How to Remove Fruit Wax From Store Bought Citrus

Orange, lemon and lime on lemon print background

Have you ever wondered why the lemons, limes and oranges you buy at the shops look so shiny? The answer is probably fruit wax, the protective coating growers use to preserve and enhance the look of citrus. While it is edible, you might prefer to remove it before you use your lemons and limes in your next recipe. Find out 4 easy ways to remove fruit wax from citrus before you cook.

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Why is there fruit wax on citrus?

When you buy citrus fruit at the store, it may be a long time since it was harvested and it may have travelled a long way. Commercial citrus growers need to make citrus fruits like lemons, limes and oranges last, especially for export. They also want to make the fruit look as attractive as possible for consumers.

Using a fruit wax on citrus helps preserve the fruit for longer. Wax allows gas exchange but also retains moisture in the fruit so that it doesn’t dry out. Citrus wax also gives fruit a long lasting and attractive shine. In fact, customer preference for shiny fruit is one of the main reasons that wax is used.

You can often tell if fruit is waxed by how shiny it is. It may even have a slightly sticky feel. You can see the shine on this store bought waxed lime, compared to one of my home grown limes. (Notice how green and attractive the waxed lime on the left is – when I can assure you that the one on the right tastes so much better).

fresh limes with fruit wax and without wax on lemon print background

What is fruit wax made of?

As they are applied to food, fruit waxes are regulated by the food authorities in relevant countries. So citrus waxes are considered safe to eat. Different countries have different regulations, so the type of fruit wax used may differ,

In the US, fruit waxes are usually made from natural waxes like carnauba wax, with or without additives. Some use oxidize polyethene coatings, made with morpholine and other amines. These are synthetic organic compounds that are regulated and considered safe to eat.

Australia also uses natural carnauba wax products, but also still uses products made with a mix of carnauba and shellac. Shellac is a protective coating made from a substance excreted by tiny scale insects. It is still edible, but is not suitable for vegans. (Shellac is not permitted on Australian fruits exported to the UK or EU.)

Recently there has been some discussion in the industry about the potential to use an egg based protective coating for fruit. This has been met with criticism from people who eat a vegan diet or who have egg allergies.

Do you really need to remove wax from citrus?

It’s always a good idea to rinse any store bought fruit before use. It’s just common sense when other people have been handling the produce in store (or coughing on it!). It also helps remove any dirt. But what about protective coatings?

Removing wax from any fruit including citrus like lemons and limes is a personal preference. The waxes used are edible, so you can chose to leave them on. If you are vegan and you are unsure if the wax might contain animal products, you’ll want to remove it.

Otherwise, the decision to remove citrus wax might depend on what you are going to do with your fruit. If you are only planning to juice your lemons or limes, there is probably no need to. Although some people worry about transferring wax or coatings from the skin when cutting through the fruit.

If I am planning to use citrus zest or peel in cooking, making preserved limes or dried orange slices, or I’m adding slices of lemon or lime to a drink or garnish, I definitely do prefer to wash the wax off first.

How to remove fruit wax from lemons and limes

If you buy waxed citrus from the store, it’s very easy to remove the coating before using the fruit in your favourite recipes.

Warm water wash

Fruit wax can usually be removed with just warm soapy water and a soft cloth. Make sure to dry the fruit afterwards. Some people prefer to use hot water without the soap. Tipping hot water over your lemons, limes or oranges will melt away the wax. Again, use a soft cloth to dry the citrus after washing.

Bicarb soda

If your citrus appears to have a lot of wax on it, try soaking in a sink or container of warm water with two teaspoons of bicarb soda added. Leave to soak for 5 to 10 minutes then use a brush to remove any residue, rinse and dry well.

Make your own citrus wash

To make your own fruit wash, simply mix 1 cup of water with 1/4 cup white vinegar and two tablespoons of lemon juice in a spray bottle. Place the citrus in an over the sink colander or drainer basket over the sink and spray lightly with the fruit wash spray. Leave for a few minutes and then rinse the citrus well with water to wash away any residue. You can also use this method for other fruits and vegetables.

Ready to use fruit wash

You can also buy ready to use organic fruit and vegetable washes. Koala Eco fruit and vegetable wash is made from biodegradable plant-based ingredients, including mandarin essential oil. It works very well and smells delicious too. Veggie Wash organic fruit and vegetable wash is another popular brand

Another reason to grow your own lemons and limes

If you are concerned about coatings on your fruit or the use of pesticides, look for organic, unwaxed citrus.

Of course, the best type of lemon or lime to use is one that you have grown and picked yourself. If you don’t have a big garden, try growing your own lemon tree or Tahitian lime tree in a pot. Or if you really don’t have enough room for your own citrus tree, see if you can source from a friend. Home grown lemons and limes will be free from any added fruit wax, and they have more flavour too. Even better, if you use organic gardening methods, you won’t have to worry about any chemicals or sprays used for pest control.

For tips on managing common pests on your citrus trees, see our posts on chemical free ways to control citrus bud mites, gall wasps and citrus leaf miner.

More about cooking with citrus

If you love to cook with citrus, make sure to read our helpful tips for cooking with lemons. And don’t forget to check out our citrus inspired recipes.

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