Body Lotion Bar DIY: Beef Tallow Part Deux

lotion

Rosemary-scented lotion bar, made from beef tallow and cocoa butter

I was at my desk around 2:30 p.m., and my stomach was hard at work digesting my lunch, while every other cell in my body wanted to be napping. I spaced out for a few minutes. When my brain came back to the present, my eyes were focused on the crook of my left elbow, which, I suddenly noticed, was dry, wrinkled, and looked about 20 years older than it should. And what were those dark blotches all the way down my arm and wrist? Could they be liver spots? I suddenly noticed that the skin on the back of my hand was red, chafed, and scaly.

What. The hell.

I felt like I went to bed a healthy 32 year old and woke up an armadillo. And I resolved that it was time to start moisturizing. 

However, the first ingredient in my bottle of Bath & Bodyworks Aromatherapy Body Lotion is water, which does not moisturize at all. Water is cheap, however, and it is an easy filler for many skin care products. The moisturizing components of the lotion are the oils, but oil and water don’t mix well, so you need emulsifiers like cetyl alcohol and sodium hydroxide to bind the oil and water together. I also found petrolatum (which comes from crude oil) as the primary “fat,” and a bunch of preservatives and parabens later on the ingredients list. The oil is the ingredient that my skin needs; does it really need tocopheryl acetate, propylene glycol, or methylparaben?

I knew that the soap I made out of beef tallow had turned out marvelously well: it is moisturizing, lathers well, and is hard enough to last a good long while in the shower. Could tallow be used as a lotion base as well?

The Weston A. Price Foundation certainly thinks so:

“Currently there are virtually no skin care products available made with animal fats. Interestingly, such topical products disappeared at the same time that animal fats in our diets did. Among the animal fats used for skin care, it appeared from my research that the one used most overwhelmingly was indeed tallow. “

The website also acknowledges the modern taboo against using animal products in skin care, but points out:

“Tallow fat is typically 50 to 55 percent saturated, just like our cell membranes, with almost all of the rest being monounsaturated,21 so it makes sense that it would be helpful for skin health and compatible with our cell biology…In regard to this compatibility of tallow with the biology of our skin, we should note that we are animals rather than plants, so the modern taboo against animal products in skin care products would seem unfounded and even illogical. In addition to containing very little saturated fats, plant products do not have the same levels of other nutrients needed for healthy skin. Tallow contains the abundant natural fat-soluble activators, vitamins A, D, and K, as well as vitamin E, which are found only in animal fats and which are all necessary for general health and for skin health.”

I was convinced. I found a recipe on the Wellness Mama website that used tallow in equal proportion to a body butter (shea or cocoa), with some beeswax for firmness. Essential oil optional. And that’s it. No steryl yadda yadda propylparababble.

The Recipe

(from wellnessmama.com)

I used cocoa butter with my beef tallow, and about 40 drops of rosemary essential oil for scent. You can melt the semi-solid oils with the beeswax over low heat in a small pan, or in a glass Mason jar in a simmering hot water bath. Let the oils cool a bit and then add the drops of essential oil. I poured my lotion bars into a muffin tin, but you could use anything as a mold, including a small plastic tupperware. Once entirely cool and solidified, pop out of the mold and rub some on your skin to check the consistency. Does it melt too fast in your hand? Add some more beeswax and reheat to melt.

Next time I make these lotion bars, I’ll use shea butter instead of cocoa butter, only because cocoa butter has a strong scent. Every time I moisturize with it, Joshua tells me I smell like Oaxaca, which made me first think of bean farts and seasoned pork, but I quickly realized he meant that I smell like chocolate. And while I do love chocolate, I don’t want to smell like it always, and the cocoa butter is so powerful that my 40 drops of rosemary oil barely even compete. So next time, shea butter, which is more odor neutral.

The Results

I would like to conclude this post by reporting that my scaly, spotted, and flaking skin has been restored to the youthful even glow of a 16 year old! But that would not be true. It does, however, more closely resemble the skin of a fair-skinned 32-year old (who has not been diligent about sunscreen her whole life), which is still a good deal better than looking like the spawn of an armadillo.

Linked up at: Skip To My Lou The Chicken Chick

Saponification!

I had plans to make candles out of last weekend’s rendered tallow, and after I had the candles mastered, I planned to graduate onto soap, which is more chemically complicated. But once I started reading soap recipes, learning about the chemistry, reading tutorials, candles sounded boring. Soap it is!

Do you know what your soap is made of? Unless you buy handcrafted soap at your farmer’s market, or a natural brand that emphasizes the absence of animal products, there’s a good chance your soap contains beef fat, which is called sodium tallowate on the label. That includes all the biggies: Dove, Jergens, Zest, Ivory… don’t be alarmed! Beef fat makes great soap, and specifically hard soap, so your bar lasts a good long time. Other fats contribute different properties. Coconut oil, for example, creates a nice lather. Olive oil makes a soap creamy and conditioning. There are a bajillion types of oil to create a soap to suit every purpose.

The recipe for soap is simple: fat+sodium hydroxide (lye) = soap. Everything else is just decoration. I wanted to keep my soap natural, so I decided to use turmeric, paprika, and Brazilian red clay as colorants, and lemongrass essential oil for scent.

There are some very good soap-making tutorials out there, specifically the excellent Humblebee & Me blog, which includes photos of the entire process. Since this was my first time making soap, I’d caution you against using this post as a tutorial. There is much greater wisdom out there on the interwebs!

This Soap Calculator is an essential tool for the soap maker. It calculates the amount of lye, water, and fragrance you’ll need in both ounces and grams. I knew I had at least 4 lbs of beef tallow to work with, but after doing some research, I learned that I should probably mix the tallow with some other oils to improve the properties of the soap. I was aiming for a 5 lb loaf of soap, so that meant reducing my tallow quantity. In the end, I calculated the following:

  • 36 oz tallow
  • 16 oz coconut oil
  • 16 oz olive oil
  • 25.8 oz water
  • 9.7 oz sodium hydroxide
  • 2.5 oz essential oil

Note these ounces are by weight, not fluid ounces.

First, bring the oil to liquid state at the lowest temperature possible. You’ll eventually have to get it back down to around 110ºF, so any temp above that is heat you’ll just have to lose later.

Melting tallow

Melting tallow

I brought my coconut oil to liquid state in a warm water bath and mixed with the olive oil, then dumped in the frozen tallow. By the time it was all completely melted, my oil was up to 175º, so I brought it outside to cool.

The next step is mixing in the lye, which is supposed to be almost exactly the same temperature as the oil when it’s added. Timing the temperature turned out to be the most complicated part of the whole process. After you mix your carefully measured lye with your carefully measured water, the solution immediately heats up. I expected this to happen, but I didn’t know how much it would heat up. I made the mistake of cooling my oil down to 120º before mixing the lye and water in a plastic pitcher, and the lye heated itself up to 189º! Then it was the lye’s turn to sit outside and cool. By the time it finally cooled to 120º, my oil was too cool and needed to be heated back up on the stove. But then I overheated it. Back out to the porch to cool. You get the picture. The end goal is that the oil and lye solution should both be between 110-115ºF when you mix them.

Once temperature nirvana was at last achieved, I added the lye to the oil. In the old days, you had to stir by hand for an hour or more to fully combine the substances, but we’re lucky that immersion blenders significantly speed the process. The goal is to achieve “trace,” which is a thickness of similar viscosity to stirred yogurt. It took about 10 minutes with my immersion blender.

Once a thin trace is achieved, it’s time to add any scents or colorants. My loose plan for this soap was to be half yellow and half red, with a thin straight line of vibrant red-orange paprika between the two layers. After adding the lemongrass essential oil, I dumped what I guessed to be half of the soap into a second bowl, added the turmeric to the first and the red clay to the second, and continued blending with the immersion blender to bring the yellow layer to a firm trace. This took longer than expected. Once I could finally drizzle the soap on itself and see the “trace” of the lines left behind, it was ready to pour into the mold, which Joshua sweetly built for me earlier that morning. I lined it with freezer paper. After pouring into the mold, I dusted paprika over the yellow layer using a tea strainer.

But by the time I got to the red clay portion, it had cooled a bit and came to firm trace FAST, much faster and thicker than the yellow layer. The yellow bottom layer would need to be thick enough to suspend the red bottom layer without breaking through the surface tension. I held my breath and gently poured. The red layer sunk and swirled, and the paprika gushed up toward the top. Sigh. It was ambitious for a first soap, perhaps. In hindsight, I should have given up on the neat color blocks at this point and just deliberately swirled the colors, but I left it as poured just to see what would happen.

Molded!

Molded!

The next step is to insulate your soap to allow the second chemical process to happen: saponification. After molding, the soap heats itself back up again and gels, and something in this process is what officially transforms the caustic lye into benign body soap. I don’t really get it.

24 hours later you can cut your soap. After cutting, I realized that my gestalt 50/50 red and yellow was WAY OFF. Next time I’ll measure. I would also use more turmeric for a deeper yellow. My dad says these look like slabs of raw bacon, which is maybe appropriate, given the origins of this project. Maybe next time I’ll make bacon scented soap. The dogs think this is an excellent idea.

Word of caution, repeated from Humblebee & Me: lye should be treated with a healthy dose of respect. Many soap making tutorials recommend wearing gloves and goggles when working with lye. I had no intention of touching the stuff, and I mixed it outside so the noxious vapors wouldn’t stink up the house, so I ignored both of these suggestions. But I still had to stir the hot lye to help it cool, and the steam it gave off as it cooled was enough to mildly burn my hand, which was itchy and raw for the next 24 hours. Next time I’ll wear gloves.

Rendering Tallow

A few weeks ago we added  125 lbs of grassfed beef to our freezer. In addition to all of those steaks and roasts, we filled a second freezer full of organs (heart, liver, tongue), soup bones, and fat from the cow. We like to use tallow (rendered fat) for cooking, but there’s no way we would get through 15 lbs of it in a year. Fortunately, tallow has many uses, including soap and candles. But whether you’re using it for cooking, candles, soap, leather conditioner, pemmican, or bird feeders, it all starts the same way. You have to convert (render) the raw animal fat (suet) into tallow.

(As a side note, if you’ve ever wondered the difference between suet, lard, and tallow, it goes like this: lard is fat from a pig, and it’s called lard both before and after it’s rendered. Suet is the fat from beef, venison, and mutton, and once rendered, it’s called tallow. Interestingly, McDonalds fried their french fries in beef tallow up until the early 90s when the USDA stepped up their efforts to villainize cholesterol, causing a collective freak-out that animal fat causes heart disease [a myth that continues to trend, but has been widely debunked]. Now McDonalds has switched to vegetable fat (e.g., corn oil), but in order to keep a similar flavor, they add “beef flavoring derived from hydrolyzed wheat and milk.” I can’t help but feel that this is a serious step backward in our culinary evolution.)

So rendering. There are two ways to go about it: dry rendering or wet rendering. Wet rendering involves slowly simmering the fat in water, which helps uniformly distribute the temperature. Once purified, the fat and water are strained through a cheesecloth and refrigerated. The fat will harden in a layer on top, and the water will settle to the bottom, where it can easily be poured out after the fat solidifies.

The other method is dry rendering, which can be done on the stovetop, oven, or crockpot at low temps. I’ve tried stovetop rendering in the past and it works well, but you have to be vigilant about stirring because it’s easy to burn, which ruins the flavor of the tallow. This time, I tried dry rendering in the slow cooker, and it’s the only method I will use in the future. Here’s a step by step.

1. Start with partially frozen grassfed suet. It’s important that the beef was grassfed, because the nutrient value is much, much higher. Also, it should ideally be organic, since the residue from antibiotics, pesticides, and other nasty stuff is more concentrated in an animal’s fat. I started with 6 lbs of suet, which was a good amount for my 5-quart crockpot.

2. Trim off all bits of meat from the fat. These bits will cook and burn faster, which will throw off the taste of your tallow.

Trim the suet

3. Toss the chunks of suet into a food processor. This helps to break up the fibers of connective tissue, and the tallow will render faster. Dump them into a crockpot and set on LOW. The process can take 6-12 hours to fully render.

4. Strain. After about 8 hours, I had more liquid than solid, and it was time to separate. I set a metal strainer over a stainless steel bowl, lined the strainer with cheesecloth, and poured it all in. There was quite a bit of fat left in my cheesecloth, and I thought I could probably get more tallow out of it. But it was already 9 p.m., and I didn’t want to risk burning the whole batch by leaving it in the crockpot overnight. After straining out the pure light-yellow oil, I put the remaining fat back in the crockpot, turned it back on low, and went to bed.

In the morning, nearly 2 pints of additional tallow had rendered, and the fat had clearly finished its rendering process. How could I tell? Because the fat was no longer a greasy looking glob; it had browned and hardened into “crispins,” which sank to the bottom. This time when I strained it, the rendered oil was a darker yellow and had a noticeable “roasted” scent. I’m glad I separated the majority out the day before, because whereas I enjoy a roasty scent in my food, I don’t care for it in my candles and body soap. The first picture shows the initial rendering, the second is the final rendering, with the dark brown crispins on top.

5. Storage. I poured the first rendering into a 9×13 pan lined with parchment paper, to make cleanup a little easier. It hardened into a creamy smooth fat, which I cut up to store in yogurt containers in the freezer until I have some time to make candles. The second (darker) rendering will be stored in an airtight jar on our countertop and used for cooking. It, too, will harden once it cools.

If you still have any reservations about the health value of animal fat, I encourage you to read the article Are the Government’s Dietary Guidelines Making us Obese?, by Margie King, and The Diet-Heart Myth: Cholesterol and Saturated Fat Are Not the Enemy, by Chris Kresser.