Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
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Due to a new Food and Drug Administration requirement, consumers will now see labels such as "Coated with food grade vegetable, animal, petroleum, and/or shellac-based wax or resin to maintain freshness" on fruits and vegetables. What are these waxes? Are they tahor?  These and other questions are very important in understanding the kashrut of fruits and vegetables.

Waxes have been used domestically for over 60 years, on a wide variety of fruits and vegetables (see list). They are derived from a variety of sources and are a cross combination of natural and synthetic ingredients. The most common primary wax ingredients are shellac, animal fats, carnuba wax, and petroleum wax. Less frequently used wax bases include beeswax and candelia wax.

Shellac or lac resin is a product that is imported from India and is used in waxes for citrus fruits, apples and pears. It is a product that is derived from the secretions of the tiny lac insect. The lac insect secretes "lac-resin" from its glands onto a host tree. The resin is then gathered, crushed, sieved, washed and purified into food grade shellac. Lac-resin is known by many names, such as , lac, lac-resin, shellac, confectioners glaze, foodgrade resin, etc.; it can be found not only in the produce aisle, but often in the candy aisle as well.

Carnuba wax is derived from palm trees and is used in waxes for stonefruits, and in a variety of vegetables. Pure carnuba was is unproblematic; however, manufacturers may add stearic acid (a fat that may be derived from animal or vegetable sources) to carnuba wax, which may cause a problem. It is quite possible that the carnuba wax in question is pure, or contains vegetable stearic acid.  However, one must be certain before purchasing a product that contains carunuba wax.  This would also apply to the less commonly used candelia wax, a wax of plant origin, and beeswax.

Petroleum based waxes including paraffin, mineral oil, and polyethylene are inherently tahor. These waxes are commonly used on melons, stone fruits, and tropical fruits and on a variety of vegetables.

Other ingredients added to finished wax coatings include oleic acid, emulsifiers, and proteins. Oleic acid is almost always used in wax. This ingredient can be derived from animal and/or vegetable derivatives and presents a problem similar to carnuba wax. While most wax manufacturers use vegetable grade oleic acid, one must be sure before consuming any product with a wax that contains oleic acid. 

Emulsifiers are an important additive that allow oil and water to adequately mix. These, too, pose the same potential problems as oleic acid, in that they may be animal based. Here again, most manufacturers use vegetable based emulsifiers (such as lecithin), but one must be sure and not simply rely upon a majority of cases.

There are two types of proteins used in the wax industry, soy and casein. Proteins are used as a thickener in lac-resin waxes and are not necessary in the more viscous petroleum or carnuba waxes. Proteins present different concerns. Soy protein is a soybean derivative which is generally tahor.  Other proteins, however, may come from unknown animal sources, and would, therefore, present a problem.  Given that lac-resin, is already tame’, however, this is generally not an issue beyond the fact.

Casein is a protein derived from milk. Assuming the milk is from a tahor animal, as in America is always the case, there would be no issues presented by a wax that contained casein.

A finished wax is applied to the foods either at a cooperative warehouse (for produce) or at the manufacturers (for candy). At this stage the wax has a very bad taste. The bad tasting chemicals evaporate, leaving a tasteless wax coating. The product is then shipped to local distributors who sell it to supermarkets and other retailers. For produce, it is extremely difficult to know which company has manufactured the wax on a particular fruit or vegetable as it can pass through several hands before reaching the market.

When one purchases waxed produce or other waxed items, it is extremely difficult to know which company manufactured the wax and what raw materials were used. It is, in general, better to avoid waxed produce and other waxed items in general - unless one is sure of the wax being used.

Candies in general should be avoided due to the fact that most sugars are not tahor - therefore, this does not present a significant issue.  However, produce does.  Fortunately, there is an easy answer to this problem.  Organic produce is not waxed; and, organic produce is becoming more and more generally available.  The answer to the wax produce problem, therefore, is to purchase only organic fruits and vegetables.

Common Fruits and Vegetables that are Waxed

Citrus Fruits: grapefruits, lemons, limes, oranges, tangerines*
Melons: cantaloupe, honeydew
Pome Fruits: apples, pears
Stone Fruits: nectarines, peaches, plums
Tropical Fruits: mangos, papayas, passion fruit
Vegetables: avocados, bell peppers, cucumbers, eggplant, green peppers, hot-peppers, parsnips, rutabaga, sweet potatoes, squash, tomatoes, and turnips.


* Even though the wax on a citrus fruit does not touch what is eaten, the fruit will still be tame’.  Under Torah law, any item that comes in contact with the product of a dead tame’ animal, becomes tame’.