Whether you’re an avid baker or a novice in the kitchen, chances are you’ve run into parchment paper and/or wax paper at some point. Perhaps you have fond memories of your mother whipping out the wax paper to roll out her pie crust or reaching for the parchment paper so the two of you could bake cookies together. Both types of papers have been around for years, each with their own specific uses and key differences.
Arguably the most important thing to know about the two is that while parchment paper can be used in place of wax paper, wax paper can NEVER be used in place of parchment paper when cooking. In this guide, we will break down why that is, what exactly each one is, and the proper uses for each. By the time you’ve finished reading, you will know exactly which type of paper to use and when, so you can avoid kitchen mishaps.
What is Parchment Paper?
When parchment first came about centuries ago, it was made from animal skin and mostly used for writing on. It wasn’t until 1847 that French scientists invented a chemical treatment process for a plant-based paper that was very similar to parchment, minus the skinning of animals. Over the years, the process to create parchment paper was adapted and improved upon until we came to the unbleached parchment paper sheets we have today.
Now, parchment paper is a chemically treated paper made from cellulose. The chemical treatment the paper undergoes creates a nonstick surface that is water-resistant, highly durable, and heat-resistant. It can be found in nearly any grocery store’s baking aisle and sold either in rolls or, as we prefer them, in pre-cut sheets. Because of its nonstick surface and ability to withstand high heat, parchment paper is popularly used to line baking trays and bread pans.
Pros: Heat-resistant, nonstick, water-resistant, highly durable, great for cooking
Cons: Not as sturdy as wax paper, slightly more expensive than wax paper
What is Wax Paper?
While wax paper is similar to parchment paper in feel and appearance, it differs in performance due to how it’s made. Wax paper is a type of paper that’s been coated with a layer of paraffin wax, which enables it to be both water-resistant and nonstick. Because of its nonstick surface, wax paper is often used in baking for rolling out dough, in crafting for rolling out clay or protecting tabletops from paint, and in food storage for safely storing foods like cheeses, sandwiches, and desserts. However, while wax paper is a great tool for many things, cooking is not one of them.
If you’ve ever wondered, ‘Can I use wax paper instead of parchment paper in cooking?’ the answer is a resounding NO. This is because wax paper does not undergo the same chemical treatment that enables parchment paper to withstand high temperatures. While parchment paper is known to be heat-resistant, wax paper is not. If you’re one of the unlucky ones who has accidentally lined your baking tray with a sheet of wax paper instead of one of your unbleached parchment paper sheets, you know exactly what I’m talking about.
There’s nothing worse than going to the trouble of baking a beautiful batch of homemade cookies, only to open the oven and be met with clouds of dark smoke billowing out. To avoid this type of unpleasant encounter (or worse!), always make sure to double check that you’re using unbleached parchment paper sheets and not wax paper when lining your baking trays.
Pros: Malleable, nonstick, holds its shape better than parchment paper, cheaper than parchment paper, great for food storage
Cons: Not heat-resistant, cannot be used for baking
Key Difference Between Parchment Paper and Wax Paper
The most important difference between parchment paper and wax paper is their make-up. Wax paper is made of paper that’s been coated with a thin layer of paraffin wax, while parchment paper is a cellulose-based paper that’s been chemically treated to allow for heat resistance. While both are water-resistant and nonstick, only parchment paper is heat-resistant.
Because the chemical treatment that parchment paper goes through allows it to withstand high temperatures, it can be used in the oven. However, because wax paper is coated with paraffin wax instead, it is not heat-resistant and therefore can not be used in the oven. Low oven temperatures would cause the wax paper to melt and high oven temperatures could even cause the wax paper to catch fire, which you definitely don’t want.
Which One Should I Use?
Both parchment paper and wax paper are useful in different ways, so it all depends on what your needs are. If you plan on using the paper simply to roll out dough or wrap your sandwiches, wax paper will work just fine. However, if you plan on using the paper for cooking purposes like baking cookies or roasting vegetables, then you absolutely need parchment paper. Although parchment paper is slightly more expensive than wax paper, many people prefer it because it’s the more versatile product. You can use it to store food, roll out dough, and bake your cookies.
Regardless of which one you decide to buy, you should always opt for the unbleached option whenever possible. The bleaching process used to color parchment paper and wax paper adds harmful chemicals like dioxins to the papers, which could potentially leach into your food and cause harm to your body. Because unbleached parchment paper sheets and wax paper sheets do not undergo any kind of chlorine treatment or bleaching process, they are much healthier and safer to use.