Sunday, May 31, 2015

Smell and Emotion

Recently at a market, a woman smelled all of my soaps in a typical fashion but paused when she got to my Oatmeal, Milk & Honey bar. To me, and many others, this soap smells a bit like an oatmeal cookie with slight almond notes. This woman, I'd guess around 60, was transported to somewhere far away for a few seconds. When her mind returned to the present, she said that smell, for whatever reason, reminded her deeply of her times in a Catholic school as a young girl. The psychologist in me wanted to reply with, "Tell me more about that," but I realized it was a weekend and I wasn't at that job. So instead I decided on, "Did your Catholic school bake a lot of oatmeal cookies?"

Smell is often overlooked as an important sense. If you'd have to lose one as an adult, well, smell seems to pose the lease impact on daily living. This decision makes sense. However, without smell the evocation of strong emotions and memories linked with certain smells, will obviously no longer happen. Eating foods will  be abysmal as well. Functionality is intact as to not create major dfficulties in getting through the day but the question then becomes, what happens to the extras?

The olfactory bulbs in our brain are right next to our limbic system. Of all the senses, smell has the closest and fastest access to this part of our brain. Why is this important? The limbic system is the place where we store many memories and emotions. Because of this, scent can create a warm, comforting emotion within milliseconds, or it can be quite repelling.

"The linkup between nose and brain likewise holds considerable interest. The olfactory bulbs extend some of their axons directly into the limbic system of the brain, the celebrated seat of emotions, sexuality and drive. Odor information thus goes from nose to bulbs to limbic system, a much more direct route than that traversed by visual and auditory input. Olfaction may be an ancient sense, perhaps the hoariest of them all; but its wiring to the brain is sweet and pithy."

The scents we use in our soaps and bath products are largely plant based. Fresh air, foliage, flowers, citruses, these are generally scents that evoke euphoric feelings in all of us. Our soaps are scented lightly so that they aren't overpowering. I have been known to get a headache if someone in the room is wearing too much perfume. With that in mind, our scents are light, refreshing, and comforting.

The best ingredients in the world end up in our products. Shop at:

Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Making of Coconut and Lemongrass Soap

I recently did a market on the boardwalk at the Jersey Shore and it was an amazing time! I love meeting other creative people and learning their business models. One patron at this market came up to my booth and said, "Yep, soap. I made soap with my boy scout troop a few years ago." To which I said, "Really? That's daring! How old were the boy scouts?" Low and behold he made melt-and-pour soap. MP soap is great for people who are nervous to handle lye or for those who prefer a glycerin-based soap. There are many people doing amazing things with MP soap. However, that is not what we do. We do cold-processed soap which means oils are saponified using lye. This is a lot of fun, and a bit scary, and you get to control all of the ingredients in your soap.
This post is to answer the question we get a lot which is, "How do you make soap?"

The following is an adaptation of Kenna from Modern Soapmaking's recipe for Coconut Milk Soap.

This is in no way meant to be an instructional for first-time cold processed soap makers. There is a lot to know about how to handle lye safely that is not covered in this post. 

For this recipe, the first step was to weigh out the coconut milk: 

Because this soap was going to be scented with Lemongrass Essential Oil, I thought the soap will be more appealing with the lovely lemongrass shades. 

To keep with the all-natural vibe, this recipe used micas and oxides as colorants. (The gold mica was not pictured below because it was a last-minute addition!) A bit dispersed in sweet almond oil and we are ready to go!

If I ever have that bag of titanium dioxide in my car and I get pulled over, the police officer is going to have a few questions for me, I'm sure...

Now that the additives (coconut milk) and colors are prepped, I measure out my essential oils (not pictured) and my soaping oils. For this recipe, a mixture of coconut oil (A LOT of coconut oil - it is a coconut soap), rice bran oil, avocado oil, castor oil, and shea butter are used. This recipe is palm-free and vegan.

This bad boy then goes on a double-boiler to melt all of the oils and butters. At Esopus Botanicals, we always take the time to gently warm our oils, butters, and waxes over a double-boiler as opposed to microwaving it. I mean, we've all read that kid's science project where his plants fed microwaved, cooled water died while the ones with the non-microwaved, cooled water were flourishing. So why not double-boil?

All of the beautiful oils and butters are melted. 

Now it is time to suit-up Walter White style! Protective gear, deep breaths, no children or pets. 

Most soap makers make the lye water first and then while that cools, measure and melt the oils. I don't like to leave the lye water unsaponified for any longer than necessary. I measure and melt the oils while my kids are roaming the house and then gate them in the living room when the lye comes out. So the reversed process works for me. 

Lye (or sodium hydroxide in the case of making bars of soap) is pretty amazing. It has a Ph of 14 so it is as basic as you can get. (insert Kim Kardashian joke here.) Original soap makers made lye water by flushing water through wood ash from their fires. Although it is natural, it is extremely dangerous. The only picture I got of the lye was a bit blurry because no matter how many times I use it, I always get a little nervous when it comes out.

These lye flakes are added to distilled water that's container sits in an ice-bath. That is because temperatures easily rise above 200 degrees. It is not dangerous, so long as you are using the right containers, but you don't want to add your lye water to your melted oils until it is under 120 degrees. So the ice bath helps lessen the time of me shaking in my boots stirring the lye water.

I have no pictures of the lye water or when I added that to the oils. That is serious time and I didn't want to mess around with my phone. But I do have a picture of when I added the coconut milk to the oils (before the lye water was added). The process looks exactly the same:

When the lye water was added to the oil/coconut milk mixture, it was stick blended briefly with the lemongrass EO. Then the batter was divided into two parts, one with most of the soap and one with a little bit. The main batch was given a dash of titanium dioxide/sweet almond oil to maintain a nice white color and the other was given a dash of the green oxide/sweet almond oil. Just a tad to mimic the lemongrass color.

Then it's pouring time! I used the 10 inch silicone mold from for this recipe. Layers of white and light green soap went in. This is what the top looked like:

Not super beautiful just yet. I have been obsessed with adding gold mica/sweet almond oil drops to the top of my soap before swirling, Zahida from Handmade in Florida style.

Because of the natural sugars in the coconut milk, this batch accellerated on me a bit more quickly than I had hoped. I had visions of lovely swirls but when the batter thickened rapidly, I went to plan B: Peaks and texture!

This loaf went directly into the freezer. I don't do that with all of my soaps but the sugars in the coconut milk were causing the soap to get very hot and crack on the top. That is no good so to the freezer it went!

About 10 hours later I sliced this puppy up. I love the how the color turned out exactly in a lemongrass hue. Now to the curing racks to hang out for a month. Every now and again I will rotate the soaps to make sure they all get air to all 6 sides.

Put the lemongrass in the coconut and make a dank soap.