A vegetarian friend informed us that the shiny glaze on chocolates was made from an animal product called shellac. We didn’t have a clue that it was made from insects at the time. However, we did notice how often we came across this peculiar ingredient in our food and dug deeper into this matter. We discovered that shellac is also used as a wax coat for apples and citrus fruits, because their natural wax come off during the process of cleaning and shellac is used to replace that. Crazy, right? And all this while we thought fruits and vegetables were safe!
So, what exactly is shellac?
It’s a resin secreted by the female lac bug on host trees in Asia. The lac bugs suck up the sap of the bark and discharge it onto the tree branch. This discharge forms a hard shell-like crust covering over the twigs and insects. The crusts are then scraped off and further refined.
The colour is influenced by the sap of the tree and by the time of harvest. It can yield in many shades of yellow, orange, red and brown. They are often sold as dry flakes, which can be dissolved in ethanol to make liquid shellac. This is the form known to us as a brush-on colorant, food glaze and wood finish.
It takes 50.000 to 300.000 lac bugs to produce 1 kilogram of shellac. India is the biggest producer and is good for an approximately of 20.000 tons a year. But it’s also produced on a smaller scale in other Asian countries like Thailand, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and China.
Shellac is commonly used in:
- chocolate and candies
- fruits like apples, oranges and lemons (as a wax coating)
- medicine and supplements
- musical instruments like pianos, violins and guitars
- nail polishes
However, shellac is also labelled as:
- Confectioner’s glaze
- Resinous glaze
- Gum lac
- Zein, a corn protein