Q:

What is shellac made from?

A:

Shellac is made from secretions of the female lac insect called lac resin. The resin is dried into flakes of yellow, orange or red. They can also be bleached white.

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The flakes of shellac are dissolved in alcohol and used as a shiny varnish. Shellac is also used in sealing wax and candies.

The lac insect is a type of scale insect native to southeast Asia and India, where it is parasitic on trees. These insects gather by the thousands on the twigs and branches of these trees and feed on the sap. The resin they excrete is partially to protect themselves from their enemies.

Female lac insects lay hundreds of eggs, then die. The eggs hatch into larvae that move in swarms to feed on new branches. Farmers deliberately move larvae from one tree to another in order to cultivate shellac.

Workers collect a crude material called sticklac from the trees, grind it between stones and wash it to remove the pigment. It's then called seedlac. Seedlac is put into bags that filter out impurities. After this, the lac, which is warm and supple, is stretched out into sheets. The sheets dry and are broken into the flakes that are dissolved in alcohol.

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