Sugar Confectionery is something everyone would drool for. But for all we know, there may be more than sugar to these sweet treats. One such interesting characteristic to note is that glossy look which it projects. This shiny coating isn’t a natural look to those sugary celebrations. Candies are coated in confectioners glaze to gain a lustrous attractive look on the outside. Although these ephemeral pleasures may be delicious on their own, manufacturers believe that a shiny glaze would make them a lot better. Most of the candies we come across in our daily market are glazed with various confectionery glaze depending upon the manufacturer.
BEETLE INTO THE BATTLE
All the doubts about confectioners glaze, lead to one talk of the table question – “Are candies coated with insect juice?” People are a lot worried about their candies soaked in insect secretions. Even though this isn’t completely true, But YES! Insects aren’t directly used in candies as it is said, but cocoon like substance secreted by a particular small beetle is used as a raw material for confectioners glaze. Using insect wax for confectionery coating isn’t like today’s modern adulteration, the history goes back to around 1550, and has been used even before (Adams, 1992).
Shellac is a resin like substance that is secreted by a female lac bug known as Kerria lacca or Laccifer lacca. The bug secretes a wax imitating substance in the bark of trees to form tunnel like structures. The shellac is scratched from the trees to be used as a raw material for a number of products including pharmaceutical glaze, varnishes and certain paints to add a glossy layer. Though it sounds simple, one would require 50,000 to 2,00,000 lac bugs to produce one kg of shellac (Adams, 1992). One of the major producers of shellac is Thailand, next to India. India is at the top of the list, as it has been producing 70% of the world’s shellac. The largest contributions come from Jharkhand, followed by Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Maharashtra. Shellac can have a colour range from Platina (very light blonde) to Garnet (very dark brown). Most of the manufacturers use shellac for its sheen and also to preserve their shelf life for at least a year. It also helps to protect the candies from moisture and oxygen, so that their fats do not break down, which leads to the development of off-flavors.
As we know that every coin has both sides, shellac too has its own merits and demerits. Besides, shellac is used as a glaze for various types of foods and the coating is labeled as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the US FDA, 2013. Shellac is the most convenient and trusted method of glazing our confectioneries. Since shellac is an alcohol based coating, there are also certain risks for the factories as well as the workers. Even though the alternatives have their own advantages, some can be costly and methods to manufacture them are not easily accessible.
Confectioner’s glaze probably contains 20- 51% of shellac. The glaze used for candies can contain around 35% of shellac. Shellac may be widely in use, but there are exceptional candy manufacturers who avoid shellac, like M&M’s and Skittles. You can always check for the presence of shellac in the packaging. It goes by E904 in the ingredients list.
KEEP CALM AND SAY ZEIN
If you’re a vegan or somebody who hates having insect wax in your food, you are probably panicking by now. All confectioneries aren’t coated with shellac. Leading brands also use ‘ ZEIN ’, a class of prolamin protein found in corn. Basically, Zein is a powder that is obtained from gluten meal (Lawton, 2002). It is a clear, odorless, tasteless plant protein with a wide range of applications in the food industry. It competes with shellac, as this is also widely used by many well-known brands. Unlike shellac, Zein has nothing to be investigated rather than its variable protein structures.
SHOUT OUT FOR VEGANS
For those vegans who are still worried about the insects hiding inside your sweet companions, don’t worry, they are still trustworthy. And the world is concerned about your interests. In the early 1990s, Krochta and other researchers had experimented with edible films using sugars and casein (milk’s major protein). They faced a lot of issues while experimenting with it and finally found a solution which made them possible to recreate all the properties of shellac. They even patented their invention in 1996 (Borrel, 2009). Even now researchers are working on to make an improved version of these films that could be used to seal the sliced vegetables which would be dissolved during cooking. Therefore, the Scientists are at your rescue. Hence, usage of shellac is radically decreasing in today’s market.
Of course, just because shellac is no longer an ingredient doesn’t guarantee that Indian—or any other—chocolate will be insect-free, says forensic entomologist Richard Merritt.
At the end of the day, shellac isn’t dangerous, just like our candies. Still, it is our right to know what we eat. If you still frown at the thought of having a glimpse of insect wax over your tongue, there are manufacturers to get your back. The M&M’s, Dots, Nerds, Skittles, Twizzlers, SweetTarts and many other confectioneries have come without shellac. So, drop your worries and pop in a candy to enjoy another quick sugary delicious product.
1. ”FDA” Inactive Ingredients Database.” US Food and Drug Administration. August, 2013.
2. Borrel, B. (2009). Chocolatiers Look at Ways to Take Bug-Based Varnish off Candy.
3. Adams, C. (1992). ”The Straight Dope: Is some candy coated with beetle juice?”
4. Lawton, J. W. (2002). Zein: A history of processing and use. Cereal Chemistry, 79(1), 1-18.
About the Authors
Dr. P. Karthik, S. Narmadha & S.R. Denikaa
Department of Food Technology,
Faculty of Engineering,
Karpagam Academy of Higher Education,
(Deemed to be University),
Coimbatore – 641021, India.
Email ID: email@example.com