While food and beverage companies often sell products with unique packaging, perhaps none are more iconic than Babybel cheese. Enveloped in bright red wax (or green wax for its vegan cheese), Babybel offers up more than just cheese with an unparalleled unwrapping experience. But why is Babybel cheese wrapped in wax and what other food products use wax for packaging?
Second to its cheese, Babybel is known for its packaging, consisting of a netted bag in which each piece of cheese is encased in a colored natural paraffin wax skin. The paraffin wax that coats every wheel of cheese is used to protect it from airborne bacteria, mold growth and drying while it ages. This wax is soft and pliable, unlike pure paraffin wax which becomes brittle, causing it to crack easily.
In addition to paraffin, the packaging also contains microcrystalline wax and coloring, which specifically contains no Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical compound often used in plastic food packaging. Babybel cheese wax is “food safe,” meets very strict regulatory standards and poses no health risk if accidentally ingested, according to the company. It also helps the cheese last for well over a week when stored in the refrigerator.
However, this red coating isn’t unique to Babybel cheese. Coating cheese using food-grade wax is often a method used on other hard and semi-hard cheeses that only need a few months to age. Much like with Babybel cheese, wax helps prevent unwanted mold growth and retains moisture while cheese is aged. Semi-soft and soft cheeses form their own rinds which (eventually) perform a similar function.
Aside from Babybel cheese, one of the most recognizable red-waxed cheeses is Gouda, a semi-hard Dutch cheese with a mild, nutty flavor and smooth, creamy texture. Cheddar often comes in red wax, too. Various other cheeses, including Parmesan and brie, can be found wrapped in black, orange and yellow waxes, but all cheese waxes are opaque in order to protect the cheese from ultraviolet light.
While wax wrapping might be the most obvious on cheeses, other food products also make use of wax — it’s just harder to see. Wax can be found on fruit snacks, Skittles, M&Ms, fruits and vegetables to keep them looking and tasting fresh. Wax is particularly useful for fruits like apples because it helps them retain moisture, enhances firmness and slows down the natural degradation process.
Not only is paraffin wax used to make fruits, vegetables and candy look shiny, but it also acts as a chemical preservative, making it both functional and appealing to the eye. This type of wax can give chocolate a shiny coating and will prevent it from melting at room temperature or help it stay solid in someone’s hand.
In addition to paraffin wax, carnauba wax can also be used for food packaging. Made from the leaves of the carnauba palm, which grows in northeastern Brazil, carnauba wax gives candy and fruit snacks their shiny appearance.
Edible food coatings have actually been used since the 1100s, when merchants in southern China used wax to preserve oranges. Whether it’s Babybel cheese, fresh produce or candy, wax is a safe and effective way to keep certain foods fresher for longer and give them a shiny, appealing coating.