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 http://www.vrg.org/ingredients/index.php
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.