Saturday, January 31, 2015

Marbled Soap Using Pantry Spices

I've been making soap for a few years now and I've always wanted to try marbling. The problem I've come across is the fairly limited natural color options... that are safe, cheap and easy to find. Since my primary reason for making my own soap is to avoid synthetic or harsh ingredients, I usually don't add color to my soap. I'm more interested in the way my soap smells anyway. I'd rather have a lumpy brown chunk of soap with a rich herbal scent than a beautifully molded translucent blue bar that smells like a crayon!

There are lots of safe mineral pigments, but other than coloring the soap, they don't really contribute any therapeutic properties. I wanted to color my soap with ingredients that would have beneficial attributes beyond color so I went to my spice cabinet and chose turmeric, clove, and cinnamon. I used just enough turmeric to lend a warm orange tone to the soap, without impacting the final scent of the bars. For the accent color, I used a combination of ground cloves and cinnamon to create a rich dark brown while also adding a gentle warming and exfoliating quality. I scented the bars with orange, clove and cinnamon essential oils to go with the colors and ingredients in the soap.

The soap pictured above is just turmeric marbled into plain, undyed soap. 

Making marbled soap is just like making regular soap, until the last two minutes before pouring the soap into its mold. The key is to work quickly and be prepared, since your soap will start to set after it's gone to trace. Make sure to have all your ingredients and supplies ready before you start!

If you've never made soap before, I recommend trying a couple simple batches first. I have a post dedicated to the basics of soapmaking that you might find useful. In this post, I'm going to breeze over the primary steps of soap making, so if you're not familiar with the process (especially in regards to using lye safely), this post might not be enough to get you started.

Before you begin, get out everything you will need. Clear off a work surface, measure out your ingredients, and double check your recipe to make sure nothing is missing. Soapmaking is time sensitive, so once you start, it can be tricky to stop for a grocery run!

Equipment Essentials:
Kitchen scale
Stainless steel stock pot
Various wood or silicon spoons and spatulas
Kitchen thermometers (one for the lye solution, one for the oil solution)
Safety goggles and gloves
Plastic containers that can hold hot liquid (the lye solution gets hot!)
Soap mold

1 1/2 pounds distilled water
236 grams lye
2 pounds olive oil
1 pound 4 ounces coconut oil
12 ounces palm oil
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground clove
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
About 2 tablespoons of avocado oil to mix with spices
3 teaspoons sweet orange essential oil
2 teaspoons clove essential oil
2 teaspoon cinnamon essential oil

First, line your mold with wax or parchment paper. Miter the corners so they say as flat as possible against the side of your mold. Smooth corners = pretty bars of soap!

Measure out the spices into separate containers. Mix in just enough avocado oil to form a smooth paste. If you add the spices to the soap dry, they will form dry chunks and be a pain to combine fully into your soap.

 Now go ahead and weigh out your other ingredients.

Start heating the oils on the stove, and combine the lye and water in a well ventilated area (wear gloves and eye protection, buddy!). I always combine the lye water outside because it's fun to mix dangerous chemical solutions where your neighbors can see. 

Be vigilant about checking temperatures. Tend to both the pot of oils on the stove and the lye/water solution. Using separate thermometers, watch them both like a hawk until they reach 90 degrees F at the same time. If you're super observant and a little lucky, this will happen on its own. If you're not, be prepared to spend even more time with an ice or hot water bath.

While you are waiting for the temperatures to match, triple check that you have everything measured out and ready. I forgot to measure the essential oils during set up, so this was my last chance!

When the oil and lye mixtures have both reached the desired temperature, don your gloves and goggles and gently pour the lye into the pot of melted oils. Then stir, baby stir!

After 30 minutes to an hour of stirring, your soap should come to trace. I find that this recipe makes a truly subtle trace, so if you don't see it but you've been stirring diligently for more than an hour, assume it's there and move on. Chances are, it'll work out fine.

Pour out one third of the soap into a separate container (an old yogurt container works well). Stir the darker color into this.

Note: The picture below is from a different batch! I was stirring this first clove/cinnamon/turmeric batch for so long that the sun set before the soap went to trace and I didn't get any good pictures of the marbling process. So the following pictures show turmeric as the dark accent color marbled into a neutral base color. For this recipe, mix the cinnamon and cloves into the yogurt container and the turmeric into the rest for the lighter color. Sorry for the confusion.

Mix the lighter color into the remaining two thirds of the soap in the pot, or leave undyed. Stir in the essential oils and pour the lighter soap mixture evenly into the prepared soap mold.

Now slowly stream the turmeric soap in thin lines running lengthwise down the soap mold, then shortwise across the mold. For this size mold, I ran three lines down the length and five across. Then use a spatula to gently swirl through the soap to create the marbling. Don't stir the soap too much or you'll just blend the two colors together.

Carefully cover the mold, wrap in blankets and let the soap cure for two days before unmolding. Cure and cut bars as you normally would.

The above two pictures are of the cinnamon/clove mixture marbled into the turmeric soap and below are the finished bars (after trimming and curing). As you can tell, the turmeric does not turn out a bright orange color, but the marbling is distinct and formed lovely swirls. Each bar looks unique, and the scent is wonderful. All in all, I think this was a successful first attempt and is a technique I will try again. It's a little more effort than making normal soap, but the marbling does create a lovely effect.

My final thoughts on this recipe:
  • The final bars cure well, are very hard, and are easy to cut and trim.
  • Excellent lather. Very rich and creamy without any sliminess.
  • Nice strong scent without being overpowering
  • Long stirring process with a very subtle trace. I stirred for over one hour and still wasn't sure if the soap had gone to trace. I proceeded with the marbling anyway, and it turned out just fine!

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