Most people are confused about the exact definition of parchment paper and wax paper. While many think both are the same, and can be used interchangeably, only to face disastrous effects! It is true that both products have myriad uses in baking and cooking, it is wrong to use them interchangeably, as each has its own distinct uses. Given below is a comparison between the two.
Wax paper is defined as a normal tissue paper that has been triple coated with paraffin wax. Parchment paper on the other hand is defined as high density paper with a nonstick coating. The main difference between wax and parchment paper lies in their coating. The wax coating of wax paper melts at higher temperature and interferes with the flavor of the food. Parchment paper is made from non stick silicon material.
Both wax and parchment paper undergo a series of manufacturing processes before they are coated with their respective coating. Parchment paper is pressed into sheets and then dipped into an acid bath. It is then washed and passed over several hot rotating drums which realign the fibers. Parchment paper derives its strength from this realignment of the fibers. A silicon coating is then applied to the parchment paper. Wax paper undergoes a process called super-calendering which essentially means, compressing the paper until it achieves desired transparency. Finally, it is coated with paraffin wax.
Wax paper has a very low heat resistance. The wax coating melts at very low temperatures and often interferes with the flavor of the food. If wax paper is used in oven for direct baking, it smokes and then burns. Parchment paper on the other hand can withstand high temperatures, due to its silicon coating. Although, the recommended temperature limit for parchment paper, for most brands, is about 420ºF, one should always check the prescribed limit for your particular brand. Also, care must be taken that the parchment paper should not directly come in contact with the heat source. Direct contact with heat source can burn parchment paper.
Both wax and parchment paper can be used as lining for pans. While you can put parchment paper in the oven, wax paper should only be used to smudge grease evenly to the pan. Parchment paper is far less likely to stick to the baked goods, whereas wax paper, if comes into direct contact with food, often clings onto the food. This often renders an undesirable flavor to the food. Both of these papers can be used in cake decorations to cover the serving plate, in order to minimize the mess. They can also protect the workplaces by preventing splattering of food while blending. Both wax paper as well as parchment paper make for ideal food wrappers. They can be used in refrigerator to separate frozen foods.
The comparison between parchment paper versus wax paper in terms of cost is pretty one sided. Parchment paper is more expensive than wax paper. Although, you may find cheap parchment paper, it may not be as good as the real thing. You can find parchment paper as well as wax paper in most supermarkets, near wrapper aisle.
Hope, the above comparison between the two gave you a better idea regarding the uses of both the wrappers. If you must substitute parchment paper with wax paper, do so only when there is no heat involvement.