Most people are not aware that many of the fruits and vegetables we consume are actually coated with a layer of wax. Sometimes this is naturally occurring - apples produce a natural layer of wax, as do many other fruits and vegetables. Often this layer is removed and replaced by a process called fruit waxing, and is most commonly done to citrus fruits and apples. Though it's mostly a harmless commercial process, it doesn't hurt to understand the process better so that you can make your own informed decision about what is going into your body.
The practice of fruit waxing is done for several purposes. One is to preserve the moisture of the fruit, keeping it from drying out before it reaches stores. Wax also helps it to have a longer shelf life and reduces spoilage. Apple varieties such as Fuji and Delicious are known to last up to one year in controlled-atmosphere (CA) storage when the wax coating is intact. Lastly, wax also enhances the visual appeal of the fruit, making it shine and thus making it more attractive to consumers who probably wouldn't purchase shriveled, dry, and dull looking fruits and vegetables.
Most fruit waxes come from natural sources such as Carnauba, which is made from the leaves of the Brazilian palm. Carnauba wax is commonly used as a polish, in candle making, as a protective coating for medications, and in sunscreens and lipsticks. Other waxes which are commonly used on fruit are beeswax and shellac - a resin secreted by the female lac bug. The lac bug lives on trees in the forests of India and Thailand and its secretions are collected and processed, then sold as dry flakes which can be dissolved in alcohol to make a liquid shellac. This liquid is used in many industries as a brush-on colorant, wood finish, and food glaze.
These waxes are all FDA approved and considered safe for human consumption. That is most likely because wax is indigestible by the human body. Since we lack the digestive enzymes to break down wax, they pass through untouched.
That doesn't mean that there are zero concerns about food waxing: since regulations vary by country - you can't be 100% sure of what type of wax was used on the fruit you eat, and petroleum-based waxes have been reported to be in use. This may be where the idea that 'the wax on apples causes cancer' comes from. We can't find anything to substantiate this claim, though we do wonder if the pesticides used on crops could be trapped underneath the wax layer, allowing them to soak in and be absorbed by the fruit. Another concern we have is what kind of chemical concoction could pesticides and petroleum make? We have all heard the dangers of pesticides and if they are somehow trapped or embedded in the wax then needless to say, this can't be safe for the human body and removal is your best bet.
An easy way to see if your fruit is covered with a layer of wax is by pouring boiling water over the fruit, then letting it dry. You can also allow a piece of fruit to sit in hot water for a few minutes before removing it to dry. You should be able to see the wax coating on it. Just rinsing off your fruit in the sink isn't going to be enough. This will require a hot wash or vinegar bath - techniques commonly seen in YouTube videos. Vinegar is acidic and will completely remove the wax layer if you are patient.
Another option to avoid the wax all together is to grow your own fruit. That's not possible for everyone, so you can also purchase freshly picked, unwaxed fruit from your local farmers market. Fruit waxing maybe be completely safe according to FDA regulations, but after doing our research we are going to make more of an effort to avoid it all together. What do you think?
Are you concerned about fruit waxing? Or do you think there's nothing to worry about?