If life gives you lemons, you probably shouldn’t eat them if you’re vegan – because waxed versions of the fruit aren’t all strictly plant-based.
Food writer Jack Monroe drew attention to the zesty controversy after tweeting a picture of a Pizza Express menu, which said a glass of Coca Cola would only be vegan “if served without lemon”.
“Erm what do Pizza Express do to their lemons to make them not suitable for vegans?!” they tweeted. “Just noticed this and can’t for the life of me fathom wtf.”
While many of their followers joked the high-street restaurant was storing their citrus fruits in bacon fat or injecting them with chicken stock for flavour, the real reason is far more simple.
Pizza Express replied, explaining that the wax on waxed lemons contains shellac, a product derived from insects – therefore it’s not vegan.
Shellac (yes, the same as the nail polish) is a resin secreted by the female lac bug, on trees in the forests of India and Thailand. It is processed and sold in a “dry flake” format, then dissolved in alcohol to make liquid shellac.
This can then be used as a brush-on colourant, food glaze (to make things extra shiny) or, in less edible formats, as a wood finish. The food additive is also known as E904.
Lemons are shipped from around the world, 365 days a year, so humans have had to come up with innovative methods to keep them fresh and looking appealing to customers.
Some citrus fruits are coated in polyethene wax, which is suitable for vegans. But if you want to be totally sure you’re not eating an animal-derived product, the Vegan Society says it’s best to stick to unwaxed fruits, or ask in-store to find out more.
UK based blog, Vegan Womble, has also been contacting supermarkets to find out if they use shellac on their fruit – and confirmed many use it on citrus fruits and some apples.
Veganism is big business in the UK: the Vegan Society reported there were 600,000 vegans in country in 2018. And that number is set to grow.
In August, the UN issued a report saying switching to a plant-based diet could help fight climate change, because high consumption of meat and dairy in the western world is fuelling global warming.