The Vegetarian Resource Group Blog

Q & A on Shellac

Posted on November 30, 2010 by The VRG Blog Editor

by Jeanne Yacoubou, MS
VRG Research Director

This is in response to questions readers asked The Vegetarian Resource Group:

Q: What is shellac?

A: Shellac is a coating or glaze derived from the hardened, resinous material secreted by the lac insect, much like honey from a bee. Shellac in its raw form, known as “lac resin,” along with lac wax and lac dye, is produced in Southeast Asia. India is the largest producer in the world, yielding 18,000 metric tons of unrefined lac resin annually. Approximately 85% of India’s crop is exported, mostly to European countries, Egypt, and the United States.

According to an article by Ramesh Singh, Department of Zoology at Udai Pratap Autonomous College in India, 300,000 lac insects are killed for every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of lac resin produced. Approximately 25% of all unrefined, harvested lac resin is composed of “insect debris” and other impurities according to the Shellac Export Promotion Council. The cost of shellac varies according to climatic effects on harvest. An employee of a shellac company told us that due to 2010’s crop failures, the price of lac resin has doubled to approximately $15/kg.

Shellac has GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) which means that it is generally recognized as safe in foods. If used as a fruit or vegetable coating, it may be labeled as lac resin or as shellac. It is also approved for use in products certified as organic by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Shellac, in one or more of its various forms, (e.g., bleached, dewaxed, etc.), may be found in a wide variety of products including furniture polish and varnish; aluminum foil coating; paper coating; hairspray, shampoos, perfume, mascara and lipstick; printing inks and paints; pharmaceutical tablets; and agricultural fertilizer (slow-release coating for urea). Readers may note that all forms of shellac, (even “orange shellac” or “lemon shellac” which may connote non-animal origins), are derived from lac resin.

Confectioner’s glaze, the name often used for shellac by candy makers, is composed of approximately 35% shellac (purified lac resin). The rest are volatile organic compounds which evaporate off during manufacture.

In foods, shellac is most commonly used as a coating or glaze on confections, chewing gum, fruit, and coffee beans. Lac dye, red like carmine, (another insect product), may be used as a coloring in foods and beverages.

Q: Which candies are coated with shellac?

A: As a general rule, any hard-coated, shiny candy contains a shellac coating or glaze (M&Ms™ is one notable exception.) Shellac may appear on the label under different names. The two most common ones in use today are “resinous glaze” or “confectioner’s glaze.” In general, all Easter candy (eggs and jelly beans) are coated. Halloween candy (candy corn) is as well.

The VRG contacted many candy manufacturers about shellac. There are many who use it, even on candies that you may not suspect to be coated with it. Below is a partial list. Subscribe to our free email newsletter updates on shellac and other food ingredients. Coming soon: shellac alternatives.

For more information on ingredients, see

Confections Containing Shellac

• Hershey’s Whopper’s Malted Milk Balls™
• Hershey’s Milk Duds™
• Nestle’s Raisinettes™
• Nestle’s Goober’s™
• Tootsie Roll Industry’s Junior Mints™ (NOT Tootsie Rolls)
• Tootsie Roll Industry’s Sugar Babies™
• Jelly Belly™ jelly beans, mint crèmes
• Godiva’s™ Dark Chocolate Almond Bar; Dark Chocolate Cherries; Milk Chocolate Cashews; White Chocolate Pearls; Milk Chocolate Pearls. (This is a partial list; consult with Godiva about specific items.)
• Gertrude Hawk’s™ chocolate-covered nuts and raisins; cupcake sprinkles; decorative cake pieces
• Russell Stover’s™ jelly beans; NOT in their chocolate-covered cherries or mint patties
• Skittles™ and Starburst™: no shellac, but they do contain gelatin (an animal-derived ingredient)

The contents of this entry and our other publications, including web information, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on company statements for product and ingredient information. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, information can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your own best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research on your own.

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16 to “Q & A on Shellac”

  1. Alan Solomon says:

    Iceland’s hot-cross buns claim to be “Vegetarian friendly” and contain shelac. I don’t consider shelac to be veggie friendly?

  2. Hi Alan:

    I didn’t know that! Are they a country-wide item or is that the name of a company? Where can you find them? Are there any other similar products?

    The phrase “vegetarian friendly” is too vague. I wish companies would stop using it!

    Jeanne Yacoubou

  3. Meg says:

    Skittles are now gelatin-free. Or at least the ones I’ve seen in the U.S. are.

  4. Greg Frieden says:

    For the record, skittles no longer contain gelatin. They haven’t for some time. It says so right under the ingredients list.

  5. iloveanimals says:

    i dont have a problem eating shellac. its made from an insect and insects are not meat. but i am so glad that almost all hershey’s products do not contain any sort of animal product. i also heard that they do not animal test while mars does. after spending forever online trying to find which of their candies are animal product free, i find that they animal test, so i dont have to worry about that anymore. bye bye mars. anyway, i am sad that skittles and starbursts contain gelatin, but i guess i can live with out. (:

  6. Marina says:

    I’m sorry to say this iloveanimals but insects ARE meat. They are from the kingdom Animalia, contain muscles (meat), and have blood (even if it is clear blood) BUGS ARE ANIMALS.

  7. Gena Dawe says:

    From my looking into it they harvest after two lifecycles of the bugs have passed and don’t kill the bugs in harvesting (unlike silk)
    I have torn feelings on this one because from what I’ve looked at they aren’t KILLING the bugs but at the same time you are still eating dead bugs and bug secretion…..the violence and unnecessary death is removed but it’s still a dead body.

  8. Art says:

    I guess if you don’t accept insects and their secretions, you’ll have to stop eating honey now too.

  9. Spencer says:

    Its nice to have a list of products that contain Shellac. Thanks for compiling. I must confess I didn’t realise that Jelly Bellys did.

  10. Kelly says:

    Thank you for the partial list of items containing shellac. It definately helps as food labels are annoying at best, as the industry is allowed to use different names for the same item.

    I recently found out that I am allergic to shellac and have been sick for several years because of it. In the last six months or so I am amazed at how much better I feel, now that I am able to cut out most of the items that have been making me sick. Barely taking allergy medications or acid reflux medication and feeling “normal” again.

    Please keep the list growing!!!

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Wish Jeanne Yacoubou, VRG’s researcher, would include allergy information in her Q & A article on “Shellac.” I am highly allergic to the carmine she mentions in the article, another insect product (ground up beetles) used to dye foods like the LePlait yogurts red. Are people sensitive to carmine also allergic to “shellac?”

  12. jessie says:

    are all jelly beans made with shellac? cuz if shellac is made with bug poop then how can they get all that bug poop if ther is millins of jelly beans? and if ther is a brand of jelly bean made without shellac could you tell me?

  13. Rose says:

    Shellac is not bug poop. It’s a secretion, just like honey isn’t bee poop, silk isn’t silkworm poop and webs aren’t spider poop. It’s a secretion they make from tree sap to make tube-like structures on trees to protect themselves.

    Vegans don’t eat honey for that very reason.

  14. Laura says:

    I’m sorry, but it’s very creative to come up with an innocuous description for a poison that is so toxic it isn’t sold anymore. It is what art teachers used to spray on those cray pas drawings we used to do, yes, I’m old enough to remember those things, to keep them from smearing, etc. It is highly toxic and when used to coat veggies like cucumbers and tomatoes, etc., it just cements the pesticides on them, so scrub all you want, it won’t come off, much less be detoxified by your body’s detoxification process. It builds up in the body and over time will over toxify it. It is a crime that the last administration’s FDA calls it ok to put on the coating of almost every prescription drug, some OTC drugs and so many foods. They’re toxifiying those who eat “clean”. There is no such a thing in this world today. Europe and other countries ban half of the poisons we allow to be poured into our bodies every day. Caramel Color, all Blue Lake #’s may as well be 666. All dyes, blues and reds, the worst. I remember when red dye #5 was taken off the market years ago, no more red M and M’s. Then back it came with a following of gazillions of even more toxic friends. Take care of yourselves, and thanks for putting this out there. Say NO to Shellac. The She lac bug’s resin – hilarious. It also comes in an easy to spray aerosol form. That bug isn’t blowing aerosols out of her butt. LOL.

  15. Thank you for sharing this information. It is good to know what we are consuming in our bodies.

  16. The VRG Blog Editor says:

    Your welcome!

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