If you’ve been following my posts on social media, you know that I read food ingredient labels and prioritize eating whole, plant-based foods that are unprocessed or minimally processed, free of chemicals, and sourced as close as possible to nature. So, you can imagine my shock at the market this week as I was about to buy a bag of apples. I picked up the bag and discovered that the apples were coated in “shellac.”
Shellac? On apples? It sounded more like a term associated with furniture or woodworking, not something I would expect to find on a piece of fruit. Wanting to know more, I looked up “shellac” on the spot to find out what it is and why it’s added to food.
To my surprise, shellac is a resinous substance derived from the secretion of the female lac bug (Laccifer lacca). Yes, you read that right, bugs! The lac bug, native to certain regions of India and Thailand, secretes a resin to create a protective cocoon for its eggs. This resin, when processed and transformed, becomes shellac – a shiny, glossy coating commonly used in various industries, including food.
The primary purpose of shellac in the food industry is to give fruits (such as apples and citrus fruits) a visually appealing shine and preserve freshness. It enhances their appearance, making them more enticing to consumers. However, the thought of consuming a bug-derived coating on my apples made me reconsider my purchase. I don’t want to “eat ze bugs” or anything derived from insects.
As I delved deeper into my research, I discovered that regulatory authorities like the FDA consider shellac safe for consumption. That said, when you know these same “authorities” have also approved artificial dyes like Red #40 and Yellow #6, among others, that are restricted or banned in Europe, you have to take what they say with a huge grain of salt (figuratively, of course). But we’ll save that conversation for another day lol.
What’s important to know is that shellac is classified as a food additive and given the code name E904. While it may be deemed safe, there are valid concerns surrounding its use, particularly for individuals with dietary preferences and restrictions or food sensitivities.
Although reported to be rare, it’s important to know that some people may have sensitivities to shellac or its components. Symptoms of shellac allergies can include skin irritations, rashes, itching or more severe reactions in extreme cases.*
And, for those following vegan or vegetarian diets, the use of shellac poses a dilemma, as it is derived from an insect source.
If you, like me, prefer to avoid consuming shellac or are following a specific dietary preference, there are alternatives available. One option is to choose organic fruits. Organic apples and citrus fruits are typically free from synthetic coatings and are grown using environmentally friendly practices. While they may not have the same shiny appearance as their shellac-coated counterparts, they offer the same nutritional value and taste (without the shellac coating!).
Another alternative is to wash your fruits thoroughly before consumption. This practice can help remove any surface residue, including potential shellac coatings. While it may not completely eliminate shellac, it can reduce its presence.
As I put the bag of shellac-coated apples back on the shelf, it reminded me once again of the importance of staying informed as a consumer. It’s essential that we read ingredient labels and know what these ingredients and food additives actually are so that we can make informed choices that align with our values and dietary preferences.
So the next time you’re at the market, take a moment to read ingredient labels and find out what food additives, if any, are in the item you’re considering. Choose organic whenever possible. If you have a local farmers market, consider buying your produce there and support local farmers at the same time.
By prioritizing foods that are as close to nature as possible, we can nurture our bodies with wholesome foods that truly nourish us.