One of our customers recently asked us if we add wax to our fruit before we sell it. Farmer Al has never added wax to our fruit. But that got us wondering why farmers would use wax in the first place. We dug around, and we learned that humans are emulating Mother Nature when they add a waxy coating to fruit for sale.
Mother Nature knows best
A tree’s mission in life is to distribute seeds so it can reproduce. To do that, a tree must produce fruit that will survive. Fruit has its own water-repellant cuticle that protects it from microbial infections. The cuticle also prevents the fruit from drying out.
The cuticle keeps the fruit healthy. When fruit is healthy and temptingly juicy, it has a better chance of catching the attention of animals who will eat it and poop out the seeds. Seeds deposited back into the earth start the growing process anew. The tree has fulfilled its mission to proliferate, and Mother Nature is happy.
Researchers are fascinated by fruit cuticles. They’ve looked at them under microscopes to understand how the cuticles work and how they impact shelf life once the fruit is picked. According to a 2019 article published in “Frontiers in Plant Science,” researchers have more to learn about fruit cuticles and how they change after the harvest. With so many fruit varieties, researchers have their work cut out for them.
Humans and their ideas
Many farmers wash their fruit to remove debris. Washing the fruit removes the natural cuticle that protects it. Humans add it back using human-made fruit waxes that inhibit moisture loss and spoilage. These waxes also make fruit look shiny and attractive to a hungry animal. Sound familiar?
What are artificial fruit waxes made of?
The leading material appears to be carnauba wax, which is derived from Brazilian palm leaves. Other sources say that waxes can be petroleum-based. We were surprised to learn that some organic fruit is also waxed before sale. The USDA’s List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances includes waxes derived from wood rosin for use on organic products.
Farmer Al’s view of fruit waxes
“We don’t wash any of our fruit before we sell it, and I don’t like the idea of waxing fruit,” Farmer Al says. “It’s my personal choice. We want to maintain the natural condition of the fruit as much as possible.”
Farmer Al finds the idea of spraying a human-made wax on fruit to be unpalatable. But there’s more to it, he says. Consider our succulent peaches – moisture damages their delicate skin and flesh. Imagine if we dunked them in a vat of water after we picked them to get them ready for waxing. Some of the water would remain on the skin and potentially cause them to rot in cold storage.
Farmer Al suspects that washing and waxing works for fruit that’s harvested before it’s ripe.
“Our fruit is so ripe when we pick it,” he says. “The less handing and friction, the better.”
He brushes off the idea that waxing might prolong shelf life.
“We don’t want to prolong shelf life,” Farmer Al says. “We want people to eat our fruit as soon as it’s ripe off the tree.”