A Technical Information Bulletin
Northwest Horticultural Council
Fruit Coatings (Wax)
Some vegetables and all fruits, including apples, naturally produce their own waxy coating. This natural plant wax:
- Inhibits mold growth;
- Reduces moisture loss and shriveling;
- Assists in slowing down the natural degradation of the fruit; and
- Provides a physical barrier that protects the fruit from some microorganisms.
The process of washing apples to remove dirt and other material from the orchard after harvest can remove some of this natural wax from the fruit’s surface. Therefore, in some cases, a few drops of food grade coatings like those used in candies, pastries, and pharmaceuticals is applied to the apples to replace the wax that was removed in the washing process.
Fruit coatings used by the Pacific Northwest tree fruit industry are derived overwhelmingly from two natural sources, carnauba and shellac wax. Carnauba wax is sourced from the harvested leaves of the carnauba palm tree found in Brazil. Shellac wax is a resin secreted by the lac beetle on to trees found in Asia. Both of these products contain some of the same components found in the wax naturally produced by the apple. No synthetic-based waxes are used on Pacific Northwest apples.
Both carnauba and shellac are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food coatings and have been safely used on produce and other edible products for decades. As required by FDA for fresh fruit sold in the United States, fruit packers report, in an ingredient statement on the side panel of the bulk shipping container, if a specific food grade coating was used. Different labeling requirements may apply to commercial fruit sold in export markets.
Under certain conditions of high humidity or moisture, apples coated with shellac wax can take on a milky appearance. This whitening of the shellac coating is only a physical change, caused by wax in the coating partly dissolving due to condensation on the surface of the fruit, and does not impact the safety or taste of the apple.
Pacific Northwest fruit producers recognize that consumers have diverse dietary needs. No waxes are used that are derived from dairy or meat products, and not all fruit has a food grade coating added prior to distribution to retail markets.
The Northwest Horticultural Council represents the deciduous tree fruit industry of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington on national and international policy issues affecting growers and shippers. For further information on fruit coatings, contact the NHC at 509-453-3193.