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Apples and Wax

If you walked out into an orchard, picked an apple from the tree and rubbed that apple on your shirt, you would notice that it shined – you've just polished the natural wax that an apple produces to protect its high water content. Without wax, fruits and vegetables like apples would lose their vital crispness and moisture through normal respiration and transpiration – eventually leaving them soft and dry (yuck!).

After harvest, apples are washed and brushed to remove leaves and field dirt before they are packed in cartons for shipping to your local market. This cleaning process removes the fruit's original wax coating, so to protect the fruit many apple packers will re-apply a commercial grade wax. One pound of wax may cover as many as 160,000 pieces of fruit; perhaps two drops is the most wax covering each apple.

Waxes have been used on fruits and vegetables since the 1920s. They are all made from natural ingredients, and are certified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to be safe to eat. They come from natural sources including carnauba wax, from the leaves of a Brazilian palm; candellia wax, derived from reed-like desert plants of the genus Euphorbia; and food-grade shellac, which comes from a secretion of the lac bug found in India and Pakistan. These waxes are also approved for use as food additives for candy and pastries. (Now you know why your chocolate bars melt in your mouth but not in your hand…)

The commercial waxes do not easily wash off because they adhere to any natural wax remaining on the fruit after cleaning. Waxed produce can be scrubbed with a vegetable brush briefly in lukewarm water and rinsed before eating to remove wax and surface dirt. (Using detergents on porous foods like apples is not recommended!)

(February 16, 1999)