Apples are a tasty snack and they fill you up too! Have you ever noticed that shiny, wax coating on apples at the supermarket? If so, you might have wondered what it’s made of and whether that shiny stuff is safe to eat.
No wonder you’re concerned! It seems like so much of our food is altered these days. Even food that comes directly from the ground, unless grown organically, is tainted with pesticides. I think we should limit exposure to stuff that offers no nutritional value, especially chemicals that are potentially harmful if you accumulate enough of them.
What’s That Wax Coating Made Of?
First, be aware that an apple can have a natural wax coating, one that wasn’t placed by man (or woman). Some fruits, including apples, make their own coating to protect themselves against the environment and help them hold on to moisture. This natural, protective coating contains a compound called ursolic acid.
A study showed that ursolic acid, at doses higher than you’ll find on an apple, helps reduce inflammation and may improve metabolic health and help boost muscle growth. You even actually buy ursolic supplements. A downside is that high doses are linked with infertility in males. You won’t get enough of it to make a difference when you eat an apple, so I wouldn’t get too excited.
Apples Can Have a Synthetic Coating Too
Food producers sometimes also place an additional wax coating on apples before they appear on store shelves. They do this to keep the apple fresh as wax reduces water loss. The wax they use made be made from natural, plant-based ingredients or food grade shellac, derived from the lac beetle.
One popular commercial wax, carnauba wax, comes from the leaves of the carnauba palm. Beeswax is another popular alternative. These commercial waxes are deemed to be safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are approved for use on food.
Some food producers use a synthetic form of wax on apples, usually a proprietary formula. Unfortunately, this wax is petroleum-based and made of ingredients your body doesn’t recognize. Don’t know about you but I think we get exposed to enough petroleum products without getting more when you bite into an apple.
Organic Apples and Wax
If you’re concerned about what type of wax is on your apple, buy organic. Certified organic apples cannot be treated with synthetic, petroleum-based wax. So, one way to avoid petroleum products is to not buy conventionally grown apples.
Can You Remove the Wax Coating on Apples?
If you don’t want to pay extra for organic and want to get that wax coating off, you can do it with a dilute mixture of vinegar and baking soda. Simply add one tablespoon of vinegar and a tablespoon of baking soda to a cup of water. It helps to use a soft brush to lightly scrub the surface of the apple to remove the wax.
You probably won’t remove ALL of the wax but it helps. Personally, I think it’s easier to pay a little more and buy organic, especially when apples are one of the “dirty dozen,” the 12 most heavily sprayed types of produce.
Peel It or Not?
Of course, you can also peel the apple before eating it, but you’ll miss out on fiber and antioxidants. Surprisingly, there’s actually more fiber and antioxidants in the peel of an apple than in the fruit underneath. Some of these antioxidants are phenols and flavonoids that help protect cells against free-radical damage and keep inflammation in check.
Other chemicals called triterpenoids also potentially have anti-cancer properties. The peel also contains vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. That’s why it’s best to eat the whole apple, peel and all.
Another hidden treasure in apple peel is pectin, a fiber-like material that helps lower blood sugar and cholesterol. Apples are an abundant source of soluble and insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber is the type that lowers cholesterol, while insoluble fiber helps reduce constipation. That old saying about an apple a day is true. Apples are packed with nutrition and health benefits.
Although apples contain natural sugar, the fiber and pectin make them a blood-sugar friendly fruit in moderation. Better to munch on a whole apple than drink apple juice or eat applesauce. Processed apples contain less fiber to prevent rapid rises in blood sugar.
The Bottom Line
If you’re unsure whether an apple has a synthetic, petroleum-based coating, stick with organic. Also, be aware that other fruits and vegetables may have a synthetic wax coating, including eggplant, bell peppers, cucumbers, oranges, and potatoes, and choose accordingly.
How about you? Do you buy organic or conventional apples and why?
Nutr J. 2004; 3: 5. Published online 2004 May 12. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-3-5
World’s Healthiest Foods. “Wax Coating on Fruits and Vegetables”
Anal Bioanal Chem. 2003 Jul;376(5):659-67. Epub 2003 Jun 11.
Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry
July 2003, Volume 376, Issue 5, pp 659–667