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Shellac is a product that we are surrounded by and give it very little attention -- even when we are eating it. What? You didn't know that we eat shellac? Then you have something to learn about this substance that is secreted by the female lac bug most commonly in the forests of India and Thailand.
The female bug secretes the stuff in the form of tiny tunnels as she travels the trees. This is then harvested and processed into the substance we know as shellac.
Shellac is used in finishing furniture and musical instruments. It is used to coat pharmaceutical pills, such as in enteric coating. It is used to give a glossy coating to candy. Citrus fruit gets a shellacking to extend shelf-life.
Shellac has long been used as a dye for cotton and silk, creating the yellow, oranges, reds, and dark ochre commonly found in clothing of India and Thailand.
It can be used to make ballet pointe shoes stiffer and stronger. It is used to make felt hats retain their shape. It is used to mount insects for collections. It is used to create certain colors in fireworks.
Historically shellac was used for far more, but has since been replaced by plastics and polyurethane. For example, it was once used to make jewelry, gramophone records, and even dentures. For a while pages in Braille were coated with shellac to extend the life of the pages destined to be rubbed repeatedly by many fingers.
That little insect has done an awful lot for us just by doing what comes naturally.
Laurie Kay Olson
Animal News Blogger