Apples are one of the two most popular fruits available in the United States. There’s that old adage “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” and that may have people eating apples more or it may just be the flavor, availability, and convenience.
Fresh apples are one of my favorite parts of my favorite season – fall. While I don’t always look specifically for organic apples, I have wondered what exactly is that waxy coating on apples and do organic apples have wax too?
Do apples produce natural wax?
Apples and other fruits such as pears and plums produce natural waxes for several reasons.
- To preserve themselves from losing water weight
- To resist drying out
- To enhance firmness
- To slow degradation
- To create a barrier from microorganisms
Apples are made up of 84% water, so if they do not have this protective wax, the fruit can easily become dehydrated and degrade in quality.
Why is wax added to apples?
When apples are washed after harvesting, most of the natural wax is removed during the process. Apple producers sometimes add wax to the fruit to help retain moisture, as well as provide it protection during transportation and storage.
According to USApple, 1 pound of wax can cover as many as 160,000 pieces of fruit!
What is the wax made from?
There are several different types of waxes that are added to apples. These include shellac, beeswax, candelilla wax, carnauba wax, and wood rosin. All of these waxes are food grade and considered safe for humans.
- Shellac – Produced by secretions of the female lac bug in India and Thailand. Shellac is also used to coat candy and time-released pills, as well as citrus fruits.
- Beeswax – Produced by worker bees and is found in cosmetics, skin care products, pharmaceuticals, and coating foods like cheese.
- Candelilla wax – Derived from the leaves of the Candelilla shrub, native to Northern Mexico and Southwest United States. Candelilla wax is also found in chewing gum, lotion bars, and lip balm.
- Carnauba wax – Derived from the Carnauba palm tree grown in Northeastern Brazil. The wax is beaten from the leaves of the palm and then refined. Carnauba wax is hypoallergenic and is used in several cosmetic products, as well as the coating on pharmaceutical tablets.
- Wood rosin – Extracted from old pine tree stumps. Wood rosin is also used in pharmaceuticals and can be used to make rosin potatoes.
Fun fact: Humans are not equipped to digest wax. It simply passes through our digestive system untouched.
Do organic apples have a wax coating?
Apple growers can choose whether or not to use wax on their apples. Some organic growers do not use any wax, while others do.
Aside from looking into the apple producer’s practices, you will be able to tell if there is wax on an apple by running your fingernail against the apple skin. Any wax that ends up under your fingernail is a sure sign that the apples are coated in wax.
Of course, there are other ways to find information on what waxes, if any, are used. If you buy a pre-packaged bag of apples, for instance, check the back of the bag for a disclaimer like this one on my non-organic apples:
Certified organic apples can only be waxed with carnauba wax or wood rosin. The USDA does not allow certified organic apples to be waxed with any of the other waxes available to non-organic apples.
Are these waxes organic?
Both carnauba wax and wood rosin are naturally derived from plants, but these waxes are not organic themselves.
According to the Guidelines and Acceptable Postharvest Practices for Organically Grown Produce, apples (and other fruits) can be certified USDA Organic if they are made up of 95% organic ingredients and processing aids. The remaining 5% or less of non-organic ingredients or processing aids (such as wax) must comply with the National List of non-agricultural or non-organically produced agricultural products.
Carnauba wax and wood rosin are the only two waxes on the National List that can be used on fruit.
How do you remove the wax from apples?
Removing the wax off of an apple – organic or not – is a simple task. The wax can be removed with any of the following methods:
- Washing and scrubbing with a produce scrub brush
- Rinsing with lemon juice
- Rinsing with baking soda
- Peeling the skin off of the apple
Is it safe to eat an apple without removing the wax?
The USDA classifies carnauba wax and wood rosin as safe to consume. If your apple has a sticker or seal with the USDA Organic seal, it has to be coated with one of these two waxes, or no wax at all.
If you are concerned about consuming the wax, you can use any of the methods listed above to remove wax from your apple, or you can test the apple skin with your fingernails to make sure the apple you’re eating is not waxed to begin with.
Additionally, any apple marked as 100% Organic will not have wax, as the 100% Organic seal is only used if 100% of ingredients and processing aids are organic, which would disqualify fruit wax.