consumption of only three things: pork, alcohol, and carrion. The consumption of pork and alcohol was indeed outlawed soon after the revolution of 1979, there being no need to prohibit carrion since Iranians are not particularly fond of it. Caviar, however, posed a delicate problem. Shiite jurisprudence considered it haram (forbidden), but since its production and export were a state monopoly, caviar procured the Iranian treasury millions of dollars in revenue. Trading in what is forbidden being equally forbidden under the shari’a, the Islamic Republic faced the alternative of either reneging on its promise of applying divine law or depriving itself of valuable export earnings. Moreover, caviar is the epitome of luxury and culinary refinement in Western culture,4 which alone must have rendered it suspect in the eyes of the populists who took power soon after the revolution. To find a way out of this dilemma, the status of caviar under religious law was revisited. At the end of a laborious process involving both clerics and fisheries experts, the traditional ruling was reversed, and caviar was declared halal (permitted).

Read the rest of the article at the link… it is somehow comforting to know people everywhere are afflicted with the disorder of authorities of limited ability vastly exceeded by their responsibilities.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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5 Responses to The fascinating story of halal caviar

  1. It’s good to see pragmatism winning!

  2. E.M.Smith says:

    I found the process they went through rather amazing… so much fuss and effort just to decide to eat a tasty fish… but when a decision is based on strange and wonderful very non-physical ‘rules’ you get stuff like that; and it sure reminded me a lot of the strange and wonderful and very non-physical way that Climate Scares are sorted out…

  3. p.g.sharrow says:

    The most sacred rule in Politics is “The Golden Rule”.
    He that controls the gold Rules!
    Even Religious leaders must bow to the “Golden Rule” ;-) pg

  4. bob sykes says:

    Fluoride is a requried nutrient, and bone and teeth will not form without it. However, it is only needed in very small amounts. At higher dosages, you get discolored teeth, and at very high dosages you get some tooth and bone disformation. The US EPA limits it to less than 1 mg/L in drinking water.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Boby Sykes:

    Was that comment intended for the Iodine thread?

    FWIW, I think biology has an interesting ‘trick’. It uses a gene to make a protein blob, that then gets a metal or halogen stuck in / on it to make it functional. Different metal or other add-ons make it do different things, and it depends on the ‘normal’ ratio of those ions in the sea water environment to have the right final product mix.

    Then when we shift ions available, something gets mucked up…

    Similar to the way only one enzyme makes both inflammation promoting and suppressing hormones from unsaturated fatty acids, and the Omega-3 / Omega-6 ratio of intake determines how much of each is in the product.

    So a little fluorine makes for strong teeth, but too much makes brittle bones and increases fracture rates, and very large amounts cause some other system to fail catastrophically and you die. Yet zero is not natural either…

    I suspect that same pattern holds for very many of our ‘essential minerals’. Cadmium substitutes in Zinc enzymes and screws them up. Sodium / Potassium ratio is critical for cell walls to function properly and for nerves to work right. Bromine can substitute in Iodine pathways, but with improper function (but I suspect a zero amount would not be ideal as the ocean is not zero… and the pathways were optimized long ago in an ocean mineral soup). Similarly phosphorus and arsenic (where some bacteria from a hot spring rich in arsenic was found to substitute it in enzymes and live OK at high concentrations – different optimizing).

    I doubt we have even scratched the surface on “unexpected” action of minor trace elements in some other enzyme skeleton. (IIRC, the structure of heme in blood and chlorophyll in plants are mostly the same and the major difference is the metal ion in the center. Checking wiki:

    Chlorophyll is a chlorin pigment, which is structurally similar to and produced through the same metabolic pathway as other porphyrin pigments such as heme. At the center of the chlorin ring is a magnesium ion. This was discovered in 1906, and was the first time that magnesium had been detected in living tissue.

    Yup. Porphyrin Ring structures are common in both plants and animals, but with different metals in them do different things. Then the edge bits get a little diddle too for special effect…

    Though the blood of mollusks and insects and crustaceans uses copper not in a porphyrin ring structure:

    Although the respiratory function of hemocyanin is similar to that of hemoglobin, there are a significant number of differences in its molecular structure and mechanism. Whereas hemoglobin carries its iron atoms in porphyrin rings (heme groups), the copper atoms of hemocyanin are bound as prosthetic groups coordinated by histidine residues.The active site of hemocyanin is composed of a pair of copper(I) cations which are directly coordinated to the protein through the driving force of imidazolic rings of six histidine residues.

    Yet it is very similar to other enzymes found in mammals doing other jobs. We just chose different basic metabolic bits for the shift to oxygen transport duties:

    Hemocyanin is homologous to the phenol oxidases (e.g. tyrosinase) since both enzymes share type 3 Cu active site coordination. In both cases inactive proenzymes such as hemocyanin, tyrosinase, and catcholoxidase must be activated first.

    So what is tyrosinase?

    Tyrosinase is an oxidase that is the rate-limiting enzyme for controlling the production of melanin. It is mainly involved in two distinct reactions of melanin synthesis; firstly, the hydroxylation of a monophenol and secondly, the conversion of an o-diphenol to the corresponding o-quinone. o-Quinone undergoes several reactions to eventually form melanin. Tyrosinase is a copper-containing enzyme present in plant and animal tissues that catalyzes the production of melanin and other pigments from tyrosine by oxidation, as in the blackening of a peeled or sliced potato exposed to air.

    So our blood is related to plants’ chlorophyll, while mollusc blood is related to plants’ color pigments and our melanin production… We both just chose different starting pigment pathways to convert to oxygen carriers… but with both did the “reuse / recycle” metabolic dance… and different metal ions as needed to get the right results for the job.

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