Is e904 vegan?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query, “Is e904 vegan?” and will discuss what is shellac and how it is made?

Is e904 vegan?

No, e904 is not vegan. E 904 is also known as shellac. The female lac insect secretes this resin, which the plants absorb. Skittles and chocolate almonds, for example, both include it as a glazing ingredient. As it is an animal product that’s why it is not vegan.

One of the applications of shellac is the post-harvesting of fruits, to extend the shelf life of fruits by coating them with shellac. The losses of fruits and vegetables caused by microorganisms along food chain production can reach more than 25% of the total production in industrialized countries, and over 50% in developing countries if postharvest handling and storage conditions are not optimal (3).

What is shellac?

Shellac is a natural polymer. Natural polymers are characterized by good biocompatibility, biodegradability, and non-toxicity. In addition, global health and environmental awareness has caused a tremendous shift in consumer preferences, from synthetic to natural polymers (1).

Small lac insects (Laccifer lacca) secrete a resinous secretion on some trees in India and Thailand, where they are parasitic. The final substance known as shellac is developed and improved because of its economic worth. Refined lac in flake form has been referred to as shellac, however, the term refers to any lac that is either dry or suspended in an alcohol-based solution.

As of today, shellac is mostly used to protect and polish wood. Since ethyl or denatured alcohol is a safe solvent for it, this is a huge plus. Shellac coatings on wood typically dry in approximately 45 minutes, compared to oil finishes that take several hours to cure, due to the use of alcohol solvents. To top it all off, shellac does not fade in the sun or deteriorate over time. In addition, shellac’s shelf life is limited, and it may not dry correctly if it is beyond the manufacturer’s suggested shelf life. Depending on the manufacturer’s additives, its shelf life might range from six months to three years.

Structurally, shellac is a low-molecular-weight resin mainly composed of oxyacid polyesters. The oxyacids are divided into aleuritic acids and cyclic terpene acids linked by ester bonds, which, respectively, constitute the hydrophobic and hydrophilic components of shellac. The dark brown color of native shellac extracts limits its application, necessitating color removal (bleaching) using decolorizing agents before use in some fields. NaClO is commonly used for the removal of lac pigments and waxes, thereby improving its appearance to fit a wider range of applications, including those in the pharmaceutical, food, and fruit processing domains (1).


However, shellac is known to have been utilized far earlier than 3,000 years ago. Shellac was used to build a whole castle in the ancient Indian epic poem, the Mahabharata.

For as long as there was commerce with the East Indies, shellac was used sparingly as a dye. Shellac was first used as an artist’s pigment in Spain around 1220, according to Merrifield. Afghanistan’s lapis lazuli, an ultramarine pigment, was already being imported long before this.

Venetians first started using all-over paint or varnish ornamentation on huge furniture (then later throughout Italy). According to historical records from the 13th century, painted or varnished cassone were often used as part of dynastic weddings. A spirit varnish based on gum Benjamin or mastic, both of which were traded across the Mediterranean, seems to be the most common kind of varnish. Shellac was added to the mix at some point. Infrared spectroscopy may be used to detect shellac coating on a 16th-century cassone, according to a paper in the Journal of the American Institute of Conservation. During this period, “varnisher” was also recognized as a separate profession from both carpenter and artist.

Sealing wax is another usage for shellac. For example, Woods’s The Nature and Treatment of Wax and Shellac Seals explains the different formulas and the era when shellac was introduced into the earlier recipes.

During the era between 1550 and 1650, the material went from being a rare decoration to being detailed in the main textbooks of the day.

Applications of shellac

Floor polishes, inks, grinding wheels, electrical insulations, and leather treatments are just a few of the industrial applications for shellac. Non-toxic and FDA-approved, this resinous sealer may be used to cover candy and medications as well as fruit, infant, and children’s furnishings.

Most hardware and paint shops have clear or white shellac as well as orange shellac, which gives natural wood a rusty orange hue. The tree to which the lac insect has attached itself influences the color of the bug’s secretions, which in turn affects the color of the refined shellac in different ways. With amazing adhesion, shellac may be applied to wood and other surfaces over varnish, paint, glass, ceramics, and even plastic, but it cannot be used under synthetic sealers such as polyurethanes.

In the food industry, shellac has long been used as a wax to enhance the postharvest preservation of fruits and vegetables. Other possible applications include as a raw material for fabricating food waxes, food coatings, and biodegradable films. It is also applied as a food foaming agent, oil-gelling agent, and food emulsifier. Furthermore, shellac is employed in the preparation of food delivery systems, such as microcapsules, coated carriers, nanofiber films, nanoparticles, and microparticles. Shellac has been recognized as safe (GRAS status) by the US FDA since 1939, which has been supported by subsequent research (1).

How is shellac made?

Generally, there are as many as 100–150 Laccifer lacca (the insect that produces shellac, as previously mentioned) larvae per inch of hosttree twig. To survive, these larvae move onto specific host trees for 2–3 days each, inserting their proboscis into the phloem tissue to reach the sap. Consequently, shellac is secreted to form cells around their bodies, aiding their adherence to the host-tree branches. After that, male insects are moved out from their cells, while females still live in them. The male insect subsequently fertilizes the female after about 8 weeks and then dies within a few days. The fertilized female continues to secrete large amounts of shellac, and produces an average of 200–500 larvae, which continues the cycle of shellac secretion and breeding (1). 

Raw seedlac and ethyl alcohol are the two main components of shellac. In reality, most businesses aim to remove all of the natural waxes and impurities from shellac before using it, including those from the beetle, the cocoon, and so on. Denatured alcohol is used to re-moisturize shellac, which is often delivered in dry or flaking form. To extend the shelf life of their product, some corporations conceal the substances they use. Dissolved sodium carbonate and centrifuged shellac are then bleached with sodium hypochlorite to produce transparent shellac.

 Side effects of shellac

In culinary and medicinal items, shellac has a low risk of causing side effects for the vast majority of individuals. Shellac is not known to be safe in big doses or to have any known negative effects, therefore it is difficult to determine whether or not it is safe to use in medicine. In addition, cytotoxic and antibacterial tests were used to evaluate their bioactivities, revealing the absence of cytotoxic activity in the compounds (1).

It’s not clear if shellac is safe for use on the skin since there isn’t enough credible information. Shellac may cause allergic reactions in certain persons. Cosmetics containing shellac should be avoided if you are allergic to it. Among other things, shellac is found in mascara, lip gloss, and tattoo ink.

However, in a study, the chronic toxicity study was conducted in which shellac was administered orally by mixing in powdered feed at 5000, 10000 and 20000 ppm to Wistar rats for a period of 180 days. The investigations showed no significant difference between control and treated animals at low dose, which means that the administration of shellac up to 5000 ppm in feed can be considered as safe and without any toxic manifestation (2).

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In this brief guide, we answered the query, “Is e904 vegan?” and discussed what is shellac and how it is made?


  1. Yuan, Yi, et al. Shellac: A promising natural polymer in the food industry. Trend Food Sci Technol, 2021, 109, 139-153.
  2. Srivastava, Sanja, and Nandkishore, Thombare. Safety assessment of shellac as food additive through long term toxicity study. Trends Biosci, 2017, 10, 733-740.
  3. Iñiguez-Moreno, Maricarmen, Juan Arturo Ragazzo-Sánchez, and Montserrat Calderón-Santoyo. An extensive review of natural polymers used as coatings for postharvest shelf-life extension: Trends and challenges. Polym, 2021, 13, 3271.