More on Gulf Wax

A number of people land here in the LoEverse because they’re seeking more information on Gulf Wax. I’m no expert on Gulf Wax, but I care about ya’ll and because of that I decided to bone up on the stuff. (I mentioned Gulf Wax in a previous post here.) Here are the results of my investigation:

I started by going to my local supermarket and buying a box. Gulf Wax is sold in 1lb boxes, each containing 4 bricks. A pound of Gulf Wax is the same physical size as a pound of butter. It has no scent and no taste (yes, I tasted it). It’s just plain paraffin wax.

The back of the box does suggest using Gulf Wax in canning. The label also recommends using Gulf Wax to seal bottles. It does not recommend any other food-related use.

The box packaging has not been updated in many, many years. There is no Web site or phone number on the packaging. However, there was the name of the distributor–Royal Oak Sales, Inc. in Roswell, GA. Royal Oak buys the paraffin from Exxon through a broker. They do not manufacture the product themselves. In the interests of thorough investigation, I tracked down their phone number and gave them a ring this afternoon.

I spoke to to Robert Turner, who handles Gulf Wax distribution for the company. He said, “We don’t recommend the product for anything other than what’s on the box: canning and preserving food. We don’t recommend use in chocolates. You can ingest a large amount without any harm, but we don’t recommend you eat it.”

I asked if there were off-label uses for the wax. Turner responded, “A lot of people use it to lubricate sliding glass doors–put it on the track to help the door slide easier. You can also melt and line a trash can with it.” (The label suggests many other non-food-related uses: waxing surfboards, lubricating snow skis, toboggans and snow shovels, using it to keep irons smooth and bright, creating decorative candles and artificial flowers.)

He seemed unaware that the USDA does not recommend use of paraffin in home canning. According to my 1999 copy of the Complete Guide to Home Canning and Preserving, Second Revised Edition, “Because of possible mold contamination, paraffin or wax seals are no longer recommended for any sweet spread, including jellies.” (p. 32)

Cici Williamson at the USDA had some more guidance: “We recommend water-bath processing or pressure canning everything. If it’s jellies or jams, the worst thing that could happen [when using Gulf Wax as a sealant] would be mold, and you can see that. If you keep it in the fridge and check for mold, it will probably be safe.” She also had some other interesting information on paraffin: it will not melt in the microwave because it has no fat or moisture in it. The only way to melt it in the microwave is to melt it in some chocolate or other substance containing fat or moisture. That way, the heat from the chocolate will melt the paraffin. She emphasized that Gulf Wax is food-grade and food-safe, so it is edible if you really feel like chowing down on it.

Williamson reminded me of the old Girl Scout trick for creating a camp stove: Take the label off an empty tuna can and clean it out. Put a spiral of corrugated cardboard into the can. Pour in enough melted Gulf Wax to come near the top. Take a clean, empty coffee can and poke a few holes near the top using a church-key type punch tool. Set the tuna can on a flat, clear surface and light the cardboard. Turn the coffee can upside down over the lit tuna can. Et voila! Camp stove! (I cooked on one of these when I was a Girl Scout. If you rub dish soap on the outside of your pot or pan, it’s a helluva lot easier to clean the inevitable soot off when you’re done using your burner. Soot will pour out of those holes you punched and, without the soap treatment, permanently adhere to the exterior of your pan. This cooking technique is better for simple foods like pancakes than for fussier things like, say, a steak.)

Gulf Wax safety is overseen by the FDA (the packaging reads, “Conforms to FDA Regulations”). So far, I haven’t been able to get in touch with the relevant FDA person, but if he has extra information I’ll be sure to pass it on. Also, Turner from Royal Oak Sales is going to send me the Material Safety Data Sheet on Gulf Wax, and if there’s anything interesting in there I will post an update.

If you want to buy your own Gulf Wax, it costs about $2.75 per box and is usually situated near the canning supplies. I purchased it at the Charles Town, WV Martin’s–since Martin’s is a Royal Ahold company, I would assume it is also available at other RA supermarkets, including both the Pennsylvania and Landover-based Giant chains. I have also seen it at the Sterling, VA Wegmans market. My local Food Lion sells a different brand. Some supermarkets don’t carry the product at all, so you may have to shop around. Let me know how you use it if you purchase some. (And if you’re local and you want some, let me know and I’ll be glad to give you mine.)

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