What is that Wax on my Produce?

When researching What is the Best Way to Clean Produce? (click here to read), I found a website selling a fruit cleaning spray. The spokesperson said,

 “at least 85% of most commercially grown produce is waxed. There is a plethora of things that are trapped under the surface from dirt to contaminants, microbes, things that you pretty much wouldn’t want to ingest”

 but before I clicked on the ‘buy’ button, I did some more digging. Other information I found actually reported the benefits of wax. Here is a sample:

According to Auburn University Professor of Horticulture, Dr. Joe Kemble: Apples, plums, pears and other fruits produce their own natural wax.This natural wax helps the fruit to resist moisture loss, keeps the fruit firm, protects from mold and is a natural preservative as well as a physical barrier to prevent microorganisms from entering the fruit.

So, what is that White Stuff on My Fruit?

white wax build-up (bloom) on an organic Red Plum

Wax Bloom on an Organic Red Plum

That is wax. But more visible wax doesn’t mean more wax. As it turns out, added wax can appear white if the fruit has been exposed to high humidity or heat, allowing moisture to crack the coating of the wax.

Plums have a more notable natural waxy ‘bloom’ than pears or apples. They don’t have more natural wax but rather a wax of a different composition and appearance.

If you see white build-up on organic produce like apples, pears, citrus, pomegranate or some vegetables, it could be kaolin clay. This is a clay mineral, which has many uses: paper, toothpaste, porcelain, cosmetics and in organic farming as a spray applied to crops to deter insect damage and prevent sunscald in apples. Kaolin clay is generally regarded as safe and has a long history of use.

What is Natural Wax?

Natural fruit wax is made up of up to 50 different chemicals. One of the main chemicals is a compound called Ursolic acid, which is capable of inhibiting various cancer cells. Waxes are not broken down in our digestive system and will pass through our bodies without being absorbed.

When harvest fruit is washed to remove dirt, some natural wax is also removed. After being washed, a wax is then applied, but in a much smaller quantity then the original natural wax. About 1-2 drops are applied thinly and evenly within a water mix.

What is Wax is Added After Cleaning?

Food grade wax added to produce comes from a variety of sources. Some of them are natural like carnauba (from Brazilian carnauba palm leaves) or shellac (a natural insect wax).

Not-so-natural waxes can also be used. These would be mineral oil, petrolatum and paraffin that are regulated as food additives under the Food & Drug Act and Regulations. Collectively these waxes are referred to as “food grade wax”.

Petrolatum is also used in cosmetics and is commonly known as petroleum jelly. There does seem to be concern with cosmetic use of this product as it can be contaminated with PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons). I wasn’t able to find similar concerns for its use as a wax coating on produce.

How Much Fruit is Waxed?

As I previously mentioned, the spokesperson for vegetable rinse said “at least 85% of most commercially grown produce is waxed”. Having grown up in a second-generation produce-selling family…I know my produce, as does my brother who is still in the business. We both agreed, 85% seems way to high. I did a bit more digging.

According to the Canadian Produce Marketing Association, the 24 fruits and vegetables listed below may have protective edible coatings and waxes.

 

  • Apple
  • Avocado
  • Cherry
  • Grapefruit
  • Lemon
  • Lime
  • Melon
  • Nectarine
  • Orange
  • Passion Fruit
  • Lychee Fruit
  • Peach

 

 

  • Pear
  • Pineapple
  • Bell Pepper
  • Field Cucumber
  • Eggplant
  • Parsnip
  • Pumpkin
  • Rutabaga
  • Squash
  • Sweet Potato
  • Tomato
  • Yucca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have a book on my bookshelf called Dr. Richter’s Fresh Produce Guide. It was a gift from a friend and I used it in my private practice to look up various fruits and vegetables clients would tell me they eat, or to show pictures to my clients of items I recommended they try. This book doesn’t have every fruit and vegetable in it, as I had the experience of not being able to find something in it. It lists 300 fruits and vegetables, let’s just say, that is a complete list. With 24 fruits and vegetables that have wax coatings out of 300, that’s 8% of produce.

I think it’s clear that 85% is indeed too high. I suspect I can file that bit of information under the title of ‘fear-mongering’ in order to entice visitors to the website to buy more vegetable wash spray.

Removing Wax

Whether the white build up is natural wax, food grade wax from natural or synthetic sources or organic kaolin clay solution, the health risks from its application on produce appear minimal. However, it is still recommended to wash your produce before eating. Not only will this remove wax, but also dirt, bacteria, mold spores and pesticide residue.

As I wrote in What is the Best Way to Clean Produce? (click here to read), wax can be removed by rubbing produce with a cloth (or sleeve), washing with water alone or washing with a solution of 3:1 water and vinegar.

Enjoy the delicious and healthy summer harvest without fear!

 

 

 

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