What is Shellac?

When speaking of food, what is shellac?
Most people know of shellac on wood, but do not know that it is also used on food since it is disguised on food labels as “confectioners glaze”, “candy glaze”, “lac resin”, “wax” or “shellac wax”.

Shellac is actually the sticky secretion from East Asian lac insects.
The secretions are heated, refined and approved for use on foods. Shellac is most often used on fruits, vegetables, candy and pills.

shellac wax

What is Shellac?

Define Shellac

what is shellac

Shellac is the shiny coating often found on fruits, vegetables, small candies, pills and capsules.
Since it is the natural secretion of the lac bug, it also appears on organic fruits and vegetables… but is not always labeled. This sticky lacquer is considered to be safe for consumption and vegetarian, but not vegan.

What’s the purpose of shellac?
Just like it does with wood, this sticky lacquer preserves products from shrinkage and decomposition [1], thus extending the shelf life of the product when it is used.

How to tell if shellac has been used on a product?
On produce you may see a note stating “coated with shellac based wax to maintain freshness”, or you may have to look for a shine or feel for a coating on the surface. Notice that the apple on the left has a shellac coating while the apple on the right does not.

So, what can you do?
If you find the whole thing icky, you’re not alone. Look for uncoated produce or items that have been instead coated with organic beeswax. For candy, you may need to get out some reading glasses and check the ingredient labels. As for pills and capsules, you might be stuck unless you want to go back to using liquids.

It’s actually hard to find some fruits without shellac, for instance apples.
The skin of uncoated apples will begin to shrivel and the flesh will begin to soften far quicker than their coated cousins. Most apples on display at grocery stores are actually many months old. Shellac makes them look fresh for months.

Bobbing for apples? Shellac makes apples slippery and even harder to trap.

What is Shellac?

Additional Information

Another common question with food labels is about natural flavors.

Other labels you may find interesting and/or deceiving can be viewed on our how to read labels post.

To find out how long other foods are good for, please visit the Dairy, Drinks, Fruits, Grains, Proteins, Vegetables and Other sections of Eat By Date or use the search function below.

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