What do jelly beans and manicures have in common?

Now we know: Answering the foodie questions you didn’t even know you had

Jelly beans: coated in bug poop? Photograph: iStock

Jelly beans: coated in bug poop? Photograph: iStock

 

While perusing the sweet aisle on a recent supermarket sweep, I found myself investigating the ingredients of a packet of jelly beans. And there it was: shellac. Surely not the same shellac that we use for our manicures?

It turns out that shellac, sometimes known as confectioner’s glaze, is made from the poop (I’m sorry, but it just is) of the female lac bug, which lives in India and Thailand. This beetle’s dung is scraped from the trees and, through a heating and cooling process, is transformed into flat sheets of dried shellac. Are we polishing our nails and coating our candy with bug poop?

In a state of emergency, I ask cuticle expert Andrea Horan, founder and co-owner of Tropical Popical (tropicalpopical.com) in Dublin’s city centre. “Well, first of all, we use Gelish and not Shellac in Tropical Popical,” she says; I let out a sigh of relief. “But, also, Shellac the polish does not contain any shellac resin; it’s just the name they chose for their brand.” It’s possible that the company were inspired by the use of Shellac resin in French polish, famed for the varnishing of furniture and instruments.

Okay, so that’s one crisis averted. But I’ve got bad news about jelly beans – their sheen is enhanced with the excretion of the female lac bug. I feel a bit grossed-out, but Horan is much more pragmatic. “It’s actually pretty forward-thinking,” she says. “The future of food is going to have to be more sustainable, and you can’t get much more sustainable than eating insects.”

Thanks Andrea; you’ve been saving our manicures for quite some time, and now you may have saved our love of jelly beans, too.

Have a food question you need answered? Contact @aoifemcelwain on Twitter or by email at magazine@irishtimes.com with “Now we know” in the subject line

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