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Experiment: Pulut Tai Tai Soap

soap bar placed on the edge of a water jar

(Warning: LOTS of pictures ahead!)

Last week on the 8th of May (just a day before Malaysia’s 14th General Elections, woohoo!) I finally took the leap to scratch that itch of an idea that has been playing around in my head for the longest time (read: YEARS), which was,

What would happen if I took traditional food recipes and stuck their ingredients into soap bars?

It seemed like a very natural thing to do – given that the food we eat offer a cornucopia of health benefits, even when applied topically to the skin (think: brown sugar scrubs, egg white masks etc).

Of course I wouldn’t touch anything that involved meats… so naturally I started looking at desserts. Specifically, the traditional Malaysian ones, and those which I personally have a fondness for. :”)

The simple rule I gave myself for this little game was to ensure that EVERY ingredient for the food item, was to be used in the soap. I would be referring to food recipe websites a lot!

So for the first experiment, I went with the iconic pulut tai tai, (recipe here) which is a glutinous rice block coloured with butterfly pea / bunga telang (Clitoria terneata) flower infusion, and topped with kaya (a coconut jam, recipe here). This is what the actual dessert looks like.

Blue Glutinous Rice Cakes (Pulut Tai Tai)

(Photo credit to Michelle Chan, on Flickr)

It took me yonks to finally pluck up the courage to plan for, and make this soap. Predominantly because:

  1. I had no idea whether the blue from the butterfly pea flowers would carry through into the soap,
  2. I generally don’t like doing hot process soap because I hate the cleanup,
  3. I don’t like cleaning up in general, and because of the complexity of the soap design, I expected the mess to be massive (thankfully, I was wrong about this though!).

But in the end, I talked myself and planned for an uninterrupted day in the studio to “play”. 🙂

For my soap base, I chose to stick to just coconut oil (because coconut plays such a distinct role in this recipe), and used coconut milk for the lye solution. Here’s the rest of my shopping for the ingredients:

shopping basket containing food items

YES, there is actual gula melaka (palm sugar) in this soap. AND there are eggs in it too! There is no significant smell to in the resulting soap that hints at the eggs’ presence – but it seems like a great way to introduce protein into a skincare formulation in a relatively safe way. If you’re worried about bacterial contamination, don’t fret – the raw soap’s high pH levels, and the sustained heat it is subject to while cooking, is sufficient to kill off any bacteria in the eggs. Just wash your hands with soap while handling the eggs, as normal.

First up was weighing out all our materials. Here’s our pandan (screwpine) leaf tea, which I made using leaves from my home garden:

And this is bunga telang tea, also from our garden (I had my daughter pick 25 flowers and simmer them in 300ml water. From the earlier soap photos, it is obvious that this isn’t anywhere concentrated enough to be used in the soap as a serious colourant). Isn’t the blue just gorgeous?

This is what bunga telang flowers look like:

And this is something I enjoy seeing, every single time I make soap – rosemary oleoresin lazily sinking to the bottom of a carrier oil mixture (in this case, virgin coconut oil).

Then came making the lye solution – I used coconut milk to replace the water portion. It became a thick slurry immediately. I hadn’t refrigerated the coconut milk, so it turned from pure white into a light caramel colour, as expected. It also gave off a mild scent of ammonia (similar to what happens when using goat’s milk in a lye mixture):

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Since this was a hot process (HP) soap which I was going to heat in a slow cooker, I didn’t wait for the lye solution to cool to 40ºC as what we normally do with cold process (CP) soap. After blending the coconut milk lye solution with the coconut oil, I added in the glutinous rice flour, sea salt, followed by more coconut oil and the eggs, which I had blended together:

Now, I wish I had an extra pair of hands because I wanted take a video to show you just how light and surprisingly mobile the whole soap mixture became after the eggs and coconut oil mixture was added to it. The mixture would even slide off cleanly from my spatulas. But eventually it returned to taking on a much more viscous consistency.

After about 30 minutes of cooking at high heat, the soap mixture was at 85ºC at had changed to a familiar, olive green colour:

Doesn’t it look like kaya? 🙂 At this point it was also smelling a little sweet, and reminiscent of food. I tested the pH level, and it had already come down to around 10.

At this point, the general idea was to separate the raw soap into 3 portions:

  • a “white”, or uncoloured portion (supposedly to resemble the uncoloured glutinous rice),
  • a blue portion (the blue coloured rice), and
  • a brown-green portion (the kaya “topping”).

I separated the “white” and “blue” portions, and coloured the latter by adding the bunga telang tea:

Then I added the pandan tea to the uncoloured portion. Here’s what they look like, side by side:

To say that I was disappointed with the colouring result, is an understatement. I *almost* wanted to give up, but I pushed on anyway. I added more bunga telang tea to the mixture, and worked it in well (my hand was so tired from gripping the spatula!).

Now came the layering in the mold. First up was to randomly drop dollops of the “white” and “blue” soap in the mold, and pack it in:

It was still quite warm, and easy to manipulate. While that was hardening up, I worked with the last remaining soap portion – the kaya topping. In went the crushed gula melaka to the soap that was still being kept warm in the slow cooker:

In about 15 minutes, the room smelled absolutely delicious and the sugar looked like it had melted completely into the soap. I began spooning it onto the “rice” portion:

I smoothed it over as best as I could and covered it with a sheet of waxed paper. Now all I had to do was to wait for it to harden up enough to cut.

While waiting, there was one other question that remained to be answered:

Can you make a blue bunga telang lye solution?

The answer is a resounding NO, because this is the resulting colour when sodium hydroxide (NaOH) flakes are added to bunga telang tea:

It’s a fantastic shade of orange! But when added to coconut oil to turn into soap, the resulting soap bars are still a plain white. Interesting trivia, and I’m glad I finally got round to removing all doubt about the matter. 🙂

Coming back to the pulut tai tai soap – as it turned out, I could cut them within 2 hours of moulding, for two reasons:

  1. Being such a coconut oil-heavy recipe, I expected the soap to set up quite quickly, and it did. It had already been pushed past the gel phase and saponification was complete, as testified by the pH level of 10 it was at. I didn’t want to risk allowing it to harden up so much that it would be difficult to cut.
  2. I was also impatient. XD

So after I had cleaned up all the equipment and work tops, and the soap showed a surface temperature of around 36ºC, I greedily unwrapped the soap:

At this point, I sent a disheartened message to my hubby, saying that I as disappointed with how to blue colouring turned out (or not, rather). And then, I pushed the block through our wire cutters – this is what I saw:

OMG THERE WAS BLUE! Pale, but still unmistakable blue! So with much excitement and anticipation, I cut the rest of the bars.

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The soap bars  have a pleasant caramel scent, with a hint of coconut and pandan. Colour-wise, they are unexciting but I have come to appreciate that those stoic shades of grey and olive green. I definitely want to continue experimenting with this blue colourant.

I’ve already been using a bar regularly in the shower, and it is remarkably moisturizing. Works well on the hair too. At this size, each bar weighs around 150g after drying for a week (it was 10g heavier right after cutting).

They aren’t for sale at the moment – but we will be giving some away together with purchases, and to willing guinea pigs (preferably those with extremely dry skin).

So there you have it – our pulut tai tai soap bars. What do you think of this little experiment? 🙂 Would love to hear from you!

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Now Undergoing Final Testing – Smoothing Hair Serum for Dry, Coarse Hair

my hair before and after using hair serum

It’s been a rather long time since we last launched a new product. This one is something I have been keeping an eye on for quite a few months now, because I find that I benefit from using it too.

I grew up with frizzy, dry hair which my mother had tried fruitlessly to tame, or straighten through use of all kinds of salon products or treatments. It was only after I switched away from using commercial shampoos about 4 years back, that my hair finally changed its texture to become more relaxed and soft – I could finally embrace my curls, instead of fighting against them.

Unfortunately, I realise now that I ruined my hair again when I decided to colour it about two and a half years back. I loved my sea green highlights, but it came at a price–after two rounds of bleaching, 5 hours in the salon, and subsequent giving up on my Mane Event shampoo bar in favour of commercial shampoos that claimed to be colour-protecting, my hair texture has now changed completely. 🙁 Gone are the soft locks that I could leave loose around my shoulders. These days I have to tie back my hair, and sometimes hide the crazy mass of frizz behind me by pulling it into a bun.

I’m quite sure that eventually my hair will grow out of this phase, and hopefully regain its softer feel. In the meantime, I’ve been managing to look half decent by blending a hair serum for myself. It’s been about 12-13 months since I first started making and using it, and now I think I’m quite sure I’d like to release it as an actual product for Kinder Soaps (after I get more feedback from other testers).

Here are some before and after shots that I finally made the effort to take (Note: I applied just 3-4 drops per section of hair, and about 20 drops in total for this particular session):

Observe that in the photo on the left, my frizzy hair is so coarse that you can see right through it to the wall behind me. After applying the serum, my hair seemed to be able to relax into its neighbouring strands, which calmed down the “lion’s mane” look I usually have. It’s glossier now too.

This section is the worst of my frizzy hair. In this photo it doesn’t look remarkably different after using the serum, but it certainly feels a lot softer than it was before.

Okay, now this shows quite a noticeable change in my hair texture. I love how my curls look after using the serum – and transformation happened in under a minute, if not instantly.

In case you’re wondering why my hair was in such a bad state in these photos (which I took today!), it’s because Life got in the way – I got caught up with everything else and neglected to make the serum for a few months now. I’ve only been using virgin coconut oil on and off to moisturize the ends of my hair, but as you can see, it doesn’t really work well for me.

Anyway, there are so many things I like about this blend:

  1. It’s all-natural. Just plant oils. No silicone, no preservatives, no fragrances.
  2. It smells beautifully of flowers, but it’s not overly feminine. I used my favourite essential oils to scent it – and it turns out that they’re also very helpful for nourishing the scalp. They’re currently not in any of our products, so our regulars might be happy to know that there will be something new to smell as well…! :p
  3. It works perfectly as a light-weight moisturizer for the face and body too. I purposely made it such that it could accompany me on my holidays, whether with family or solo (I always travel as light as possible), and is a real workhorse to keep everyone’s skin and hair happy.

Right now it’s mainly the scent of the blend that I need to tweak a little more to get it right.

Do you think you’ll find this helpful to you, or someone you know? Please share this post with them – I’d love to know what you all think of any current hair products you are using, and what your experiences have been like.

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WAY Outside My Comfort Zone

soap column

Do you remember the feeling you get when you say “Yes” to something that you’ve never done before?

That initial wave of euphoria, followed by a weird, cold sensation at the pit of your stomach that comes from knowing that you’re about to embark on something unknown and unfamiliar.

I’ve been feeling that quite often lately. Mostly because I’ve been taking on OEM / private label orders, and having to get used to working with formulations that are from other parties.

I had one corporate customer whose 720-bar order I repeated twice at my own expense, because I wasn’t familiar the customised soap molds that were required for the job, and the resulting soap bars were either too small, got stuck in the molds, or ashed over so badly that they had to be rejected. Not only that, the card boxes meant for the soap bars refused to work with the double sided tape we were using, and only later were we advised to use a hot glue gun by the client. Four of our staff worked over 3 days to get the job done–and all that hard work was for nought.

It’s easy to get sidelined by the proverbial wrenches that get thrown into the works… But I count myself extremely lucky to have a great team of people working with me at the studio and the shop, and I believe that we are all trying to deliver professional results to everyone we come into contact with. Plus there is also the fun side to bootstrapping, doing all that you can with everything you’ve got.

Case in point:

soap column

We’ve been so busy churning out batch after batch of soap, that we ran out of curing racks–so we made do by stacking these 4 batches of Tangy Lavender we made for a wedding in a circular column on the floor instead. I’ve always wanted to make one of these! Now we had the perfect reason to. 🙂 The air circulation for a column like this is much better compared to the narrow spaces on a curing rack, so hopefully this means that the soap bars will dry out a little faster than expected. It is by no means an original idea (look up for soapmakers from the Aleppo region–they have been making soap for the past 600 years, and stacking their soaps this way), and the folks from the GMP division may raise an eyebrow at the sight, but it does the job.

Now I have another 1,300 bars to make by the end of this week to meet a looming deadline, a shipment of balm tubes that have mysteriously gone missing to track down, and various administrative issues to grapple with (inventory management systems are elusive, yet scary!).

I feel my limits being tested with all this busy-ness, yet I am grateful for these opportunities to learn, and to be stronger. Mistakes trip you up, and you can fall spectacularly for all and sundry to see–but what counts more than the embarrassment of failure is the ability to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start all over again (listen to the video below – Diana Krall says this best!) 😉

Have a terrific week ahead everyone!

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How Well Does Spirulina’s Colour Hold Up in Cold Process Soap?

I’m so happy to be able to write a little blurb about experiments in the studio again! I wish I had more time to do this amidst all the changes at work, but I’m happy for the occasional opportunity all the same. 🙂

So how does spirulina fare as a stable, all-natural colourant in CP soap? I reckon it does pretty well, all things considered. 🙂 Here’s what it looked like when I first sliced our Fiddler’s Green soap:

FG04

The powder itself looked a dark, deep blue-green which turned into this lovely fresh colour the day after I poured the soap into the mold.

Then 3 weeks later, this is what the colour looked like:

IMG_7761

Not exactly stable, but still produces a good strong green. It lost most of its blue component, to take on a more mature, olive green kind of shade. Interestingly, the powder that is in the swirl on the surface of the soap seems to have stayed quite prominent:

IMG_7760

I was hoping that it would retain its strong blue-tinged green, but I’m still happy with the results all the same. For the lowest layer of colour which was at its most concentrated, I used 25g of spirulina powder in about 2.6kg of raw soap (yes, that works out to be one rather expensive load of colourant for a bar of soap!)

It will be interesting to see what the colour looks like 6 months down the road. 🙂 Will try to remember to post pics when I can.

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New Soap – Fiddler’s Green

I made this soap 2 days ago, when inspiration hit and getting down to making a completely new soap felt like a breeze. I’d been toying around with a formulation for gym buffs and people with severe acne or folliculitis for some time – and this is the result.

When I first cut this soap I spent a good 5 minutes just admiring the amazing shades of green on the cut surfaces (and trying not to tear up from sheer joy – I was thinking of the many ingredients I have used in the past which very sadly turned to a dull brown over time due to oxidation, or high pH environments). Spirulina powder was the magical ingredient that gave this soap its luxurious green colour, and I read that it in its natural state, it thrives in a high pH environment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the colour will hold for months to come!

Fiddler's Green collage

Another thing I’m really excited about is its essential oil combination of sweet marjoram (new!), bergaptene-free bergamot (also new!), cypress and pine. These are all well known as being antibacterial and antifungal, so they should be helpful for those of you who have chronically inflamed pores / hair follicles. I recently had an enquiry from someone who had symptoms that fit the bill for folliculitis, which gets worse when the damaged hair follicle becomes infected by bacteria, yeast or fungi (here are some images, but beware, some are pretty gruesome). None of our existing soap bars were tweaked specifically to have strong antibacterial and antifungal actions, so I’m hoping that Fiddler’s Green will fill that gap.

That’s not all – marjoram, cypress and pine essential oils have wonderful soothing and healing properties for muscles as well. I won’t go so far as to say that this makes it the perfect post-workout soap to take the edge of sore muscles the next day, but its scent will certainly help you be in a placid, happy state of mind. 🙂

There is also a little story that I would like to tag on to this soap. Just recently I learned that the parents of an acquaintance of mine were about to go through a divorce. When I popped into her shop to say hi to her a few days back, this normally bubbly, jovial lady was on the verge of tears. She told me her story and I felt my throat and chest knot up. What a shock it must be for her, and her family. But what could I do to comfort her?

Then I thought of other friends who have their own struggles. Unemployment. Illness. Discrimination. Troubled children. All wishing to find themselves in a better place.

According to Irish folklore, Fiddler’s Green is the equivalent of heaven for sailors. There’s a traditional song of the same name that describes it – I used to listen to it when I was a child, when my father played it on a CD. 🙂

So my wish for you, my friends, is that you will all find your Fiddler’s Green while you still walk this wondrous place we call home. I am just a soapmaker…but I want to do all I can to help us all make our little space on earth a little brighter, a little cosier, a little friendlier,

even if it’s through something as mundane as a bar of soap.

Virtual hugs from me. 🙂

p/s: Fiddler’s Green will be available for sale on April 17th. Hang in there, I’m still working out its product page. :p

pp/s: A special mention goes to all my friends who saw this soap as food (specifically, kuih talam) – I found someone’s blogpost from 2010 which has an almost identical design! :))

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Experiment: French-Milled Chocolate Bar (SUCCESS!)

It’s about time that I started exploring rebatching soap, or also referred to as french-milled soap, as the result is supposed to be an even more gentle and longer lasting bar of soap, compared to normal cold process soap. And because there isn’t any saponification taking place in this process, you can add ingredients that would otherwise discolour or be destroyed in cold process soap, such as dried flowers and herbal powders.

So for this morning’s experiment I scratched this long-standing itch of wanting to make a real chocolate scented soap. The cocoa CO2 oil in my Double Duty balms makes for a heavenly out-of-shower treat, but I still haven’t managed to make a batch of soap that smells just as great.

Last night I grated down two bars of fully-cured Breakfast Bars. It really looks just like cheese! Then I dumped them into a double boiler at the office this morning to warm up and be melted into a mushy paste. I had to add a little water since most of it had already evaporated from the bar after curing:

It took about 30 mins for the soap to get to this state. Then when it was soft and gel-like, I measured out the cocoa CO2 oil and mixed it into the paste well. The aroma was smile-inducing! I covered the pot and let it stay warm for a little while more before scooping out the mixture into a lined plastic container. It was still rather warm (I kept the thermostat on my double boiler at about 90ËšC) but firmed up fairly quickly.

Then a few hours later, after I got home, I took the slab of soap out of the liner and this is what it looked like:

I adore its rough and rustic, crumbly-looking surface all round. Don’t be fooled though–it’s as solid as any of my other bars, if not even more so. I will let it sit out for another few hours before I slice it up.

Right now though, everytime I’m near that thing I can’t help but pick it up to inhale its subtly sweet, chocolatey scent.

Watch out people, you’ve got a dessert soap coming your way soon! :p

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Note To Self

When working with large amounts of lye, lots of time can be saved if you made the lye solution in a stainless steel container of some kind, and NOT in an IKEA mixing bowl that just happens to be rather well-insulated.

Then you won’t have to wait around on your bum for 30 minutes just to wait for it to cool down properly. #-o

Time to visit a kitchen supply shop.

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Making Lye Solutions – Cold Water vs Room Temperature Water

Okay, here’s a little something that might interest the more seasoned soapers out there. I’m not sure if it’s something you already know, but here are my experiences anyway.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the temperature of the water with which you make your lye (sodium hydroxide, or NaOH) solution influences the outcome of whether or not your soap ends up with lots of ash on the surface.

My observations: ice water leads up to higher occurrence of soaper’s ash, while room temperature water leads to much less ash, if at all.

You see, when you add NaOH to water, the reaction is exothermic, meaning it produces heat. In fact, it gets REALLY hot, hitting close to 90C. It takes some time for me to cool it down in a water bath to get it to the correct soapmaking temperature, which is between 34C to 42C.

So there were a couple of occasions where I decided to ‘cheat’ by adding ice cubes directly to my lye-making water so the solution, thinking that I could cut down my waiting time for the lye to cool.

Well, cool faster it did, and my soaps turns out fine. But I noticed that for these batches, a fine layer of ash completely covered my soap. At first I put it down to just air getting into the mold while it was covered with cloth. Then I decided to check if it was the temperature of the water to which I added my NaOH by making two separate batches of soap where the only difference was the temperature of my water for the lye solution.

One batch had water that was at room temperature, about 24C. The other batch had ice water which brought its temperature down to 11C. I made my soap as normal then loosely covered the raw soap with clean dishcloths.

Result: the batch with room temperature water had only a minimal amount of ash resting on the crests of the soap swirls. The batch with the ice water had a fine, even layer of ash that completely covered the soap, even in the valleys of the soap swirls. It looked like powdery snow actually.

Now you know what to do to achieve the desired effect for your soap. 🙂

(Alas, I forgot to take photos. DOH! #-o )

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Behold – My Most Expensive Soap Ingredient To Date

Pure Vanilla Planifola CO2 extract This, ladies and gents, is a 15g bottle of pure vanilla planifola CO2 extract. Professional chefs use this in their creations–none of that vanilla essence you find in supermarkets. It smells like a slice of heaven, and it WILL be appearing in at least one new soap that I’ll be making soon. Will have to experiment first.

It cost me RM215, but if it turns out well in my test batches, you can bet your bottom dollar that you’ll be getting a truly luxurious, “scent-sational” bath experience like no other!

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I’m BACK! But Easy Does It…

Reuben on my shoulder Say hello to Reuben, our newest little love bucket. 😡 He’s grown so much in just one month!

Starting Thursday, June 24th, my confinement period is officially over and I will be moving back to our home. It’s been a blissful time of having peace and quiet for the better part of the days, taking my time to get to know Reuben, and catching up on rest.

Initially, a few days after my delivery I was psyched up to jump straight back into the soap business. Now I know better! So I do hope that you’ll bear with me as the family adjusts to our new routine, and I figure out how to manage my time between the household and Kinder Soaps.

To all who have placed orders with me during this past month, thank you so much for your patience and kind words. I’ll get in touch with you as soon as I can about your soap, but please forgive me for any delays that may crop up.

Oops, it’s time to feed Reuben.