Your Chocolate-Covered Treats Could Be Covered in Bug Secretions—Here's What You Need to Know
Flip around the label to peep at the ingredient list on candy corn, Whoppers, Milk Duds, Jelly Belly jelly beans, Raisinets or Goobers and you'll see sugar in some form, of course, some colors and some synonym of food-grade shellac, which also goes by the name pharmaceutical glaze, resinous glaze or confectioners' glaze.
This low-on-the-list ingredient is used in small quantities but plays a big role in these products—extending their life and creating an eye-catching sheen. Besides the aforementioned candies, it's also sometimes used to coat some fruits (like apples), coffee beans, pill tablets and gum.
Another nickname for this ingredient is "beetle juice." That's because it's made with bug secretions. The glaze is derived from stick lac, a resin harvested from the branches of trees after a small insect feeds on the tree sap then creates a hard, water-repellent cocoon to protect her almost-ready-to-hatch eggs. These branches are crushed, washed and strained through a sieve to purify the resin—which at this point likely includes pieces of insects that were also on the tree.
Yep, we know it sounds kind of gross, but it's actually completely A-OK to eat, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. This shellac polish has been tested time and time again by the FDA and is considered an inactive ingredient or a nonnutritive substance and is labeled as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) for use in all of the above edible items. In fact, it can be super-helpful in things like tablets that work best in a time-released or delayed-action way because the polish is insoluble in stomach acid.
So if you enjoy those candies or see a shiny coating on your apple snack, no need to shelf these foods —unless you're following a strict vegan diet. Since the glaze likely includes bugs, it's not vegan-friendly. Instead, seek out goodies coated with zein, a corn-based vegan glaze, or keep your eyes peeled for shellac-free foods. While they do contain dairy, M&M's don't contain this ingredient. For a fully vegan find, try Hu Kitchen's Chocolate-Covered Hunks ($40 for six 4-ounce bags, hukitchen.com) which boast no resinous glaze.