When I started making soap about a year ago, I went the common, plant-based route and only used butters and oils produced from things that grew out of the ground. These make lovely soaps in all sorts of combinations, but they are, on the whole, quite pricey and I’ve begun to have a few qualms about the carbon footprints and environmental friendliness of certain of them, such as almond and even allegedly sustainably-farmed palm.
I’ve thus decided I should make greater use of closer-to-home and more sustainable ingredients wherever possible. I now mainly use sunflower oil as my light oil. (Soap generally needs a combination of hard and soft oils.) It’s not hard to find French sunflower oil in the shops as France is the fifth biggest producer of it in the world. France churns out more than 630,000 tonnes of sunflower oil a year.
But I don’t exclusively use sunflower oil. A recent geocaching trip took us to Dun-sur-Auron, and we parked up across the road from a huilerie – oil mill. I treated myself to a small bottle each of its pumpkin seed oil, camelina oil and sesame oil. (Camelina is a member of the brassica family and also known as false flax.) So far I’ve only used the pumpkin seed oil. It’s a very dark oil that has given this soap a pleasant, rich brown colour.
I’ve also switched to using animal fats as much as possible, hence the ‘Animal Foam’ title of this blog. The earliest soap was made from such fats, which were boiled with ashes. So it’s certainly a traditional method, and the materials are in ample supply as a by-product of the meat industry.
Beef tallow is rich in nutrients and quite stiff. Those properties make it lovely to use in soap-making, but it’s proved to be surprisingly elusive. I’d only found it once in a local supermarket. However, I hit the jackpot at Auchan in Montluçon yesterday and stocked up on three large packs of it. That should keep me going for a little while!
The gardener’s soap in the photo is made mainly from tallow, and has green matcha tea and cocoa in it for (disappointingly faint) colorants, and exfoliants.
Lard is also very nice to use. It’s a little softer than tallow, and is a very good substitute for palm oil. It makes for a very white bar of soap and apparently produces a lovely, rich lather.
I’ve made 100% tallow soap and 100% lard soap but both are still curing. Once they’re ready I’ll be able to see which, if either, of the two I prefer.
And then there’s duck fat, another ingredient that is plentiful in France. This isn’t a fat you tend to use as the only ingredient, because whilst its produces a hard bar that rates bang in the middle of the recommended ranges for conditioning, longevity and stability, it produces no lather. Neither is it good at grabbing hold of grease and hanging onto it, which is what you need soap to do so that when you rinse your soapy hands, body or face, you rinse away the dirt at the same time. (A soap molecule has a hydrophilic end that binds with water, and a hydrophobic end that binds with grease.) I’ve made some duck fat soap which incorporated a little coconut oil and some daffodil-infused sunflower oil to add a hint of natural colour. I call it my Daffy Duck soap!
I’m in a Facebook soap-making forum where members share photos, recipes, hints and woes. I’ve seen mention of raccoon, deer and bison tallow as ingredients there. You can use pretty much any animal fat to make soap, but rest assured, our llamas, cats, dog, exotic birds and hamster have nothing to fear! And whilst I won’t be using their fat, I will be using the chickens’ eggs in future soap and shampoo bar projects. Watch this space…