Is parchment paper the same as wax paper?

Is parchment paper the same as wax paper

Is parchment paper the same as wax paper? Parchment paper is not the same as wax paper. Both are two separate pantry staples meant for different applications. Wax paper is mainly used in households for wrapping and packaging food items, while parchment paper is chiefly used in the oven as a pan liner for non-stick results. Parchment paper can readily substitute wax paper for it's primary purpose of wrapping and storing food items, but the converse is not always true. However, both papers can be used interchangeably for most other applications.

What is parchment paper?

Culinary parchment paper also referred to as baking paper is a paper specially treated for oven use. It is made by running regular sheets of paper through sulfuric acid or zinc chloride and then coating with a release agent usually food grade silicone. The acid eliminates any air pockets in the paper rendering it waterproof and dense while the ultra-thin silicone coating makes it heat resistant and non-stick.

When used to line the bottom of trays or pans during cooking, the paper is able to withstand the very high temperatures of the oven and will release baked goods easily.

This is why parchment paper is so useful in baking-- it creates a non-stick surface between food and cookware and makes it easier for food to release and cookware to be cleaned.

Parchment paper is commonly white translucent (bleached) or tan translucent (unbleached) in color. The bleached parchment paper is treated with chlorine to give it a gleaming white color while the unbleached parchment is left untreated, so it has a natural brown color. Neither is superior to the other in terms of heating quality and both can be used interchangeably in the kitchen.

Parchment paper is available pre-cut or in rolls and can come in various designs and heating limits.

Be sure to check the packaging for the temperature limit and try not to exceed it when cooking.

What is wax paper?

Culinary wax paper also known as waxed paper is a paper that has been treated with food grade wax to provide a barrier against liquid and vapor penetration. Many base papers such as glassine, greaseproof or tissue papers are commonly employed for the waxing process.

The treatment is commonly achieved by applying wax coating on either or both sides of the paper (wet-waxed), by impregnating the wax directly into the paper (dry-waxed) or by laminating the wax between two sheets of paper (wax-laminated). The wet-waxing method imparts a high degree of gloss on the coated surface, while the other two methods leave a dry feel to the paper surface. In either case, the paper develops a non-stick surface in addition to it's waterproof and moisture proof characteristics.

Wax paper is primarily used for preserving the moistness of articles like cheese wedges or butter sticks and preventing dry wrapped foods from absorbing external moisture. The wrapper creates a breathable environment while allowing the food items to retain a level of moisture and stay fresh.

In cooking, it is often used to line pans for no-bake recipes or those that require only refrigeration. It is almost never used to line baking pans for oven use, except in cake baking and the like, where the thick batter essentially protects the paper from direct heat in the oven.

The reason why wax paper is never exposed in the oven is because, unlike parchment paper, wax paper is coated with food grade wax which has a melting point lower than the temperature required to cook most recipes in the oven (350°F). When substituted for parchment paper in recipes that require very hot cooking conditions, the wax coating can melt and transfer to whatever is being baked. This mostly happens with the wet-waxed paper, because the wax coating is on it's surface rather than inside of the paper.

Wax paper is readily available in rolls and pre-cut sheets and in different shapes and designs.

When can both papers substitute one another?

Parchment paper and wax paper can readily substitute one another in all kitchen applications that do not involve oven heat. When oven heat is involved, it's best to stick with parchment paper since it has been treated with silicone to withstand temperatures up to 450°F. Additionally, when it come to wrapping and storing moist foods, it’s better to use wax paper since it can retain moisture levels better.

In cake recipes, brownies or muffins however, either can be used at the bottom since the batter will essentially shield the paper from direct heat in the oven.

Both wax paper and parchment paper can also be substituted for one another in microwave applications. Both are largely unaffected by the mode of heating in a microwave oven.

What are the common uses for parchment paper in cooking and storage?

Here are 19 intelligent uses of parchment paper.
  1. To line cake molds, cookie sheets and the like, so that baked goods will come out easily without clinging to the bottom. This eliminates the need to grease pans and also makes cookware cleanup a breeze. Just remove the parchment paper and rinse off the pan with warm water.
  2. To line baking pans when roasting food like vegetables or chicken legs for non-stick and easy cleanup results.
  3. As a pouch for baking certain food like fish or poultry- en papillote.
  4. To cover countertops and work surfaces during messy situations such as; sifting ingredients, compounding butter, cutting fudges, forming meat balls and glazing chocolates. This makes clean up easy and remnants can be transferred back to the canister.
  5. Parchment paper can be used as a substitute for muffin liners. It is cut in small squares and pressed into greased muffin tins to form the liner.  
  6. Parchment paper can be used as a surface to collect sifted or chopped ingredients, then as a funnel to effortlessly and efficiently transfer them into a mixing bowl.
  7. Parchment paper can be used to make piping cornet for decorating cakes and muffins.
  8. Parchment paper can be used to create layers between sticky baked goods, hamburgers or meat prior to placing them in a freezer bag to prevent smearing and ensure easy release.
  9. Parchment paper can be used for wrapping baked articles for gift purposes.
  10. Parchment paper can be used to cut down on microwave messes. The paper is inserted over a bowl of dish in a microwave to prevent splatter.
  11. Parchment paper can be used as an extra cooling rack for cookies etc.
  12. Parchment paper can be used to protect the surface of wooden cutting boards from scratch, stains, and meat blood. The parchment over the board also helps to prevent blunting of knives.
  13. Parchment paper can be used to roll out pastry and cookie dough. The dough is inserted between two sheets of parchment paper to prevent it from sticking to the countertop of the rolling pin.
  14. Parchment paper is often re-used a number of times for all the cooking purposes mentioned above.
  15. Parchment paper can be used to line fridge drawers and shelves to help keep them moisture free and clean.
  16. Parchment paper can be used as a surface to rest spoons and ladles used for turning batters.
  17. Parchment paper can be used to protect cookbooks from splatters or oils.
  18. Parchment paper can be used as a non-stick surface for frying pan cooking.
  19. Parchment paper can be used to wrap cookie dough for chilling.

What are the common uses for wax paper?

  1. Wax paper is used for all the microwave and non-oven applications mentioned above.
  2. Wax paper is used as a pan liner for goods in which the food or batter completely covers the wax paper lining.
  3. Wax paper is used to wrap foods like sandwich, cheese, fruits, butter etc for cold storage. It allows the wrapped items to breath and retain moisture. 
  4. Wax paper, particularly dry wax paper, can be used to wrap hot foods like sandwiches or cookies.

How safe is parchment paper and wax paper?

Parchment paper is carefully treated to withstand temperatures of up to 450°F. Above that, it will begin to brittle around the exposed edges and eventually smoke. This high heating threshold makes parchment paper safe for lining baking pans in the oven or covering dishes in the microwave oven.

Wax paper on the other hand only performs well under microwave applications. This is because it's particles do not interact with the microwave radiation to absorb energy and cause heat. In conventional ovens however, the hot air generated inside of the oven can easily melt the wax coating on the paper and possibly ignite it.

In addition to that, both parchment paper and wax paper come in two different forms. Bleached and Unbleached. The bleached form is often considered a second or third option by most bakers because of it's likelihood to contaminate food with trace amount of compounds known as dioxin.

Dioxins are toxic substances that are formed during the chlorination step in bleaching. Dioxins can migrate into food that come in contact with bleached paper, but at infinitesimally small amounts. These quantities do not appear to pose any health risk to people when consumed.

However, dioxins are persistent and over time, they can accumulate to toxic levels in the body and eventually present their health risks. For these reason and more, bleached papers are often not considered safe for cooking.

As for the paper coating; silicone in the case of parchment paper and soybean or paraffin wax in the case of wax papers, they are all made from food grade materials which means they are safe and non-toxic when they come in contact with food.

What are the best parchment paper substitutes for oven use?

  • Silicone baking mat (Slipat): Silicone baking mats are by far the number one substitute for parchment papers when it comes to the oven. As the name suggest, they have surfaces coated with food grade silicone which enables them to withstand very high temperatures (upto 480°F for this brand). They release baked goods perfectly and make cookware cleanup easy. Best part? They are non-toxic and can be used hundreds of times before they need replacement.
  • Line baking sheets and pans with aluminum foil: If you ever run out of parchment sheet for your next set of cookies, try lining the cookie sheet with aluminum foil and grease the surface with shortening. The grease will serve as a non-stick surface and your cookies will slip out easy and nice. 
  • Grease baking mold: The trick above can be duplicated without aluminum. Just grease the surface of the pan and bake food directly on it. The grease will serve as non-stick surface. Additionally, you can sprinkle flour on the greasy surface to achieve a better non-stick result.

What are the best substitutes for wax paper?

  1. Parchment paper: Parchment paper can readily substitute wax paper for all applications mentioned above. 
  2. Freezer paper: These are papers that are specifically designed for freezer use. They have a plastic coating on one sides and are typically much more durable than wax papers. They can substitute wax papers in all cooling applications.
  3. Aluminium foil: Foil can substitute wax paper in warping and storing goods, preventing kitchen mess, and making disposable funnel. Foils however, are not safe to use in the microwave.

Bonus Tip:

How to Properly line a baking pan:

Grease inside of the pan with a cooking spray before lining it with a parchment paper. This will ensure the paper sticks to the body of the pan and will not curl up during cooking. In turn, delicate baked goods like cookies and biscuits will bake out nicely and flat. Also, make sure to stretch out any folds on the paper and press it smoothly against the baking sheets to avoid marks on baked goods.

Reference and Further Reading
  1. Webb, F. and Whitney, E. (2012). Nutrition. 12th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, p.486.
  2. Can you use aluminum foil in the oven? - The Wisebaker
  3. Dioxins and their effects on human health - World Health Organization

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