Waxes and Pesticides on Citrus Peels

Waxes and Pesticides on Citrus Peels

Lemons contain an abundance of Vitamin C, flavonoids, B vitamins, calcium, potassium and other minerals whilst the peel is said to contain a far greater proportion of these antioxidants. It also contains additional phytonutrients such as tangeretin: considered to have anti-cancerous activity (see references for sources).

Additionally, a major constituent of citrus fruits, Limonene, has demonstrated (in several studies) that it may even help to protect the body against breast cancer:    

"There is growing evidence that citrus fruit, and limonene-rich citrus essential oils could play a role in the prevention of breast cancer" (Robert Tisserand, 2015).

This quote from Robert Tisserand, is from his fascinating article, at the 'Tisserand Institute' - posted here - 'Citrus Oils and Breast Health' and he references 22 research papers with links.  

Powerful antioxidants within lemon peel are also very beneficial to the skin; cleansing it from impurities whilst stimulating healthy new cell growth. Additionally, Lemon peel also has astringent and antibacterial qualities thought to be particularly beneficial for oily, congested and acne-prone skin.

Interestingly, whilst lemons contain citric acid, when eaten, they conversely have an alkalising effect in the body; suggesting they might help to balance acidity and restore the body’s natural pH.    

Eating lemons, and the peel in particular, whether added to food or made into a beverage is clearly beneficial to the body - yet, conventionally grown lemons, and other citrus fruits, are sprayed with many herbicides and insecticides which can leach into the skins. Furthermore, the fruit skins are then frequently treated with an outer coating of wax -  effectively 'sealing in' those synthetic chemicals; aimed to protect the fruit from damage in transit; from moisture loss - to preserve the shelf life of the fruit; and also to create an aesthetic shine. 

Incidentally, fruits naturally produce a protective waxy coating on their skins but this largely wears off through harvesting and handling. This is why the skin of an 'unwaxed' organic fruit may still offer a shine when rubbed with a cloth.

Producers generally employ waxes from a range of animal, plant and synthetic substances, largely dependent upon their country of origin. 

Animal derived waxes include Chinese insect wax and also Shellac - which is the secreted waxy resin produced by the female Lac beetle which is scraped out, perhaps along with beetles, from within the bark of trees; mainly from India and Thailand. Shellac flakes are dissolved in ethanol to coat the fruit. 

Before whaling was prohibited, spermaceti wax was also widely used: an oil derived from the head cavity of a sperm whale. Beeswax is now commonly used. 

From a Vegetarian / Vegan position, how are we to know whether an animal derived wax has been used? Apparently some labels do identify the type of wax used but many are vague or simply do not specify.  

Plant derived waxes include the widely industrialised carnauba wax or 'Brazil wax'; processed from the leaves of the native Brazillian Palm tree: Copernicia cerifera (carnauba); Candelilla wax (several desert species of Euphorbia, native to the Northern states of Mexico) and also wood rosin, extracted from pine tree stumps. 

Many manufacturers however, use the cheaper petroleum based ‘mineral oil’ waxes (paraffin wax) and polyethelene to coat their fruits which holds a degree of concern, for some, who suspect that they may contain residual chemical solvents from its processing. It is also known that additional fungicides, preservatives, resins, emulsifiers and plasticisers are often added. It has also become common practise for producers to create a mixed wax coating, utilising several different waxes along with additives to obtain a high performing protective and preserving coating.

Food agencies make claims that these 'food grade' waxes are safe to consume and stress that they are used in small quantities and are indigestible anyway and so simply pass through the body. It is also apparent that various waxes are frequently added to confectionary, such as chocolate to help create a glossy appearance and so perhaps we are consuming it rather more frequently than simply eaten with our fruit.

The petroleum derived waxes with additives do cause concern for us at Nooma Organics and given that we will never include them into our skincare products, would prefer not to eat them either! It is also alarming to consider the layers of sprayed pesticides and herbicides subsequently sealed onto the skins of our fruits! The Soil Association has written an article about crop spraying, highlighting the extensive usage of 'a cocktail of chemicals' regularly applied to conventionally grown fruit. (See references below).   

Not all producers, however, choose to wax their fruits and those certified organic are NOT PERMITTED TO USE petroleum derived coatings but only certified organic waxes may be considered. The Soil Association Organic Standards of 2015 prohibit the use of any wax coatings: "You must NOT use wax coatings directly onto fruit and vegetables."

Looking for sources of specifically labelled ‘unwaxed’ Organic fruit is definitely worthwhile. 

That said, if non-organic, waxed fruit is all that is available, perhaps scrubbing the fruit skins with a little diluted vinegar; bicarbonate of soda; or a soap-nut solution - click here - may help to remove some of the wax and any pesticide residues - but they are not water soluble and so are very tricky to remove -  but ultimately it is then down to the consumer to wrestle with the dilemma: nutrients in citrus peel versus possible chemical residue and wax coating; whether to eat or dispose of the peels?


Articles /References:

Tisserand R. "Citrus Oils and Breast Health", (article at Tisserand Institute: posted August 10th 2015) Click here

Liwen Wang, Jinhan Wang, Lianying Fang, et al., “Anticancer Activities of Citrus Peel Polymethoxyflavones Related to Angiogenesis and Others,” BioMed Research International, Article ID 453972, 10 pages, 2014.  - click here

Meiyanto E1, Hermawan A, Anindyajati, “Natural products for cancer-targeted therapy: citrus flavonoids as potent chemopreventive agents”, Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention, Volume 13, Issue ,2,  2012, pp.427-436. - click here


'What are the problems with pesticides'? The Soil Association - click here

'Pesticides on a Plate' : consumer guide to pesticide issues in the food chain - Ella Sparrenius Waters 2013: Pesticide Action Network UK - available to download - click here

'Poisoned apples are not just for fairy tales..' - Greenpeace report on pesticides - click here

"Wax Facts": American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers - click here

'Fresh Facts for Industry: Protective Coatings' 2014 (Canadian Produce Marketing Association) - click here

EWG's 2015 Shopper's Guide to Pesticides in Produce™ - click here

'Wax Coating on Fruits and Vegetables' : The George Mateljan Foundation - click here

'Preservation of Fruits by Waxing' : Krishna Kotturi (2006) - click here 

USDA Technical information on Carnauba Wax with comments on other waxes - Jan 22 2014 - click here


Article written by © Na Smyth 2015 for Nooma Blog@ Nooma Organics Natural Skincare 

Photograph from Wikimedia Commons (public domain) author: Scott Bauer, USDA. 

Leave a Reply

* Name:
* E-mail: (Not Published)
   Website: (Site url withhttp://)
* Comment:
Type Code