Wax Coating Apple Fruits-Healthy or Unhealthy

by Joshua Arimi on April 13, 2010

wax coated apple fruit

Introduction
I received a very important question from one of the readers of this website (Arimifoods.com). I would like to answer it in this article.

The reader was concerned whether the coating on apples is good for health or has negative effects.

To start with, the coating of foods especially fruits is a very old practice. Apple fruits have been coated for many years and the practice will continue in the foreseeable future. Coating of apples is carried out by applying a thin layer of wax on the surface. The coating process can be carried out by either dipping, brushing or spraying with wax. This coating is normally referred to as edible coating. An edible coating is a thin layer that is applied on the surface of a fruit or vegetables which is consumed together with the fruit. Edible coatings are considered to be safe for human consumption. Therefore, these coatings are expected to be consumed together with the fruits. The same way the sausages are consumed with their casing.

However, it should be noted that there could be unscrupulous producers who would coat apples with petroleum-based waxes. The type of waxes applied on fruits are supposed to enforced by the state. For example, in USA, Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) oversees all the waxes that are supposed to be used. Whereas  Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBs ) is the responsible body in Kenya.

Why coat apple fruits
There are several reasons for coating apples. The main reasons are either for preservation, aesthetic (appearance) or the obvious one of replacing the natural wax.

The apples, naturally have a natural wax coating on their surface. This natural wax coating helps to protect the apple fruit from shriveling and weight loss. However, prior to packaging of the apple fruits, they are washed by scrubbing the surface to remove dirt and chemical residues (if they are not organic). This scrubbing removes approximately 50% of the natural wax coating.

To replace the natural wax coating, processors apply other recommended waxes on the surface of apples. The waxes applied on apples can  either be animal wax, vegetable wax or mineral and synthetic wax. After applying wax, the fruits assumes glossy and firm appearance which is considered as an important quality in apples.

The distributors and sellers of apples can apply wax to improve appearance and increase visual freshness. This is very common practice especially in supermarkets.

The most common wax used on apples is a vegetable wax called canauba wax or shellac.

Other reasons for waxing/coating apples
The apples are waxed to reduce loss of water hence  ameliorating weight loss.

Preventing the loss of water in apples also helps to maintain firmness and juiceness. If apples lose water through respiration and transpiration they lose the desirable characteristic crispy texture, shrink and become hard.

Sometimes, apples have to be transported over long distances to the intended markets. During transport it is important to slow ripening. Wax coat can be applied on the apples surface to slow the ripening process.

Disadvantages of waxing apples
Waxing apples can have some negative effects on the apple fruit. One of the effect is anaerobic respiration that can occur in the fruits since the wax may act as oxygen barrier.

The wax can be used to disguise the quality of apples. Waxed apples may look glossy, sleek, shiny, firm and appealing , but they could be soggy and lacking the desirable crispy texture.

Ways to know if apple is coated with wax

Normally if you pick an apple from a tree and rub it with your hands, it leaves whitish kind of powder on your palms. This is the natural wax on the surface. Similarly waxed apples if scratched slightly it is possible to notice a very thin layer peeling off. Most likely this is added wax.

If an apple fruit looks very glossy and shiny it should be a suspect.

Ways to minimise likely-hood of buying waxed apples

The natural waxes applied on apples are not known to have any negative effect on health. However, for some personal reasons you may feel it is good to eat unwaxed apples. I would suggest simple ways to reduce the chances of buying waxed apples.
1.Grow your own (and after harvesting do not wax them).
2.Buy apple fruits from markets in locality where apples are grown. There are high chances that the farmers have not waxed their fruits after harvesting.
3.Buy the dull apples. However, this is not a guarantee that they are not waxed.

4. Check the label and buy unwaxed apples.

Ways of cleaning waxed apples
Obviously, it is a good practice to clean apples before eating. I would suggest cleaning with lukewarm water. Just clean them thoroughly to remove any surface wax. This would also help remove any dirt and chemical residues on the surface.

It is not advisable to use detergents even food grade types on porous fruits like apples.

Vinegar (acetic acid) can also do. Use a paper towel with a bit of vinegar to wipe the fruit before washing. Using vinegar wipes away the wax.

The other obvious way to ensure you do not consume the wax on the surface of apples is to remove the entire peel . This can be done by using either a fruit peeler or a knife. This comes at a cost since many people like the tartness and crispiness of the peel.

Conclusion
Waxes used on apples are at the moment considered as safe for human consumption. However, governments are supposed to enforce strict measures to ensure some petroleum-based waxes are not used. The producers are also required to indicate on the label if additional wax has been used to coat the fruit.

To be on the safe side as a consumer, thoroughly clean the apple fruit before enjoying the tartness and crispiness of the apple.

Glossary
Animal waxes: Bees wax, Spermaceti wax, Shellac wax and Chinese insect wax
Vegetable Waxes: Carnauba wax, Candelilla wax,. Sugarcane wax,. Palm wax, Esparto wax
Mineral and synthetic waxes: Ozocerite and Montan wax,
Other Fruits that maybe waxed: Avocadoes, Lemons, Grapes, Bananas, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Melons,Oranges, Lime, Passion fruits and Peaches

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