On the recipe page it says; pre-heat oven to 350°F and line the surface of a cookie sheet with parchment paper, but in your kitchen drawer, it’s all pre-cut sheets of wax paper. Should you use the wax paper instead? Well, lets find out.
Can wax paper go in the oven? Yes, wax paper can be used in the oven provided no part of it is directly exposed to the heat. In application, this means that wax paper can be used as a pan liner when cooking, roasting or baking goods in which the food or batter completely covers the wax paper lining. Such goods include cakes, quick breads, muffins, brownies etc. In all cases, the baked items fully serve as a protective barrier and completely shields the paper from excessive heat in the oven.
If wax paper is used as a pan liner for cookies, crackers or roasting vegetables; goods in which the food or batter does not completely cover the wax paper lining, the wax coating can melt and transfer to whatever is being baked; giving it an unpleasant taste.
Another thing is that the non-stick purpose for which the lining was made in the first place would be nonexistent. So the food can stick to the surface of the paper and be annoying to separate.
Why does the wax coating melt?
The reason why the melting occurs is simple. The temperature required to cook most recipes in the oven is much higher than the melting point of wax; which is the material used to impregnate, coat or laminate wax paper.
Macro and micro crystalline wax, paraffin wax and soybean wax– the waxes used for the coating process, all have melting points lower than 200°F; even with polymer additives added to improve their properties.
As a result, when wax paper is directly exposed in the oven, the wax coating gets heated past its melting point and turns into liquid. This liquid when heated to a higher degree, vaporizes and combines with air in the oven to cause fire. Conversely, the paper substrate can spontaneously combust at higher temperatures and supply the heat necessary for the liquid wax to vaporize and ignite.
For this reason, wax paper should never be used interchangeably with baking papers in the oven. It should only be used to line the bottom of goods in which the food or batter completely covers the wax paper lining. It will heat up under the batter but not to a point of disintegration; except if the cooking is at a higher temperature and for a longer period.
The above condition should also apply to toaster ovens. Their mode of heating is similar to that in a conventional oven and so are the risks, care should also be taken when using other papers such as parchment papers and aluminum foils in these ovens, because of their smaller interior. Any contact with the inner walls or heating elements of the oven can cause instant smoking and ignition of the papers.
Contrary to all these, wax paper can be exposed in a microwave oven to warp foods or cover the top of dishes without running the risk of melting or ignition. This is possible because the mode of heating in a microwave oven is entirely different from that in a conventional oven. To better comprehend why this happens, let us briefly understand how a regular oven differs from a microwave oven.
Briefly, How Ovens Work
When gas is burnt or an element is heated in ovens, heat energy is generated and transferred to the surrounding air. The air becomes hotter and transfers it’s energy to anything it comes in contact with; food, wax paper, surrounding air and the inner walls of the oven.
For food, it’s surface molecules absorb the energy from the surrounding air and distributes it to the inner molecules for heating. The process is referred to as baking.
For wax paper, the wax coating on its surface; being the weaker material, absorbs the heat energy from the surrounding air and begins to melt when the temperature surpasses it’s melting point. Same thing happens with the inner walls of the oven, but because they are made with tougher materials, their melting point is a lot higher than the temperature of the surrounding air, so they only get warmer.
Briefly, How Microwave Ovens Work
Microwave ovens on the other hand, generate low energy microwave radiation that is easily absorbed by some molecules in food i.e water and fat molecules, and converted to heat for cooking. This direct energy transfer from source to selected molecules in the oven, explains why the air inside of a microwave oven is considerably colder than that in an oven; air molecules do not absorb microwave radiation.
Wax paper too cannot absorb microwave radiation and so acts as a transparent media to pass the radiation through unimpeded to other molecules that can absorb it.
As a result, when wax paper is used to wrap food or cover the top of dishes in a microwave, only the food gets heated from the radiation and is capable of heating the wax coating above it’s melting point.
But because the surrounding air in a microwave is cold and the food wets the surface of the wax paper as it condenses, the temperature on the surface of the food is maintained at a level where it actually doesn’t affect the wax coating on the paper.
However, at longer cooking periods or with fatty and sugar based foods, the surface of the food can get very hot to a point where it can melt the wax coating on the paper and even ignite it.
Why are wax papers produced?
Wax papers are primarily produced for packaging purposes. The wax coating on them serves as a moisture repellent and vapor proof surface, which is ideal for preserving the freshness of foods such as; vegetables, fruits, cheese and butter.
How to use wax paper in the kitchen
Wax paper aside being moisture repellent and vapor proof is also non-stick. These characteristics all together make wax paper an indispensable utensil in the kitchen.
Here are some of the common uses of wax paper in the kitchen.
- Use wax paper to cover counter tops when sifting ingredients, cutting fudges, glazing cakes or when performing any messy tasks in the kitchen. After the tasks, simply wrap up the paper and dump it in the bin.
- Use wax paper to wrap and store foodstuffs like vegetables, fruits, butter sticks or other moist and dry foods. The wax coating will prevent the items from loosing or gaining moisture, so they stay fresh for longer periods.
- Use wax paper to wrap sticky and clingy goods.
- Use wax paper as an interleave between sticky baked goods prior to freezing, to ensure easy separation.
- Use wax paper to line the bottom of batters like cakes, muffins, bread, brownies etc.
Alternatives for wax paper in the oven
- Parchment paper: Parchment paper is an oven paper that is specifically treated to withstand temperatures of up to 450°F. It has a non-stick surface and can substitute wax paper in all applications plus more. For instance, it can be used as a pan liner for cookies, biscuits and roasting vegetables; goods in which the food does not completely cover the paper lining. It can be used as a non-stick surface on frying pans, or a steaming pouch for cooking salmon.
- Silicone baking mat: Silicone baking mat is another excellent substitute for wax paper in the oven. It is coated with food grade silicone which enables it to withstand very high temperatures (up to 480°F). It has a non-stick surface which releases baked goods perfectly and make cookware cleanup a breeze. Best part: It is non-toxic and can be used up to two thousand times before it needs replacement.
- Line baking sheets and pans with aluminum foil: Using wax paper in the oven even when baking cakes, muffins, brownies etc, can produce highly unpredictable results. Because of that, it’s sometimes better to line the surface of a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease with a cooking spray or butter. The grease will serve as a non-stick surface and food will release without sticking.
- Grease and flour baking tray: If you don’t have any of the above at your disposal, you can simply revert back to the traditional way of creating a non-stick surface. First, grease the pan with shortening or cooking spray, then sprinkle with a decent amount of flour. Next, invert the tray and gently tap on the back to remove excess flour. The dusty non-stick surface is ready to collect your favorite cookie dough.
Alternatives for wax paper in other applications
- Food plastic wrap: Plastic wrap can be used in-place of wax paper when wrapping and storing food items in the refrigerator. It can also be used to cover the top of dishes in the microwave, to prevent splatter and ensure even heating.
- Freezer paper: Freezer paper is coated with plastic on one side to provide barrier against moisture and air. It can substitute wax paper in all cooling applications plus more. The non-coated side of the paper is also useful for writing dates and labeling food items for storage.
- Parchment paper: Parchment paper can substitute wax paper in all kitchen and cooling applications; baking, freezing, wrapping and storing.
- Aluminum foil: Foil can substitute wax paper in cooling applications like wrapping sandwich, and pre-baking applications like covering counter tops or making piping cornet for cake decoration. Foils however, should not be used in the microwave oven to wrap foods or prevent splatter. It can prevent food from cooking or even spark and damage the oven.