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Shellac

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Someone told me he doesn’t eat certain candies because they are coated with something from a bug.  If that’s true, why would it be certified as kosher?

A. Many candies, fruits, pills, and other foods are coated with shellac – also known as confectioner’s glaze or resinous glaze – to give them a glossy coating and to seal in moisture.  It is made from a secretion of millions of tiny insects (Kerria lacca) which live on a specific type of tree in the Far East.  The insects draw sap from the tree, chemically convert it, and then secrete it onto the tree, where it dries upon contact with the air.

The insects themselves are obviously forbidden, and there is a general rule that the excretion (yotzeh) of a non-kosher animal is also not kosher.  If so, how can shellac excreted by a non-kosher insect be kosher?  Iggeros Moshe says that since the shellac becomes rock-hard and is not a food item, it is permitted.  He notes that had shellac been made from an inherently forbidden item, it would only be “temporarily permitted” while in an inedible form but would return to a forbidden state once it became edible.  However, since shellac is merely a yotzeh of the insect, the halacha is that an inedible “yotzeh” is classified as pirshah (excrement) and is completely and permanently permitted, retaining that status even if it becomes edible at a later point.

Thus, shellac, which is a byproduct of the forbidden insect is treated differently than gelatin made from non-kosher bones or carmine made by crushing cochineal beetles.  Gelatin and carmine are made from the actual forbidden item, and, therefore, their status is stricter than shellac, which is just a byproduct.

Rav Elyashiv questions this line of reasoning.  He accepts that pirshah is permitted but questions whether maybe that leniency only applies to pirshah secreted by animals, fish, and similar forbidden items which themselves have a pleasant taste.  Maybe it is only in those cases that the Torah permits the inedible secretions, labeling them as “pirshah”.  However, insects themselves are inherently inedible and are, nonetheless, forbidden; therefore, it follows that their inedible secretions should have a similar status and be forbidden.

There are people who follow the strict approach on this, and, therefore, avoid foods that are coated with shellac.  But the national hashgachos in the United States accept the ruling of Iggeros Moshe and will certify products that include that ingredient.  In turn, most American consumers consider it to be kosher.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, October 20, 2023.

For more on shellac, see https://consumer.crckosher.org/publications/kosher-candy/