Many apple producers, both conventional and organic, wax apples. While yes, organic apples can have wax, its use in the United States and other countries are often bound by stringent rules.
Wax Is an Ingredient
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers wax used on vegetables and fruits as an ingredient. So the waxes must meet specified requirements as per United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations to qualify as organic, notes NOSB National Database (pg. 3).
A 2006 USDA report elaborates that waxes are nonorganic ingredients. To be suitable for use in (or in this case on) organic fruits, these nonorganic ingredients must be mentioned in "the National List, and produced using processing aids from the National List (§205.605 and §205.606)". Only two waxes are allowed to be used on any organic fruit, including apples, and these are carnauba and wood rosin.
Waxes Used On Organic Apples
Both the waxes carnauba and wood rosin that can be used on organic apples come from natural plant sources.
- Carnauba wax is made from the leaves of a carnauba palm. The leaves are collected and then beaten, and the wax that is released is refined and bleached according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Carnauba wax is accepted by the USDA for organic products, notes Agricultural Marketing Society of USDA.
- Wood rosin is extracted from two pines species - "Pinus palustris (longleaf) and Pinus elliottii (slash) species." It is obtained from old pine stumps either through pulping or by a method called solvent extraction, according to a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations publication (pg. 1). Wood rosin is accepted as safe by the USDA, according to the Technical Evaluation Report created by OMRI for the USDA.
All fruits, whether organic or conventional, that have been treated with wax must provide this information on their labels, according to FDA regulation. The label must mention the specific wax or mixtures of wax used advises a Northwest Horticultural Council report (pg. 4) that was prepared based on FDA laws.
Reasons for Using Wax
Michigan State University explains that since fruits and vegetables are made of 80-95% of water, they can lose weight and quality as they dry. Fruits make their own natural wax to prevent this and to repel water and prevent spoilage elaborates Washington State University. However, most of the natural wax is lost when fruits are washed in post-harvest processing. So additional wax is added. Wax also protects fruits during transportation and storage.
Not a Requirement
Not all organic growers use a wax. Those who do use ones approved by the USDA to coat the apples. Some growers choose not to use wax.
The wax can be removed by washing and scrubbing with produce brush according to the University of Minnesota. Using baking soda or washing with lemon juice is recommended by SFGate. However, the University of Minnesota points out that using soda can spoil the flavor of the fruit. If nothing works, peeling is the last option that can be used.
Waxes Not Allowed on Organic Apples
Most of the conventional wax or resins, even if they are food-grade, are not allowed for use on apples that are certified as organic (95 to 100% organic), according to NOSB National Database (pg. 1). The ingredients not permitted on certified organic apples include:
- Petroleum derivatives
The Decision to Buy Waxed Organic Apples
Apples that are waxed are usually shinier than apples on the trees. Wax can be identified by running a fingernail down the skin. If the apple is waxed, there is wax buildup under the nail. Look at the fruit carefully and always feel it. According to the USDA, the wax types that it allows on organic produce do not pose a threat. To be sure that organic apples have only the two permitted waxes look for the certified 100% organic sticker, stamp, or seal.