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Butternut rancheros from PPK | Israeli couscous | What is shellac?

Posted Dec 10 2010 6:29pm

Over my next few posts I'm going to highlight some of my youngest son's cooking. He's following in his older brothers' footsteps as a great vegan cook. Sometimes he uses a recipe (more or less) that I can link to, but usually he just cooks from the heart. Either way, eating his dinners is always a treat.

One of his recent dinners was Butternut rancheros from the PPK. He made pan grilled butternut squash and black beans in ranchero sauce. This was one of my favorite dinners ever — so flavorful that you just have to try it. I like squash a little, but I loved it in this recipe.


What to bring to the party

Last weekend we co-hosted a Hanukkah party with omnivore friends. Our hosts were uncertain what to make so I planned to bring half the food. I brought so much vegan food with me, I never thought it would get eaten, but I came home with very few leftovers. My friend made potato pancakes (w/eggs) a gorgeous green salad and a fruit salad. I bought hummus and eggplant/red pepper spread from Trader Joe's, and made Israeli couscous to go on a platter with carrots, olives, grape tomatoes and pita.

This was my first time making Israeli couscous. I was inspired to make some after seeing it on Zoa's blog, and wondering why I'd never cooked with it. I've had it in restaurants, but when I make tabooli at home, I usually use bulgur wheat or whole wheat couscous. (Couscous is a form of pasta.) The couscous was dressed with a variation of the green onion salsa from Viva Vegan that we had for Thanksgiving. It was made primarily from green onions, curly parsley, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil, and it worked perfectly. Dried cranberries and grated carrot also were added to create a beautiful pasta salad with tons of sparkling flavor.

In addition to the platter, I made a double batch of chickpea cakes, enhanced with corn, carrot, tamarind and parsley. I also made a big bowl of applesauce. The cut, cored unpeeled apples were cooked quickly in a pressure cooker with a small amount of apple juice, then puréed in the Vitamix. The applesauce was so smooth and silky, you would never know the skins were included. (Do I enjoy my Vitamix? Unhuh.)

The final item I made was a blueberry cake, but failed to photograph it.


What is shellac?
I recently read an article about shellac, and am including it here for anyone who might be interested in knowing more about certain food coatings that are made from this insect-derived product. The article came from The Vegetarian Resource Group December newsletter and is reprinted here, with permission.

Q: What is shellac?

A: Shellac is a coating or glaze derived from the hardened, resinous
material secreted by the lac insect, much like honey from a bee.
Shellac in its raw form, known as "lac resin," along with lac wax and
lac dye, is produced in Southeast Asia. India is the largest producer
in the world, yielding 18,000 metric tons of unrefined lac resin
annually. Approximately 85% of India's crop is exported, mostly to
European countries, Egypt, and the United States.

According to an article by Ramesh Singh, Department of Zoology at Udai
Pratap Autonomous College in India, 300,000 lac insects are killed for
every kilogram (2.2 lbs.) of lac resin produced. Approximately 25% of
all unrefined, harvested lac resin is composed of "insect debris" and
other impurities according to the Shellac Export Promotion Council.
The cost of shellac varies according to climatic effects on harvest.
An employee of a shellac company told us that due to 2010's crop
failures, the price of lac resin has doubled to approximately $15/kg.

Shellac has GRAS status by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
which means that it is generally recognized as safe in foods. If used
as a fruit or vegetable coating, it may be labeled as lac resin or as
shellac. It is also approved for use in products certified as organic
by The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Shellac, in one or more of its various forms, (e.g., bleached,
dewaxed, etc.), may be found in a wide variety of products including
furniture polish and varnish; aluminum foil coating; paper coating;
hairspray, shampoos, perfume, mascara and lipstick; printing inks and
paints; pharmaceutical tablets; and agricultural fertilizer
(slow-release coating for urea). Readers may note that all forms of
shellac, (even "orange shellac" or "lemon shellac" which may connote
non-animal origins), are derived from lac resin.

Confectioner's glaze, the name often used for shellac by candy makers,
is composed of approximately 35% shellac (purified lac resin). The
rest are volatile organic compounds which evaporate off during

In foods, shellac is most commonly used as a coating or glaze on
confections, chewing gum, fruit, and coffee beans. Lac dye, red like
carmine, (another insect product), may be used as a coloring in foods
and beverages.

Q: Which candies are coated with shellac?

A: As a general rule, any hard-coated, shiny candy contains a shellac
coating or glaze (M&Ms(tm) is one notable exception.) Shellac may
appear on the label under different names. The two most common ones in
use today are "resinous glaze" or "confectioner's glaze." In general,
all Easter candy (eggs and jelly beans) are coated. Halloween candy
(candy corn) is as well.

The VRG contacted many candy manufacturers about shellac. There are
many who use it, even on candies that you may not suspect to be coated
with it. Below is a partial list. Subscribe to our free email
newsletter [ ] updates on shellac and
other food ingredients. Coming soon: shellac alternatives.

For more information on ingredients, see
[ ]

Confections Containing Shellac

* Hershey's Whopper's Malted Milk Balls(tm)
* Hershey's Milk Duds(tm)
* Nestle's Raisinettes(tm)
* Nestle's Goober's(tm)
* Tootsie Roll Industry's Junior Mints(tm) (NOT Tootsie Rolls)
* Tootsie Roll Industry's Sugar Babies(tm)
* Jelly Belly(tm) jelly beans, mint cremes
* Godiva's(tm) Dark Chocolate Almond Bar; Dark Chocolate Cherries;
Milk Chocolate Cashews; White Chocolate Pearls; Milk Chocolate Pearls.
(This is a partial list; consult with Godiva about specific items.)
* Gertrude Hawk's(tm) chocolate-covered nuts and raisins; cupcake
sprinkles; decorative cake pieces
* Russell Stover's(tm) jelly beans; NOT in their chocolate-covered
cherries or mint patties
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