Is parchment paper the same as wax paper?

is parchment paper the same as wax paper
Photo Credit: 420packaging.com

Parchment paper and wax paper are widely used for similar applications in the kitchen. But are they the same thing? is parchment paper just another wax paper or wax paper just another parchment paper?

Well, let's find out.

Is wax paper the same as parchment paper? Wax paper is not the same as parchment paper. Both are two separate kitchen staples with a wide range of applications; baking, freezing, wrapping, storing etc. They have different compositions but can be used interchangeably for most of these applications except when heat is involved, in which case, the parchment paper is always preferred because of it's design ability to withstand very high temperatures.

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 coated with a release agent usually food grade silicone. The acid eliminates any air pockets in the paper rendering it water proof and dense while the ultra-thin silicone coating makes it heat resistant and non-stick.

So when used to line the bottom of sheet pans during baking, the paper is able to withstand very temperatures in 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 they 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. The base papers regularly used for the treatment are greaseproof and liquid resistant papers. So the end-product is a wax paper that is tough, moisture proof and non-stick. The treatment is commonly achieved by applying wax coating on either or both sides of the paper, by impregnating the wax directly into the paper or by laminating the wax between two papers. This imparts a high degree of gloss on the paper surface giving it a slippery feel and a translucent look.

Wax paper is primarily used to wrap foods like vegetables, sandwiches or butter sticks for cold storage. The wrapper creates a breathable environment that allows the food to retain a level of moisture and stay fresh. In cooking, it is often used to line baking 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 where the thick batter essentially protects the paper from the direct heat of the oven.

The reason why wax paper is never used to line pans for oven use is because, unlike parchment paper, wax paper is coated with wax which has a low melting point. Usually lower than the temperature required to cook most recipes (350°F). So when substituted for parchment paper in recipes that require very hot cooking conditions, it will melt and leave tasteless wax residue on the food.

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 for the oven and can withstand very high temperatures (up to 450°F).

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

Both wax paper and parchment paper can also be safely substituted for one another when covering the top of dishes in the microwave. Both are largely unaffected by the mode of heating in microwaves.

What are the common uses for 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 is 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 is 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 is used to make piping cornet for decorating cakes and muffins.
  8. Parchment paper is 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 is used as a breathable wrap to store sandwich, cheese, butter, vegetables and meat. 
  10. Parchment paper is used for wrapping baked goods for gift purposes or for non-stick short term storage.
  11. Parchment paper is used to cut down on microwave messes. The paper is inserted over a bowl of dish in a microwave to prevent splatter.
  12. Parchment paper is used as an extra cooling rack for cookies etc.
  13. Parchment paper is 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.
  14. Parchment paper is 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.
  15. Parchment paper is often re-used a number of times for all the cooking purposes mentioned above.
  16. Parchment paper is used to line fridge drawers and shelves to help keep them moisture free and clean.
  17. Parchment paper is used as a surface to rest spoons and ladles used for turning batters.
  18. Parchment paper is used to protect cookbooks from splatters or oils.
  19. Parchment paper is used as a non-stick surface for cooking fish or meat on a frying pan.

What are the common uses for wax paper?

  1. Wax paper is used for all the microwave and non-oven applications mentioned above.

How safe is parchment paper and wax paper in cooking?

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 and covering dishes in the microwave and heating under frying pan.

Wax paper on the other hand only performs well under microwave applications. And that is because the wax paper is never heated to the point where the surface coating begins to melt (155°F) or the paper decomposes and ignite. In ovens however, the air temperature required in cooking most recipes is sufficient enough to melt the wax coating on the paper rendering it's non-stick properties useless, and possibly cause ignition.

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 can easily buildup to hazardous levels and leach into the environment through discarded papers and products, becoming heavily concentrated in land, water and animals, eventually pose serious health risk. For these reasons and more, bleached papers are often not considered safe for the environment and for cooking.

As for the non-stick 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. This means that they are safe and non-toxic even when they come in contact with food.

How to store parchment paper and wax paper?

Parchment paper and wax paper should be stowed away from colorants, acids, flame, moisture and fats. You can store them in their original packaging on kitchen countertops or in cupboards.

Where can you buy parchment and wax papers?

Parchment paper is usually more expensive than wax paper. Both are available in the baking section of most supermarkets. You can also buy them on amazon.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the best parchment paper substitutes for oven use?

  1. 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.
  2. 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 baking pan with aluminum foil and grease the surface with a cooking spray or butter. The grease will serve as a non-stick surface and your cookies will slip out easy and nice. A word of caution: Aluminum foils and cookwares are known to leach very small amounts of aluminum into food during cooking process, particularly at higher temperatures. These amounts aren't really harmful per-se, but if you are someone who seriously cares about the level of aluminium in your diet, you might want to try another substitute.
  3. 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.
No 1 is the best alternative for parchment paper. As for 2 and 3, they are a decent replacement, but it means extra oil and fats whenever you bake, Plus some aluminum deposits.

What are the best substitutes for wax paper?

  1. Parchment paper: This is no brainier. Parchment paper is the number substitute for wax paper because it covers everything and anything a wax paper can do and beyond.
  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 freezing applications and are usually the better option.
  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.

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 fold on the paper and press it smoothly against the baking sheets to avoid marks on baked goods.

For reference and further reading
  1. Webb, F. and Whitney, E. (2012). Nutrition. 12th ed. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Cengage Learning, p.486.
  2. Is it Safe to Use Aluminium Foil in Cooking? - Healthline
  3. Buy Parchment paper - 402packaging.com
  4. Dioxins and their effects on human health - World Health Organization

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