You probably have food products with paraffin wax in your kitchen right now and may not realize it. Paraffin wax, which is classified as a chemical preservative, is used to make fruits, vegetables, and candy look shiny; it also helps slow down moisture loss and spoilage. Paraffin wax is used in a variety of applications, from commercially produced products to homemade foods. One of the most common uses of paraffin wax is as a wrapper on hard cheeses. You may also find it in jars of home-canned jams and jellies; however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends against the use of paraffin as a sealant.
Food-grade paraffin wax is considered edible. It is composed of vegetable oils, palm oil derivatives, and synthetic resins, plus other materials that pass through the body undigested and contain no nutritional value. Some paraffin, such as the scented variety sold for candle-making and beauty treatments, should never be ingested.
Shiny Coating for Chocolate
Paraffin wax has both cosmetic and functional purposes when used with chocolate. Adding paraffin wax to melted chocolate gives it a glossy finish when it hardens. It also helps the chocolate remain solid at room temperature. Paraffin appears as an additive in some brands of candy bars to keep them from melting in your hand. It is also the main ingredient in chocolate coatings such as those found on ice cream or chocolate-dipped cookies.
Recipes for treats that are popular during the holiday season might call for paraffin wax as well, such as chocolate-covered cherry mice, ideal for Halloween as well as Christmas.
Shiny Preservative for Fruits
Paraffin wax may be sprayed on fruits and vegetables to add shine and make them more appealing. It also helps extend the shelf life by retaining moisture. Some fruits, such as apples, produce a natural wax, which can easily be washed away with water and a little gentle rubbing; additional synthetic wax sometimes augments this natural coating, making it more difficult to remove. Generally, a quick soak in vinegar or lemon juice-enhanced water makes it easier to wipe the wax away.
Organic fruit producers cannot use petroleum-based wax on their product. They can, however, use some forms of naturally derived wax, such as carnauba, and still be compliant with the organic designation.
Paraffin wax shows up in some surprising places, like sausages, and is used to coat cured sausage links to give them luster. Maybe not so surprising is that paraffin is part of the novelty candies shaped wax lips, mustaches, and miniature soda bottles filled with flavored liquid.
Culinary wax paper contains a coating of paraffin wax to make it water-resistant and non-stick. This is also useful for keeping food fresh when stored in the refrigerator.
Buying Paraffin Wax
Food-grade paraffin wax is also called baker's wax or canning wax. It can typically be found in the canning supplies section of most grocery stores. You can generally purchase it in blocks, liquid form, or as easy-to-measure beads. Gulf Wax is a popular brand of paraffin used for canning and making chocolate treats.
Paraffin is flammable, so if you use it at home, be sure to use caution. Warm it gently in a double-boiler or microwave it only to the point where it starts to melt.
Allergies and Sensitivities
Some people, notably those allergic to aspirin, may be sensitive to food-grade waxes. This is going to depend on the wax's ingredients, though anyone with allergies should approach the use of them carefully.