Keeping produce fresh and eye-catching is essential for a high-yielding agricultural business. One of the best low-cost, food safe options in the industry are food grade wax for postharvest: edible coatings that protect fruits and vegetables from moisture and spoiling. This also gives your product a glossy and appetizing shine. The wax works by sealing in moisture and blocking off oxygen, preventing oxidation and rot.
You might be asking, are all food grade wax options safe or effective? Which edible coatings are best for which types of produce postharvest? What are the pros and cons of each type? We take a closer look at the different types of food grade wax for your post-harvest needs.
This type of wax is an industry standard, found across many types of produce. It is also found as coating on wax boxes to hold food grade items. Paraffin wax is made of synthetic resins mixed with vegetable oils, and is a popular coating especially for fruits such as apples, pears, pomegranate, passionfruit and more. It is also applied to hard cheeses – and may sometimes be called “cheese wax.”
Unfortunately, paraffin is a petroleum-based wax – the “synthetic resins” are sourced from coal or oil shale. Though it is considered safe to eat, and is not connected to any known harms to the body, it is not a considered a wax that can be used on organic produce. Because it is petroleum based, it can also be a comparatively expensive option.
The main ingredient and name of this type of coating makes it seem like a more natural, environmentally friendly and safer wax alternative— and in many ways it is. Beeswax food grade wax coatings are often mixed with other types of vegetable oils— like sunflower or coconut oil— to be most effective. They are perfectly edible, and may even have some health benefits when consumed.
That said, beeswax may be a much more expensive and novel food coating. It may not give the low-cost ROI for larger growers or producers. It may also pose a challenge for those avoiding the consumption of animal products entirely, something they would not expect to encounter buying fresh fruit or vegetables. Beeswax is nevertheless an effective coating for fruits like strawberries and stone fruit, and particularly effective at preventing molds and fungus.
There is no lack of gluten in the food industry with which to make an effective edible food coating wax. This makes gluten wax a low-cost and reasonably effective food grade wax option. There are many different types that have been developed and tested for the market over the years— studies show some are very effective, while other types of food films may have a negative impact. Gluten wax may effect texture, appearance and taste for the consumer even if they are effective at lengthening shelf life in produce like strawberries.
Another downside: food allergies. Celiac disease and gluten intolerance is becoming more and more prevalent in today’s market. While gluten wax does the trick, it may pose health hazards to those buying fresh fruits that have these conditions because most produce companies tend not to disclose the ingredients of produce food waxes on labels.
Soy protein wax
Not far from gluten wax coatings, soy protein, food grade wax has a high level of versatility, is low cost to produce and procure and was shown in one study to be the most effective of all-natural plant-based waxes— second only to pectin and gluten coatings. Soy protein showed a wider range of food coating ability, beyond tropical fruits and citrus, even helping protect cured meats.
Although it poses far less of a threat to health than gluten to the public, many consumers also have soy allergies. Unlike gluten wax, soy protein wax has no effect on taste or appearance when eaten or applied to foods. Grouped together, plant-based food coatings like soy protein and gluten are shown to have overall less preservation potential compared to other, more proven effective food grade wax options.
Pectin is principally used to help preserve jams and jellies, but it too can make an effective edible food coating. Pectin is generally very low-cost and proven to be food safe. It is also a low hazard to the body as it is a by-product of the citrus fruits from which it is made.
Compared to other plant-based, food grade wax options like soy protein and gluten, pectin shows a better capability at preventing moisture loss and thus overall loss of mass-coated produce. It’s known to be used on strawberries, apples and berries such as currants throughout the industry. Although not shown to be the most superior option, pectin is still considered a good one.
Despite the name making one think of chemical varnish or finishing products, food grade shellac as an edible coating for produce is an entirely different substance. Shellac as a food grade wax option is safe for adults to consume, though it is not recommended for infants and young children. An interesting fact: it is made from removing the cocoon residue of a specific species of insect (Kerria Lacca) from the branches of trees.
Compared to plant-based options, shellac is highly effective at preserving a wide range of fruits, produce and even nuts from oxidation and spoilage such as mangoes, avocados, citrus, pineapples, melons and many others. However, shellac might not sound like the most appetizing or safe option, and its animal-based ingredients — even if passively sourced from an animal without harming it — could dismay some consumers.
Carnauba based coatings
Plant-based, sustainable and extracted from plant sources (without directly harming or impacting plant populations), carnauba-based edible coatings and food grade waxes are considered some of the best in the industry on all counts. It is effective, environmentally friendly and poses no harm or toxicity to health.
Carnauba is extracted from the carnauba palm by shaking natural protective resins from its leaves. It protects all kinds of fruits, vegetables, hard cheeses and even more food products, and reduces fungi and stops mold from growing. Carnauba is considered one of the highest industry standards for food grade wax, and is low-cost compared to other options.
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