All fruits and vegetables produce a natural, dull waxy coating that acts a barrier to the outside world. It’s this cuticle that helps retain moisture inside the fruit and keep water from the environment out.
But you won’t find this waxy coating on your produce from the supermarket. When manufacturers wash fruits and vegetables to remove dirt, they also remove the natural, dull cuticle. However, some fruits, like apples, receive a new shiny wax coating. Cosmetics are crucial to sellers, who maintain that shiny apples are more appealing to customers than dull ones. The new wax coat also acts like a cuticle by minimizing the moisture apples lose.
Manufacturers carefully guard the chemical composition of these coatings, but we know that they are very similar to sweet coating on candies, like Skittles. Carnauba (car-NAH-buh) wax from the leaves of Brazilian palm trees is a favorite at apple processing plants. Agricultural workers in Brazil beat the Carnauba wax off of the palm leaves, before refining and bleaching it. Carnauba wax is a complex mixture, which gives a high-gloss sheen to the surface of your honey crisps and granny smiths.
Manufacturers also use a naturally occurring resin called shellac to coat apples. Don’t worry: this shellac is different than the plastic shellac you are probably familiar with. This shellac comes from the secretions of the lac beetle. Laborers harvest the wax from trees where the beetle deposits it. Then, it is purified and dried.
Food regulators are quick to assure consumers that these waxy coatings are perfectly safe to eat. The next time you are about to bite into an apple, examine it and decide if it has been varnished in a waxy coating.