judy came home from the store with a bag of ‘Red Delicious’ apples the other day. I can see why she bought them, 5lb of apples for just $3.99 – that’s 80 cents a pound (in UK money - 50p per pound or £1.10p per kilo). Cheap. Very cheap. Too cheap.
But here’s the thing. It says on the bag that they’re coated with shellac! SHELLAC! That’s the stuff my dad had on a shelf in the garage, in a sticky brown bottle – he used it to varnish the coffee table! No wonder those apples look shiny. It even has an E number, E904. Don't they look shiny in the picture?!
Now it so happens that judy’s reading the new Bill Bryson book, At Home, and just as we were discussing those apples she came across a passage in which Mr B discusses – shellac. Here’s what he says: “Shellac is a hard resinous secretion from the Indian lac beetle.” Yuk. “Lac beetles emerge in swarms in parts of India at certain times of the year, and their secretions make varnish that is odorless, nontoxic, brilliantly shiny, and highly resistible to scratches and fading.”
So, if you don’t fancy eating table varnish made from beetle goo, how do you get it off? Tricky, it seems. Over on the Veggie Boards, said to be the largest and most active vegetarian forum online, they discuss shellac a lot. One member says: “Shellac can't be removed with baking soda and vinegar. Denatured alcohol is the solvent used to remove shellac, but that is very toxic. Food grade alcohol might work, but I think it is better not to buy food with shellac...”
I’ve kept back the last of those apples, I’m just going to hang on to it and see how long it stays fresh under its coating of beetle goo.
But what better reason to grow your own apples or shop at the local farmers’ market?