Cocoa vs Shea butter

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szaza

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Inspired by a thread started by @Orla here, I've recently been comparing 2 soaps that have very similar recipes and fatty acid profiles, with the big exception that one is made with cocoa butter and the other with shea butter.

The main difference between cocoa en shea butter is that the first has more palmitic acid, while the latter contains more stearic acid. My cocoa butter soap had 15% palmitic and 11% stearic acid, while my shea butter equivalent contained 8% palmitic and 18% stearic acid. Cocoa butter also has a bit less oleic acid than shea butter, so the cocoa butter soap had some extra (refined) olive oil added to the recipe to make up for that difference (the % of oleic acid was the same in both recipes). There was a slight difference in linoleic+linolenic acids, with the cocoa butter soap having a pinch more of those (10% total vs 8% in the shea butter soap). Lauric+myristic was kept the same in both recipes.

What I notice is that the cocoa butter soap lathers a bit easier and produces a slightly creamier/silkier lather. The enourmous amount of tiny bubbles between my hands make it feel like my hands aren't really touching when I rub them together (which they do slightly with the shea butter soap). The shea butter soap on the other hand, seems to produce fewer, but (slightly) bigger bubbles. The difference is pretty small, yet clearly noticable. The first time I noticed a difference, I was using a bar made with unrefined cocoa butter and I thought the unsaponifiables might play a role, but when I switched to another bar that was made with refined cocoa butter , the difference was still there. I very much prefer the scent I used in the shea butter soap, but I keep grabbing the cocoa butter soap for its luxurious feel.

There are a few other differences between the soaps that might play a role, so I want to point those out.
First of all, the cocoa butter soap is shaped differently, it's a flat rectangular ("regular soap") shape, while the shea butter soap is a more square-ish box shape - this means the rubbing surface of the cocoa butter soap is bigger and might therefore contribute to easier lathering. This is only true for the refined cocoa butter soap though, the initial unrefined cocoa butter soap was also more box shaped.
Second, the cocoa butter soaps were both made in October 2019, while the shea butter soaps were made in February 2021, they're 18 months and 14 months old respectively. I think with a decent cure those 4 months shouldn't make a big difference, but it might still play a small role.
Lastly, I think there might be a chance the 2% difference in linoleic+linolenic acids might play a role in lather. I've heard it can sometimes increase lather, though I don't feel I have enough experience with differences in linoleic+linolenic acid in soap to be able to distinguish a higher from a lower L+L soap. The 2% difference is smaller than the 7% difference in palmitic vs stearic acids, so I assume are that the palmitic vs stearic content of the soap played a bigger role that the L+L content.

I'm not sure if there's something inherently amazing about cocoa butter or if the balance between palmitic and stearic acids is just better, but I seem to clearly favor my cocoa butter soap over the shea butter version that is very similar in many aspects.
 

earlene

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Inspired by a thread started by @Orla here, I've recently been comparing 2 soaps that have very similar recipes and fatty acid profiles, with the big exception that one is made with cocoa butter and the other with shea butter.

The main difference between cocoa en shea butter is that the first has more palmitic acid, while the latter contains more stearic acid. My cocoa butter soap had 15% palmitic and 11% stearic acid, while my shea butter equivalent contained 8% palmitic and 18% stearic acid. Cocoa butter also has a bit less oleic acid than shea butter, so the cocoa butter soap had some extra (refined) olive oil added to the recipe to make up for that difference (the % of oleic acid was the same in both recipes). There was a slight difference in linoleic+linolenic acids, with the cocoa butter soap having a pinch more of those (10% total vs 8% in the shea butter soap). Lauric+myristic was kept the same in both recipes.

What I notice is that the cocoa butter soap lathers a bit easier and produces a slightly creamier/silkier lather. The enourmous amount of tiny bubbles between my hands make it feel like my hands aren't really touching when I rub them together (which they do slightly with the shea butter soap). The shea butter soap on the other hand, seems to produce fewer, but (slightly) bigger bubbles. The difference is pretty small, yet clearly noticable. The first time I noticed a difference, I was using a bar made with unrefined cocoa butter and I thought the unsaponifiables might play a role, but when I switched to another bar that was made with refined cocoa butter , the difference was still there. I very much prefer the scent I used in the shea butter soap, but I keep grabbing the cocoa butter soap for its luxurious feel.

There are a few other differences between the soaps that might play a role, so I want to point those out.
First of all, the cocoa butter soap is shaped differently, it's a flat rectangular ("regular soap") shape, while the shea butter soap is a more square-ish box shape - this means the rubbing surface of the cocoa butter soap is bigger and might therefore contribute to easier lathering. This is only true for the refined cocoa butter soap though, the initial unrefined cocoa butter soap was also more box shaped.
Second, the cocoa butter soaps were both made in October 2019, while the shea butter soaps were made in February 2021, they're 18 months and 14 months old respectively. I think with a decent cure those 4 months shouldn't make a big difference, but it might still play a small role.
Lastly, I think there might be a chance the 2% difference in linoleic+linolenic acids might play a role in lather. I've heard it can sometimes increase lather, though I don't feel I have enough experience with differences in linoleic+linolenic acid in soap to be able to distinguish a higher from a lower L+L soap. The 2% difference is smaller than the 7% difference in palmitic vs stearic acids, so I assume are that the palmitic vs stearic content of the soap played a bigger role that the L+L content.

I'm not sure if there's something inherently amazing about cocoa butter or if the balance between palmitic and stearic acids is just better, but I seem to clearly favor my cocoa butter soap over the shea butter version that is very similar in many aspects.
I also prefer soap with cocoa butter over shea, although I do use them together sometimes as well. But it's nice to read that you have noticed a difference, so I know I am not alone or oddly different in my fondness for cocoa butter. 😻
 

Orla

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I'm not sure if there's something inherently amazing about cocoa butter or if the balance between palmitic and stearic acids is just better, but I seem to clearly favor my cocoa butter soap over the shea butter version that is very similar in many aspects.
Hi Szaza, yes, I now have 20% cocao and 10% shea, and I've test results! I now love the soap. Also, I put in RBO to keep the palmitic up. Actually, I can even give feedback on the addition of sorbitol because I added it to the soap I made on the 6th of February and it's got big bubbles as well as creamy bubbles! My next project, and I'm really crossing my fingers on this one, is trying erythritol. I'm hoping it can compete with the sorbitol. (Sorbitol does beat sugar). I might add 20% more erythritol than I would have added sugar... I've scoured this site on erythritol, but from what I can see no one has come back with sorbitol vs erythritol results. But I only bought it today, so it'll be more than two months from now (not in soapmaking mode) before I can come back with results from that experiment...(which won't be very scientific anyhow as there will be a time lag militating against the erythritol!)
 

ResolvableOwl

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@szaza : It seems Orla put the same idea in both our heads! I'm all ears of your findings! But at the same time I'm running my own experiment, and documenting it over here (it's just a few days old and by far too early to compare the actual soap performances. Just a few beauty shots and process remarks so far).

One of my oil suppliers had a lucky hand in recommending cupuaçu butter to me, so I'm now putting it into all my recipes right now 😉. Cupuaçu has a fatty acid profile very similar to shea (high stearic, low palmitic), but at the same time it is, botanically (and from its smell! 😍) a close relative of cocoa butter. Actually an ideal candidate to test the influence of P/S ratios, against cocoa butter. My former findings with shea were inconclusive (high content of unsaponifiables interfere with solubility and lathering ability?), and I'm currently not planning to use shea in soapmaking – one reason more to follow your findings!

My next project, and I'm really crossing my fingers on this one, is trying erythritol. I'm hoping it can compete with the sorbitol. (Sorbitol does beat sugar). I might add 20% more erythritol than I would have added sugar... I've scoured this site on erythritol, but from what I can see no one has come back with sorbitol vs erythritol results.
Erythritol is kind of double-edged. I've tried it once as an addition for melt&pour soap (to replace more hygroscopic polyols like sorbitol or glycerol), but its low solubility in (cold) water really limits its use in this case. That totally can be different in bar soaps. I recommend you to use HP, or at least CPOP.
 

szaza

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Oooh I've never heard of erythritol nor of capuaçu. Interesting!
I haven't made soap in about 6 months and now I feel like an old lady coming back to a completely changed game🤣

I'm very curious about your findings with capuacu vs cocoa butter @ResolvableOwl ! Have you been using refined or unrefined shea butter for your previous soaps, there might be a difference (although, I think I made some soaps to compare the two, might have to find them!).

My experience with high butter soaps is that I like them better with a slightly higher coconut oil content, because they lather a bit less than soaps with more soft oils (if the amount of CO is the same)
 

Johnez

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This kinda makes me wonder why so many shave soaps use shea over cocoa being that from your description it seams cocoa would produce a superior "glide." Very interesting comparison, thanks for sharing your findings.
 

Aromasuzie

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Interesting results Szaza. I’ve been introducing more cocoa butter into my soaps, more to increase hardness than anything else. I did notice that it didn’t seem to be a common ingredient in a lot of soap recipes,. I found quite a few sites mentioning that cocoa butter reduced lather, so maybe that’s the reason. I’ll look at swapping out the Shea for cocoa butter and see how it feels. I have flower molds and I have noticed that they do lather up a lot better than the usual rectangles. It’s amazing how much of a difference a mold shape can make;)
 

szaza

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@Johnez I haven't had the courage to venture into shaving soap yet, so I'm afraid I don't know why shea butter is preferred. I've seen some shaving soap recipes with pure stearic acid, so I think @KiwiMoose is right about the high stearic being preferred in shaving. The way shaving soap is lathered with a brush might be more beneficial with a higher stearic soap?

@Aromasuzie butters have had a bad rep for decreasing lather, but the main reason is that they're high in palmitic and stearic acids. It all depends on what it is replacing. If you replace 20% of OO (or even CO) in your recipe with butter, your soap will lather less, while if you replace lard/palm/tallow with butters, the difference in lather will not be as pronounced. The main thing to look for is fatty acid profile of your recipe. If that is similar with different ingredients, your soap will still feel (almost) the same. Cocoa butter has less oleic acid than shea butter, so if you want to swap them out, it's best to add some soft oils to get more or less the same FA profile (you can check FA profile in any lye calculater). Don't just replace for example 30% shea butter with 30% cocoa butter, because then the FA profile will change significantly and your soap will be very different!
 

Johnez

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@Johnez I haven't had the courage to venture into shaving soap yet, so I'm afraid I don't know why shea butter is preferred. I've seen some shaving soap recipes with pure stearic acid, so I think @KiwiMoose is right about the high stearic being preferred in shaving. The way shaving soap is lathered with a brush might be more beneficial with a higher stearic soap?

@Aromasuzie butters have had a bad rep for decreasing lather, but the main reason is that they're high in palmitic and stearic acids. It all depends on what it is replacing. If you replace 20% of OO (or even CO) in your recipe with butter, your soap will lather less, while if you replace lard/palm/tallow with butters, the difference in lather will not be as pronounced. The main thing to look for is fatty acid profile of your recipe. If that is similar with different ingredients, your soap will still feel (almost) the same. Cocoa butter has less oleic acid than shea butter, so if you want to swap them out, it's best to add some soft oils to get more or less the same FA profile (you can check FA profile in any lye calculater). Don't just replace for example 30% shea butter with 30% cocoa butter, because then the FA profile will change significantly and your soap will be very different!
Thanks szaza, I see it's a bit more complicated balancing oils/butters than I thought.
 

Aromasuzie

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@szaza, I tend to find that I play more with the butters on leave on body products rather than the soaps. I generally keep my shea butter at 5-10% in soap recipes as I didn't really notice a difference in the feel of the soap when the shea butter was 15%. Butters are expensive to buy in New Zealand, everything has to be shipped, the cheapest are shea and cocoa butters, followed by mango, which is just under twice the price of the shea butter. Lard is rather difficult to get my hands on (and expensive) and I've only found one supplier that stocks palm kernel oil. I imagine you would have a large variety of choice with your butters?
 

ResolvableOwl

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I've only found one supplier that stocks palm kernel oil.
That puzzles me too. Why is it that difficult to get (household quantities of) this oil that is produced so cheap and on a large industrial scale? (I assume you know that PKO is a lauric oil, i. e. much more similar to coconut oil than to the stearic/palmitic/oleic butters like shea, cocoa, mango and palm (pulp) oil?)
 

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I use shea all the time and have barely used cocoa butter, so I’m very interested in your results. I have some cocoa butter, so I guess it’s time to give it a try. I tend to like a more open lather so it will be an interesting comparison to make.

@Orla Apparently the sugar alcohols increase lather because of the hydrophilic (water loving) OH groups that are distributed around the outside of the molecule. Sorbitol has six OH groups per molecule and erythritol has four. Other than that, the molecules are similar. Unless the length or size of the molecule matters, it seems like erythritol should work. See Figure 1, here. eta: I hadn’t caught @ResolvableOwl comment about solubility and found data - something like 37 g erythritol will dissolve in 100 g water at 25C vs a whopping 235 g of sorbitol, but that shouldn’t be limiting in cp soap making. I also read that erythritol is produced by controlled bacterial fermentation while sorbitol is produced by chemical methods. (And, apologies for the sidebar @szaza).
 
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szaza

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@Aromasuzie butters are pretty expensive here too. I tend to make very small batches of soap (often only 300-400g of oils per batch) so I don't go bankrupt because of soaping ;)
If you want to replace your 5-10% you might still want to check your FA profile to make sure the influence isn't too big. I generally replace a little over half the amount of shea in my recipe with CB and then I use a softer oil to make up the difference, to keep the FA profile balanced.

@Mobjack Bay no need to apologize for an interesting sidebar! :)
 

Aromasuzie

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@ResolvableOwl, I suppose it all depends on who is bringing it into the country. I’ve been playing with both palm oils types.
@szaza, I’ve been using Shea and cocoa together, and yep, playing with the FA profiles on recipes to see how it changes things on the SoapCalcPro is quite fascinating.
 

Mobjack Bay

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My head was stuck all morning on why erythritol is so much less soluble than sorbitol (only between meetings, that is. I would never let soap making interfere with my other job 😂). I wish I had a chemistry degree. This paper highlights the importance of shape of the molecules for solubility. If erythritol is not very soluble, then maybe it won’t work very well to enhance lather :(
 
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Orla

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My head was stuck all morning on why erythritol is so much less soluble than sorbitol (only between meetings, that is. I would never let soap making interfere with my other job 😂). I wish I had a chemistry degree. This paper highlights the importance of shape of the molecules for solubility. If erythritol is not very soluble, then maybe it won’t work very well to enhance lather :(
Mobjack, I got on to Stephen Cooke :)D!) as I 'read' (a questionable word for a process like reading in a language you don't master by hanging on to the few terms you do understand) a couple of his articles. Anyway, he confirms that sorbitol does increase surface tension but cannot offer us new knowledge (thus depriving himself of celebrity in the soapmaking community as I let him know). So, I think we'll have to muddle on. Maybe now that the idea has been implanted in his head, Cooke might come up with some further research!! I read the articles Mobjack, I think you're right: it's a no-go with erythritol. (Of all the polyols, Sorbitol was the outlier in Cooke's research). The only (useless) thing I learnt was that viscosity is not 100% determined by solubility (but, for our purposes, it is as near as dammit!)
 
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rittek

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I haven't been on in awhile and was just searching to see if anyone had experienced the same thing between cocoa and shea. I am testing a couple recipes and the only difference is one has cocoa and one has shea. I tested them both and feel like the one with the cocoa butter is silkier with a creamier, denser lather. After several washings I kind of am in disbelieve because I always figured shea would be more creamy and feel better due to the fact that it has more unsaponifiables. Interesting to read others experiences here also.
 

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