Yak Attack

A place to unwind and spend some time yakking.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Waxing on candy

Lew went to the grocery store for me on Saturday. Since he’s usually hungry, it’s always fun to unpack the grocery bags and see what hopped into his basket at the store. While making the rounds at the local Win-Co, he picked up a gi-normous bag of gummi jungle animals, five whole pounds of confectionary delight for only $2.49.

I know you must be asking yourself why he would pick up such a frickin’ huge bag of candy. There are three reasons: 1) the children of LEWville (thanks bucctoo for coming up with this lovely term) love candy, and having a little treat for their lunches makes them happy; 2) I, myself, am a sucker for gummi candies, so he was looking to score some points with said purchase; 3) it was cheap, which makes it a win-win purchase in Lew’s book.

As we were bagging up the gummi lions, gorillas, alligators and parrots into lunch box sized portions, I told Lew that one of my favorite foods must be carnauba wax. His eyes widened. “You like to eat car wax?” he asked.

I’m prone to off-the-wall behavior, but I usually keep my snacks safely within the four food groups. “No, silly. Gummis always have carnauba wax in it. Look,” I replied, pointing at the bag’s ingredient list.

“That’s the same stuff I wax my car with,” he said. This time, my eyes widen. When it comes to the Chazmobile, Lew cuts no corners. Carnauba must be the bee's knees in the car-geek universe. So what the hell is it doing in my gummi candy?

As I munched on squishy hippos and rhinoceros, I tried to erase the image of me scooping Turtle Wax (tm) out of a half-shell with a Ritz cracker (tm). The turquoise elephants didn’t banish this awful mind-picture. Neither did the indiscernible blob I dubbed the Yak (although technically, I think water buffalo, not yaks, reside in real jungles; it’s my gummi jungle, so it’s a yak).

In hopes of relieving myself of this icky image, I looked up carnauba wax. According to foodnet's directory of commodities, “Carnauba wax covers the fan-shaped leaves of a South American palm tree called the ‘tree of life’, which grows up to 13 metres in height. The wax is extracted from trees, which grow in the dry regions of the northeast states of Brazil and can flourish for 200 years.” I also learned that about half of the yearly production of carnauba wax is imported by the US. There was a bunch of boring stuff about how it's harvested, and what grades there are in within the carnauba family.

“The wax is the hardest and has the highest melting point of any natural wax. It is water resistant and can hold a high polish. Carnauba wax emulsifies as a clear liquid, which makes it ideal for quality floor and furniture polishes, which generally have a base of paraffin or beeswax. It is also used in the ‘lost wax’ metal-casting process and in lipstick and varnishes.”

That’s great, you stupid directory, but what is it doing in my gummi food?

As I dug deeper, I discovered that S.C. Johnson(tm) attributed its edge in the cleaning market to the carnauba wax in their products. Little wood bowls look prettier after being buffed with pure carnauba bars. Carnauba is the bee's knees of the car world. It helps water bead better on cars, soaks up acid rain, conceals minor paint flaws and “tends to produce a deeper, darker, richer shine than any other wax.”

The clump of masticated jungle critters hanging out in my belly made me feel pretty sick, after reading what non-edible stuff carnauba wax is in. Dang it all, why do I read those pesky labels? Then I found a little food science gem, titled Generating Yummy Gummies. It’s a major snooze-fest, unless you are into crystal inhibition, moisture retention, gelling agents and how ph effects the co-precipitation of gelatin and pectin. It did answer my burning question, though. Carnauba wax is in my gummi stuff because it improves the appearance of the candy and prevents stickiness and moisture loss.

It’s giving my gummis a high-gloss buff. I love to snack on the Chazmobile of the candy kingdom.

In the same article, it stated that carnauba wax makes up only 2% of the “polishing agent” that’s sprayed onto candies toward the end of the gummi-making process. 2% isn’t too bad, right? That’s 2% of a small, itty-bitty part of the whole ingredient list. I felt so much better.

But no, I had to ponder about what gelatin is made out of, thanks to the handy-dandy food science article. I already knew, in the briefest sense possible, the beef connection; that is vile enough, but there’s more to the whole gelatin scene. Type B gelatin is made out of beef by-products (skin and bone). Type A is made out of pork skin. Yummy.

No wonder curiosity killed the cat.


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