Crazy Newcomer Revisiting the Ghee Debate

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amschind

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TLDR: I'm naive and overconfident enough to try my hand at ghee soap for complex reasons that don't apply to most people. Maybe I'll learn something new and maybe I'll just confirm what everyone knows.

I'm new to soapmaking, but have quite a bit of experience in similar hobbies like cheesemaking, brewing and winemaking, and I have a background in biochemistry/molecular biology. I've made soap before, but only as an incidental byproduct during lab scale analytical trans-esterification (I've never made biodiesel, though the idea has always intrigued me). My goal is to settle on 100-200 acres in East Texas, and I have been looking for lower effort, high value added ways to ultimately make the land produce an income stream (with the main financial benefit being an ag exemption and maybe a tiny bit left over at the end; I'm a physician by trade and I don't need or want to make much money from this). I'll plant a vineyard, but also wanted something else which I can hopefully continue doing well into retirement. Soapmaking came up as a value added product that meets a few goals: 1) physical labor is limited to things that a 60 year old can do 2) doesn't compete with massive ag commodities markets 3) provides a decent ROI on time and money and 4) uses inputs that I can grow in East Texas (rainy all year, hot in summer, cold enough to kill tropical plants in winter). This informs a lot of my choices and might explain why my decisions differ from most folks.

To that end the huge challenge is finding an oil with sufficiently saturated FA profile to allow for hard soap. Oil palms will grow in Galveston, but won't survive anywhere else but the southern tip of the state. Likewise with coconut plams, and nobody has even bothered to try shea trees. The historical solution to this issue in the Northern hemisphere before globalization was tallow, and that may be where I ultimately wind up. People have done pure olive soaps, and I have considered trying a castile soap, but again olive trees just won't survive in the northern half of Texas. If I want soap production to be divorced from the number of animals that I slaughter, then my one real option is milkfat (commonly referred to in discussion here as ghee, though ghee is typically cooked on the butter solids whereas I'll just warm it long enough to separate the oil). The other source of oil, pecan trees, is very similar to olive oil save that it has less stearic acid and as such would have no hope for making a solid bar.

The overwhelming issue with milkfat is the presence of C4-C10 fatty acids, particularly C4 and C10. While sodium caprylate is just goaty and potentially tolerable, the odor of odium butyrate is pretty universally hated by humans. Some of us are less sensitive, but we all detest it, and 2-4% of the fatty acids in milk are butyric. Any effort to make "ghee" based soap will have to deal with that in some way. My proposal is as follows: VFA are, by definition, volatile, with the shorter chains being far more so. Indeed, that volatility is how the odor reaches the olfactory plate and allows us to smell them at all. Humans can detect sodium butyrate at ~10ppm, so we need to reduce the amount given off. Hydrolysis of the oil and column distillation of the fatty acids prior to saponification would work, but the capital investment required to do that isn't practical at even a light commercial scale.

So I have two ideas. First, I'm going to make soap using pecan oil and ghee (I worked out the recipe using the wonderful calculator on this site) with 0-0.5% superfat, or just enough to ensure that I've completely reacted out the NaOH). I will then cast it into flat sheets sized to fit in a dehydrator. That will allow a constant stream of heated air, which should drive off the sodium butyrate at an accelerated rate, leaving less smelly soap that I can then recast along with whatever flavor compounds I want to use (I'll add that after since the process would be just as if not more effective for driving off the smells that I wanted). The levers to pull there are temperature, time, and sheet thickness. Time is pretty easy to test (yank a slab and sniff it at time T then put it back and keep going or call it good), but the other two will require some pseudoscientific guess and check. If that doesn't work, then my next idea is heating similar flat sheets but in a vacuum chamber. In that setting, we replace a constant stream of semi-inert gas (air) with a vacuum, wherein the partial pressure of EVERYTHING is very low. That has the benefit of keeping hot oxygen away from the soap (i.e. the key driver behind soap going rancid), but the downside is that a vacuum chamber costs more than a drying rack.

I'm also going to experiment with using salt to reduce the glycerine content of my soap, but I'll just use coconut palm and olive oil for those experiments to keep the number of variables down. If anyone has helpful hints, please chime in, otherwise I'll share what I learn in the hope that someone can learn from my errors.

Thanks again.
 

Zany_in_CO

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salt to reduce the glycerine content of my soap,
That is an Old Time process called "Salting Out Soap". Checkout this source for a tutorial. Be ready to read, read, read whatever catches your eye! :nodding:

@DeeAnna 's Soapy Stuff

coconut palm and olive oil for those experiments to keep the number of variables down.
Brilliant! Coconut, Palm and Olive is called the Basic Trinity of Oils -- an excellent choice for beginning soapers. Click on the link for a recipe.

I tried salting out early in my soaping journey. I've been at it since 2003 and still get excited when the soap is ready to unmold and cut! An easy way to experience the technique is to make a small batch with 12 oz. oils:

12 oz. oils X a factor of 1.37 = 16 oz. soap that you can then cut into four 4-oz. bars. Allow them to cure for at least 2 weeks to not be too sticky to grate up.

The (unscientific) way I did it was to put a stainless steel pot of water on the stove. I added a "cuddle" (salt poured into the palm of a cupped hand) of regular ole table salt. Bring the water to boil.

Add the gratings. Turn down the heat slightly so you don't make a mess with a rapid boil but you do want a rolling boil to bring the soap to the surface.

It takes about 15 minutes for the "curdles" to rise to the surface. Scoop them up with a slotted spoon and dump on a paper towel on a cutting board.

What remains in the pan is a dark brown yucky liquid containing glycerin and any nasties that may be extracted from the soap.

Once the soap curdles are cool enough to handle, you can mold them into balls with gloved hands or press them into individual molds.

Good Luck! I'll be following with interest. 😁
 

Marsi

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TLDR: I'm naive and overconfident enough to try my hand at ghee soap for complex reasons that don't apply to most people. Maybe I'll learn something new and maybe I'll just confirm what everyone knows.

I'm new to soapmaking, but have quite a bit of experience in similar hobbies like cheesemaking, brewing and winemaking, and I have a background in biochemistry/molecular biology. I've made soap before, but only as an incidental byproduct during lab scale analytical trans-esterification (I've never made biodiesel, though the idea has always intrigued me). My goal is to settle on 100-200 acres in East Texas, and I have been looking for lower effort, high value added ways to ultimately make the land produce an income stream (with the main financial benefit being an ag exemption and maybe a tiny bit left over at the end; I'm a physician by trade and I don't need or want to make much money from this). I'll plant a vineyard, but also wanted something else which I can hopefully continue doing well into retirement. Soapmaking came up as a value added product that meets a few goals: 1) physical labor is limited to things that a 60 year old can do 2) doesn't compete with massive ag commodities markets 3) provides a decent ROI on time and money and 4) uses inputs that I can grow in East Texas (rainy all year, hot in summer, cold enough to kill tropical plants in winter). This informs a lot of my choices and might explain why my decisions differ from most folks.

To that end the huge challenge is finding an oil with sufficiently saturated FA profile to allow for hard soap. Oil palms will grow in Galveston, but won't survive anywhere else but the southern tip of the state. Likewise with coconut plams, and nobody has even bothered to try shea trees. The historical solution to this issue in the Northern hemisphere before globalization was tallow, and that may be where I ultimately wind up. People have done pure olive soaps, and I have considered trying a castile soap, but again olive trees just won't survive in the northern half of Texas. If I want soap production to be divorced from the number of animals that I slaughter, then my one real option is milkfat (commonly referred to in discussion here as ghee, though ghee is typically cooked on the butter solids whereas I'll just warm it long enough to separate the oil). The other source of oil, pecan trees, is very similar to olive oil save that it has less stearic acid and as such would have no hope for making a solid bar.

The overwhelming issue with milkfat is the presence of C4-C10 fatty acids, particularly C4 and C10. While sodium caprylate is just goaty and potentially tolerable, the odor of odium butyrate is pretty universally hated by humans. Some of us are less sensitive, but we all detest it, and 2-4% of the fatty acids in milk are butyric. Any effort to make "ghee" based soap will have to deal with that in some way. My proposal is as follows: VFA are, by definition, volatile, with the shorter chains being far more so. Indeed, that volatility is how the odor reaches the olfactory plate and allows us to smell them at all. Humans can detect sodium butyrate at ~10ppm, so we need to reduce the amount given off. Hydrolysis of the oil and column distillation of the fatty acids prior to saponification would work, but the capital investment required to do that isn't practical at even a light commercial scale.

So I have two ideas. First, I'm going to make soap using pecan oil and ghee (I worked out the recipe using the wonderful calculator on this site) with 0-0.5% superfat, or just enough to ensure that I've completely reacted out the NaOH). I will then cast it into flat sheets sized to fit in a dehydrator. That will allow a constant stream of heated air, which should drive off the sodium butyrate at an accelerated rate, leaving less smelly soap that I can then recast along with whatever flavor compounds I want to use (I'll add that after since the process would be just as if not more effective for driving off the smells that I wanted). The levers to pull there are temperature, time, and sheet thickness. Time is pretty easy to test (yank a slab and sniff it at time T then put it back and keep going or call it good), but the other two will require some pseudoscientific guess and check. If that doesn't work, then my next idea is heating similar flat sheets but in a vacuum chamber. In that setting, we replace a constant stream of semi-inert gas (air) with a vacuum, wherein the partial pressure of EVERYTHING is very low. That has the benefit of keeping hot oxygen away from the soap (i.e. the key driver behind soap going rancid), but the downside is that a vacuum chamber costs more than a drying rack.

I'm also going to experiment with using salt to reduce the glycerine content of my soap, but I'll just use coconut palm and olive oil for those experiments to keep the number of variables down. If anyone has helpful hints, please chime in, otherwise I'll share what I learn in the hope that someone can learn from my errors.

Thanks again.
This looks interesting. I tend to avoid the very short chain tryglicerides where I can, to avoid even the slightest penetration of the upper skin layers. If you can remove those, then the soap could end up rather nice.

Have a look at the oilseed crops that grow in your area.
For example, Cottonseed oil looks like it adds a good amount of palmitic (to strenghten your soap).
Cottonseed oil has a fatty acid profile that composed of 52.89% linoleic acid, 25.39% palmitic acid, 16.35% oleic acids, together with small amounts of 2.33% stearic acid, 1% myristic acid, 0.6% palmitoleic acid as well as 0.17% linolenic acid (Radcliffe, Czajka‐Narins, & Imrhan, 2004).5 Feb 2019

And, growing grapes, you might also be able to process your own grapeseed oil (short-lived in soap, but in small quantities it is quite nice).

I've always wondered whether a dilute wash of lye solution would help "catch" the shorter triglicerides (for removal) before using the milk fats, but I have not tried it myself.
 

Babyshoes

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I don't have anything technical to add, but I do think it's an interesting experiment.

As with all soap making newbies, I'll suggest small batches at first; around 500g/1lb oils is small enough that you're not wasting too much if it fails, but big enough to give you 4-5 bars to evaluate. It's also big enough that a small error in your scales won't cause a significant error. For example, if your scales vary by a gram or two, that won't significantly affect your outcome in a 500g batch, but a 50g batch might end up being lye heavy or having more superfat than planned.

Don't worry if you don't happen to have a mould the right size either, you can always improvise with something like a food tub or cardboard box. They just need to be lined with something like freezer paper. I've also seen folks use thin trash bags for lining. It may not be as aesthetic as you might want, but the soap will work just fine for testing.
 

DeeAnna

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I think you're confusing free fatty acids with the fatty acids bound in a triglyceride (fat) molecule.

An alkali wash can be used to remove free fatty acids from a fat high in FFAs, but this treatment won't do much if anything to selectively remove triglycerides that happen to be rich in a certain type of fatty acid. You're asking the alkali to selectively "cut" specific types of fatty acids off the fat molecules, and that's an unlikely scenario.

...dilute wash of lye solution would help "catch" the shorter triglicerides (for removal) before using the milk fats....
 

Marsi

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I think you're confusing free fatty acids with the fatty acids bound in a triglyceride (fat) molecule.

An alkali wash can be used to remove free fatty acids from a fat high in FFAs, but this treatment won't do much if anything to selectively remove triglycerides that happen to be rich in a certain type of fatty acid. You're asking the alkali to selectively "cut" specific types of fatty acids off the fat molecules, and that's an unlikely scenario.
Thank you for suggesting I am confusing things.

The idea came about when I noticed that the shorter triglycerides (eg. coconut, C12) react much faster during soapmaking than the longer triglycerides (eg. palmitic C16) during soapmaking, which suggests to me that it may be possible (with good timing and proportions) to remove very short chain (eg. Butylic, C4) soap portion.
So ... not confused, just thinking about exploring this observation further.

(But yes, you were right in this part - the idea WAS based on the FFA scavanging process of washing the fats with a dilute alkali solution).
 

TheGecko

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@amschind Soapmaking came up as a value added product that meets a few goals: 1) physical labor is limited to things that a 60 year old can do 2) doesn't compete with massive ag commodities markets 3) provides a decent ROI on time and money and 4) uses inputs that I can grow in East Texas (rainy all year, hot in summer, cold enough to kill tropical plants in winter). This informs a lot of my choices and might explain why my decisions differ from most folks.

You did mention that you were naive, so…..

1) Yes, it is something that a 60-year old can do. There are quite a few of us here that did the ‘Hustle’.

2) It depends. If I grew wheat to make flour to sell, I would be competing. But if I grew wheat to make flour to be used in my world famous chocolate chip cookies that I sell, I wouldn’t be because cookies aren’t an ag commodity.

3) I’ve been thinking about this for bit, and I totally get where you are going…it’s how SPAM was invented, but I’m not seeing it based on current available data. Example…someone who makes clothes and uses the scraps to make quilts. A cabinet maker who uses their off cuts to make bird houses. Someone who raises beef and pork, could then render the fats into tallow and lard, which could be used to make soap. Your ROI is going to be fairly decent at least in terms of materials/ingredients because as by-products, these are essentially ‘free’. But let’s say that you could grow Olive Trees and Palm Trees and Coconut Trees…there is of course your initial cost, but after they mature they just produce year after year with no further investment or effort on your part except…trees don’t pick themselves and once you pick them, how are you going to turn them in to make soap?

4) There is a reason why I buy Campbell’s Soup, Dawn Dish Soap, International Delights Irish Cream and use real vanilla…because sometimes there is just no substitute. I use four oils and two butters in my soap to produce a very nice bar of soap; it gets you clean, doesn’t strip the natural oils from your skin and is so pleasing to use, that you will be smiling when you step out of the shower or tub. I can eliminate the butters and lower my cost and still produce a nice bar of soap, which I do for a couple of customers who are allergic to the butters. I could further reduce my costs and use the same two oils that most commercial soap companies use and…well, it will get you clean. But I don’t because my Grandmother always said, “If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing well.”
 
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Marsi

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@Marsi Soapmaking came up as a value added product that meets a few goals: 1) physical labor is limited to things that a 60 year old can do 2) doesn't compete with massive ag commodities markets 3) provides a decent ROI on time and money and 4) uses inputs that I can grow in East Texas (rainy all year, hot in summer, cold enough to kill tropical plants in winter). This informs a lot of my choices and might explain why my decisions differ from most folks.

You did mention that you were naive, so…..

1) Yes, it is something that a 60-year old can do. There are quite a few of us here that did the ‘Hustle’.

2) It depends. If I grew wheat to make flour to sell, I would be competing. But if I grew wheat to make flour to be used in my world famous chocolate chip cookies that I sell, I wouldn’t be because cookies aren’t an ag commodity.

3) I’ve been thinking about this for bit, and I totally get where you are going…it’s how SPAM was invented, but I’m not seeing it based on current available data. Example…someone who makes clothes and uses the scraps to make quilts. A cabinet maker who uses their off cuts to make bird houses. Someone who raises beef and pork, could then render the fats into tallow and lard, which could be used to make soap. Your ROI is going to be fairly decent at least in terms of materials/ingredients because as by-products, these are essentially ‘free’. But let’s say that you could grow Olive Trees and Palm Trees and Coconut Trees…there is of course your initial cost, but after they mature they just produce year after year with no further investment or effort on your part except…trees don’t pick themselves and once you pick them, how are you going to turn them in to make soap?

4) There is a reason why I buy Campbell’s Soup, Dawn Dish Soap, International Delights Irish Cream and use real vanilla…because sometimes there is just no substitute. I use four oils and two butters in my soap to produce a very nice bar of soap; it gets you clean, doesn’t strip the natural oils from your skin and is so pleasing to use, that you will be smiling when you step out of the shower or tub. I can eliminate the butters and lower my cost and still produce a nice bar of soap, which I do for a couple of customers who are allergic to the butters. I could further reduce my costs and use the same two oils that most commercial soap companies use and…well, it will get you clean. But I don’t because my Grandmother always said, “If something is worth doing, then it’s worth doing well.”
@TheGecko

Your reply is to a quote from the Original Poster (not me) :)
 

DeeAnna

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...the shorter triglycerides (eg. coconut, C12) react much faster during soapmaking than the longer triglycerides (eg. palmitic C16) during soapmaking, which suggests to me that it may be possible (with good timing and proportions) to remove very short chain (eg. Butylic, C4) soap portion....
I think you're expecting far too much selectivity from this. But it's certainly worth investigating.
 

amschind

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I think you're confusing free fatty acids with the fatty acids bound in a triglyceride (fat) molecule.

An alkali wash can be used to remove free fatty acids from a fat high in FFAs, but this treatment won't do much if anything to selectively remove triglycerides that happen to be rich in a certain type of fatty acid. You're asking the alkali to selectively "cut" specific types of fatty acids off the fat molecules, and that's an unlikely scenario.
I like the idea, but it's not exactly what I planned to do because I don't think that I am willing to invest the capital to do it. I agree that hydrolyzing the TAGs first and then fractionating them (i.e. in a column before any saponifcation is even attempted) would be the most efficient way to be rid of the buyric acid, but I suspect that the capital cost would be very high. That said, I buy lab supplies from a really nice guy in China who has a lot of reasonably priced light industrial/commercial scale equipment, so if my simple expedient fails and the cost for a hydrolysis reactor and column aren't prohibitive, this option might find its way back onto the table. Still, I'd hate to go to all that effort BEFORE finding out that there was a far easier and cheaper way to get the same result.

Ithis case, I'm assuming that saponification will essentially go to completion, such that the residual TAG concentration is as low as possible without leaving residual unreacted NaOH. The separation that I'm hoping to achieve is with the relatively far higher volatility of the sodium butyrate. I hope that makes more sense.

I’ve been thinking about this for bit, and I totally get where you are going…it’s how SPAM was invented, but I’m not seeing it based on current available data. Example…someone who makes clothes and uses the scraps to make quilts. A cabinet maker who uses their off cuts to make bird houses. Someone who raises beef and pork, could then render the fats into tallow and lard, which could be used to make soap. Your ROI is going to be fairly decent at least in terms of materials/ingredients because as by-products, these are essentially ‘free’. But let’s say that you could grow Olive Trees and Palm Trees and Coconut Trees…there is of course your initial cost, but after they mature they just produce year after year with no further investment or effort on your part except…trees don’t pick themselves and once you pick them, how are you going to turn them in to make soap?

There is actually some thought here WRT Pecans. Many of them are alternate bearing, which means that they produce fruit every TWO years; that's a nuisance for a commercial farm, but for a one man operation having a "year off" from one chore can free up much needed time. Second, Harvesting pecans mostly involves a net, a PTO shaker, a cracker/sheller/crusher and an oil press. Apart from the tractor, all of those implements are $1-4k, which is pretty reasonable for a small scale farm AND none of them involve me hunched over a shrub with a machete in the sun for hours on end (i.e. oil palms).
 
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DeeAnna

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Not exactly. In this case, I'm assuming that saponification will essentially go to completion, such that the residual TAG concentration is as low as possible without leaving residual unreacted NaOH. The separation that I'm hoping to achieve is with the relatively far higher volatility of the sodium butyrate. I hope that makes more sense.

I wasn't speaking in regards to anything you said. I was specifically replying to Marsi's comment. I thought quoting the relevant info from Marsi's post would make that clear.
 

amschind

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I wasn't speaking in regards to anything you said. I was specifically replying to Marsi's comment. I thought quoting the relevant info from Marsi's post would make that clear.
That dawned on me about a minute after I posted and I updated the post to reflect that. Sorry for the confusion.
 

amschind

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Have a look at the oilseed crops that grow in your area.
For example, Cottonseed oil looks like it adds a good amount of palmitic (to strengthen your soap).
And, growing grapes, you might also be able to process your own grapeseed oil (short-lived in soap, but in small quantities it is quite nice).
Those are both great ideas, and on a larger scale I would go that route in a heartbeat. The huge limiting factor for me is the capital cost and labor intensity for harvesting and pressing. I have grown lowland cotton before (gossypium barbadense, it's a really pretty perennial), and just for fun tried separating out the fibers and seeds. It is a LOT of work unless you have a machine to do it, but the real showstopper is gossypol, which is a lipophilic compound that a cottonseed oil producer must virtually eliminate in order to make the oil and press cake anything but an irritant. That's doable at the commercial level (i.e. you can buy commercially processed cottonseed oil and cook with it just fine), but for a small producer it's a process and liability nightmare. The issue with grapeseed oil is that on a small scale, it's pretty easy to toss bunches into a crusher/destemmer and then press what's left after the free run. It's less simple to get the seeds out (and there's also the issue that for winemaking, you want the tannins that the seeds impart).

Thanks so much for all of the ideas.
 

TheGecko

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There is actually some thought here WRT Pecans. Many of them are alternate bearing, which means that they produce fruit every TWO years; that's a nuisance for a commercial farm, but for a one man operation having a "year off" from one chore can free up much needed time. Second, Harvesting pecans mostly involves a net, a PTO shaker, a cracker/sheller/crusher and an oil press. Apart from the tractor, all of those implements are $1-4k, which is pretty reasonable for a small scale farm AND none of them involve me hunched over a shrub with a machete in the sun for hours on end (i.e. oil palms).
This is kind of my point. How long does it take to harvest a tree? From setting up the shaker and the net, shaking the tree, detaching the shaker, gathering the net and dumping the nuts? How long to sort the nuts, then crack/shell the nuts, then to separate the nuts from the shell? Then there is the pressing of the nuts for oil...research says for best results the nuts should be roasted and chopped...how long will that take? Then there is the actual pressing of the nuts for oil...how long is that going to take? And then you'll need to refine the oil a bit...not as much as you would if you were going to cook with it, but you're going to need to strain it at least twice. And then there is bottling and storage.

I'm not trying to dissuade you from your course of action, I just don't think you realize how very labor intensive this is going to be and labor is always your biggest cost. A mature pecan tree produces approximately 40 to 50 lbs of pecans; going with 45lb average, it takes 2.5 lbs of pecans to produce 1 lb of pecan meat so now you have 18 lbs. If you roast and chop your nuts you will end up with about 9.54 lbs of oil which isn't really a lot of oil in the grand scheme of things so I'm sure you'll have more than one pecan tree. Which of course is great, but don't forget that the shelf life of pecan is only around six months.

So now you have all time invested and you haven't even made soap yet. Now you can make soap with 100% Pecan Oil, but it won't be very good soap. But you did say that you want to use Ghee too (another labor intensive production), but even with that, it won't be a very good soap so you're going to need to add some Coconut Oil. And of course soap making takes labor too...weighing, mixing, pouring, unmolding, cutting, packaging. And BTW...shelf life + tree production = making soap within a six month period every two years. What your ROI again?
 

amschind

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So now you have all time invested and you haven't even made soap yet. Now you can make soap with 100% Pecan Oil, but it won't be very good soap. But you did say that you want to use Ghee too (another labor intensive production), but even with that, it won't be a very good soap so you're going to need to add some Coconut Oil. And of course soap making takes labor too...weighing, mixing, pouring, unmolding, cutting, packaging. And BTW...shelf life + tree production = making soap within a six month period every two years. What your ROI again?
From a pure post/tax profit standpoint, NONE of this makes sense. In terms of after-tax dollars per hour of my labor, the overwhelming best choice is to work more shifts. And that's how I'm going to fund building all of the infrastructure (such as it is) to do all of this. However, the goal with this project isn't to maximize profit. Rather, I'm trying to engage is an activity that I enjoy using the proceeds from land that I get to own and enjoy doing something that will be sustainable even when I'm 65+ (I'm only 39 now). The biggest financial gain from this enterprise will be the maintenance of an ag exemption on land without planting a pine plantation or hay field (i.e. a nut orchard is a far more pleasant place to be).

As for the labor inputs, the time vs profit calculation is heavily weighted against what I'm looking at doing, in particular the small scale. However, every step of the process involves labor inputs which are individually within the capability of a 70 year old guy in good health (i.e. hopefully me in 30 years) and which require capital inputs in the thousands rather than hundreds of thousands of dollars. Part of my family were corn and soy farmers in Nebraska, and I have a very basic understanding of the scale and economics involved in actual commercial farming (i.e. I figured out pretty quickly that farmers are, above all else, commodity traders or they don't get to be farmers for very long). I know enough to know that attempting that as a novice is a great way to lose a ton of money before understanding what I'm doing, and thus I have no interest in trying any agricultural enterprise at a scale that would provide an ROI or ROTI comparable to my job.

In short, I agree with you, but my constraints are a little odd.
 
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Hmmm. Maybe consider planting your pecan orchard and raising your cows next to a pig farmer. Then you can give him some milk, butter, and pecans in exchange for lard, which makes much nicer soap than ghee or pecan oil. You can add some of your cow milk to the soap, and if one of you will raise bees, the honey will increase lather, too. Bartering is a great way to lower dependency on sources that require monetary transactions.

FWIW, I don’t like using the term “self-sufficiency” because it is delusional if you ask me. Few of us could survive long without the company of at least a few others, or without some goods that we cannot produce ourselves. So while I applaud attempts to disengage from the world market system, I believe it is even smarter to plan with a group of trusted friends, and not as a sole endeavor. My two cents ☺️
 

amschind

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FWIW, I don’t like using the term “self-sufficiency” because it is delusional if you ask me. Few of us could survive long without the company of at least a few others, or without some goods that we cannot produce ourselves. So while I applaud attempts to disengage from the world market system, I believe it is even smarter to plan with a group of trusted friends, and not as a sole endeavor.
I completely agree, but I would put forth that "Self sufficiency" isn't binary. Some folks seem to have a fantasy about one extreme of "Self sufficiency", but It's possible to look at it as a spectrum. On one end is the "cabin in the woods" fantasy, but on the other is a tiny apartment with no food in the fridge and plans to eat out for every meal. I think a plan to push one's situation along that spectrum is more realistic than some kind of apocalyptic fantasy. My great grandmother owned 100 acres in Virginia, and got by some very hard times after my great grandfather was killed by making and growing most of what she needed. She had family around and that helped a lot, but she was very "Self-sufficient". I'm not sure that I want her level of self sufficiency, and I think given the choice, she would've chosen a few more creature comforts as well, but that example serves as a good reference point for me and maybe clears my thinking up a bit.

Alright, so the first round of results:
1) The soapmaker's friend calculator works great. The coconut oil types are a little challenging to understand (I made a recipe using 76 degree and I'm fairly certain that it led me to drastically superfat my first batch). It still made pretty bars that they clean my hands without leaving a greasy feeling (in fact I used yesterday's coconut/olive oil test bars to wash my hands from the oil for today's batch). It's not often that an experiment goes right the first time, so I'll credit that victory to the wealth of information available here.
2) I can tell you exactly what ghee soap (specifically sodium butyrate) smells like: slowly decomposing human corpses. I took a whiff and was immediately transported back to gross anatomy lab.....that smell isn't one that you forget. It is deeply unpleasant, but that leads me to...
3) I can smell sodium butyrate. While it isn't a pleasant smell, my ability to smell it means that I can tell if my control measures are working with a sniff test rather than breaking out the gas chromatograph. That saves money and time.
4) Salting remains a work in progress. I found that mixing the salt (100gm into 600 gm of liquid soap followed by 100 ml of water) made the emulsion MUCH thicker immediately. My intent was to leave it in a tall clear container to observe formation of a glycerol/water layer, but the entire mass began to solidify before I could do that so I just poured that into bar molds.
5) driving off the sodium butyrate is definitely going to involve heat. I got a pretty strong whiff of "corpse" sniffing the liquid emulsion, but can't smell it at all with the bars only semi-solid. The emulsion was at about 110F when I found the smell to be notable, so I'll have to play with that. I'm increasinly suspicious that a vacuum chamber with a stirrer and heating element are going to be necessary, but that's still much simpler than a hydrolysis reactor and column still.

Thanks for all of the great ideas. I'll keep reporting on what I find.
 
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I can smell sodium butyrate. ... I got a pretty strong whiff of "corpse" sniffing the liquid emulsion, but can't smell it at all with the bars only semi-solid.
I've never smelled a corpse, so my point of reference was vomit. As an aside, although the bar may not smell while dry, the smell does return full force each time you wet the bar of soap to use it. 🤮 Good luck!
 

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