Paraffin wax has been used historically in the food world for various purposes such as sealing the tops of jars of jellies and jams, coating cheese with, and as an additive in chocolate.
It is white, with no smell or taste. Not a true wax, it is made from distilled petroleum that is then purified. It can also be made synthetically by converting carbon monoxide and hydrogen to paraffin hydrocarbons, then hydrogenating them, and possibly refining them through activated charcoal. Its formula is C n H 2n+2 (n can be a number between 22 and 27.)
Food grade paraffin is different from that used for candles.
It is available in solid blocks and bottled liquid.
Some ways in which it is used:
- Paraffin gum is usually flavoured and coloured, and sold as the big red lips or black mustaches that you wear and then chew on later. It can also be sold clear, to make the wax tube candy filled with sweet flavoured liquid;
- The wax on waxed paper is paraffin;
- Paraffin is sprayed on fruits to help keep moisture in, extending their shelf life, and make them look shiny and attractive. It is also sprayed on things such as muskmelon and sweet potatoes;
- Paraffin is used as a coating on sausage casings for aged, cured sausage;
- Fowl, after plucking, can be dunked in melted paraffin wax to help you get red of the pin feathers. A few dippings in melted Paraffin to build up a layer may be necessary. The wax is then allowed to harden, then peeled off, taking the pin feathers with it.
- Older candy recipes had you add some paraffin wax to the melted chocolate, to give it a firm sheen when it cools. You melted the chocolate and the wax separately, then mixed them together. Paraffin could be melted directly with chocolate chips.
It melts between 50 and 57 C (122 and 135 F).
Paraffin wax is not overly healthy in the long run: in large amounts, it can act as a laxative, and prolonged consumption of large amounts of liquid paraffin can interfere with your body’s absorption of fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K. However, it is a myth that its use with food is banned by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In fact, it is explicitly allowed as a food coating or as an ingredient in a food coating.
In England during the Second World War, liquid paraffin was used as a cooking fat. It could be used melted for frying in, and in items such as cakes.
Two synonyms, Parowax and Parawax, are actually brand names.