Saturday, March 20, 2010

Solid at Room Temperature

Oils and Butters that is. There are several favorites among soap makers. They are tried and true and consistent.

Palm Oil comes from the the oil palm family and is extracted from both the pulp of the fruit (palm oil) and the kernel (palm kernel oil).

It is one of the few highly saturated vegetable fats and a natural source of palmitic fatty acids. This makes it ideal for soap making as it adds conditioning properties as well as making a hard bar with stable lather. It a solid oil at room temperature except in warmer climate where it appears as a liquid.

Palm Oil cultivation is a controversial topic. It is a valuable economic crop which allows small landholders to share in the profits, but it is also causes damage to the natural environment. To make way for the palm oil plantations forests may be cut down, loss of endangered species may occur, and there can be an increase in gas emissions. In Indonesia and Malaysia forests are cut down and bogs are drained. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is trying to address the problem. This international organization consists of the palm oil producers and distributors who promote environmental friendly farming of sustainable Palm Oil. All the suppliers most soap makers use are responsible about using sustainable palm oil and are members of the RSPO.
Palm Oil is also used for bio fuel. The pictures are from the RSPO site.

Palm Kernel Oil oil is found in the kernel or the seed of the fruit of the palm tree, as opposed to Palm Oil which is from the flesh. The fatty acid composition of Palm Kernel Oil resembles coconut oil and is often used instead of, or addition to coconut oil.

Coconut Oil is a pure white solid oil. It is extracted from the kernel or meat of matured coconut harvested from the coconut palm.

It has a high amount of saturated fatty acids with a high melting point. It is very heat stable, slow to oxidize and resistant to rancidity. It gives soap a cleansing fluffy lather and used at a lower percentage is excellent as a skin moisturizer and softener. A bar of 100% Coconut Oil will even give a great lather in salt water.

Shea Butter is a light yellowish or ivory colored natural fat extracted from the seed of the African shea tree by crushing and boiling.

The tree starts bearing fruit when it is 10–15 years old and will continue to produce nuts for up to 200 years after reaching maturity. It is a complex fat containing many non-saponifiable components (substances that cannot be fully converted into soap by treatment with alkali). It melts at body temperature and is rapidly absorbed into the skin.

1. The outer pulp of the fruit is removed, then when dry the nut is separated from the outer shell. A social activity, this is done by Women Elders and young girls by break the shells with a small rock.
2. Shea nuts must be crushed. This is done with a mortar and pestle. It is very hard work with hours of lifting heavy pestles and slamming them down into the nuts so they can be roasted.
3. The crushed nuts are then roasted in huge pots over an open wood fire. Stirred constantly with a wooden paddle so they don't burn, it is hot, smoky work, done under the sun. This is where shea butter gets the slight smoky smell.
4. The roasted shea nuts are ground into a paste.
5. The paste is then kneaded by hand in large basin where water is gradually added to separate out the butter oils. The butter oils are curd like and float. They are taken and the excess water is squeezed out.
5. The butter oil curds are then melted in large open pots over a slow fire. A period of slow boiling will remove any remaining water, which boils off as steam.
6. The shea butter, which is creamy or golden yellow at this point, is ladled off the top of the pot and put in a cool place to harden.

The process for making shea butter is long. It can take 20 to 30 hours of labor to produce one kilogram of handcrafted shea butter. A woman working 30 hours a week may not even make $1.00 for her efforts. Buying from a supplier of Fair Trade Handcrafted Shea Butter insures the women who process the shea butter receive a fair price for their labor.

Our supplier is


  1. wow! it's wonderful of you to take the time and put all this information into one posting. great job!

  2. Thank you Cocobong, I have been learning a lot of things I thought I already knew since I started writing here. Have you ever read Swift's blog? She is incredible!

    Thanks Bobbie :), I know you like knowing what is in your soap!

  3. Thanks for the link to Swift's blog, Michelle! Think I'll make myself a pot of coffee and start reading...a great way to spend this rainy Sunday!
    Best wishes

  4. Great information - I love using shea butter in almost all of my lotions and eye creams and use it frequently in my soaps as well.

  5. I wonder how old you have to be to qualify as a "Women Elder" ?


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