6 principles of home experimenting
This is actually the very basics of this hobby, since you cannot all the time follow the recipes of others. There are three reasons for this:
1. Most of the time you do not have all the ingredients of the recipe (but you have others)
2. You just do not find the recipe for what exactly you want or for the ingredients you have.
3. You bought a new ingredient you wish to test
You bought a new emulsifier, new dye, new … something. Something other than what you use to work with and naturally, questions arise – What will be the consistency of my favourite cream with this emulsifier? Would the new colorant withstand the alkalinity of soap?
To get answers, you have to experiment. But if you want the answers that will give you valuable knowledge, you have to experiment systematically.
And if you want to minimize your costs (not only for the ingredients of the failed experiments that end up in the trash!), you must experiment wisely.
But what does it take to experiment wisely and systematically? Let me share with you my 6 basic principles. This will take a little longer, so grab your coffee and sit comfortably, let’s go:
1. Choose an easy testing recipe
If you are testing a single ingredient which is suppose to replace another ingredient, naturally your test recipe is just the one where the ingredient is to be replaced.
If you want to just compare more ingredients of the same type (say surfactants, emulsifiers or preservatives), use the simplest recipe possible to be able to really focus on the effect of the ingredient. For example, if you test emulsifiers, the recipe for a cream might look like this:
25% sunflower oil
Skip the fragrances and preservatives – they may affect the cream consistency due to incompatibility of ingredients.
I know what is going on in your head: “Well, with the new emulsifier, let’s make it worth it, right? Let’s try also new preservative, add here and there some anti-aging active, which normally you buy as liquid and now you have it in powder form…. how do we make it smell…. hummmm, let’s add a bit of orange essential oil, although I have no idea what it will do…”
I know how tempting it is… please, don’t do this!
Any change in the recipe may cause changes in consistency. Some essential oils (citrus) cause dilution of the emulsion, if you use a powder ingredient instead of a liquid one, it can affect your emulsion or cream feeling importantly. If you use shea butter instead of liquid oil, cream will be naturally thicker. Finally, some of the ingredients are incompatible (an example is xanthan gum and grapefruit seed extract). The more ingredients you change, the less possible it will be to say what ingredient caused the change.
3. Follow the same procedures
Hand stirring vs mixer stirring changes the consistency. Unless you are experimenting on this, do not change the mixing procedure between two recipes where you test two emulsifiers.
This principle is particularly important in soapmaking. If soap goes through the gel phase, it has a different texture and color compared to ungelled soap. Gelling depends on heat, which depends on the moulds and ingredients. If you are testing new color, don’t design complicated recipe, keep the technique as simple as possible (comparable to your standard).
4. Make always the least possible amounts
From a purely economic reasons – when testing new recipe, do not make a big batch. The change of emulsifier, preservative, dye … anything can bring unpleasant surprises.
And this applies to soapmaking, too – there is nothing easier than creating one bar of soap – prepare it for small
Also, some of the testing can be done prior to getting to complicated recipes. For instance, you can get an idea about the dye stability in alkaline conditions of soap by simply dissolving it in alkaline water solution prepared from distilled water and baking or washing soda. If it looses its color, it won’t survive in soap…
5. Note everything
When you do the experiment, you know exactly what you put there and in what amounts. You plan to note it after you finish, but then… somehow, you find yourself a week later and you still did not write it down. And I assure you – it won’t happen and you will forget. What a pity and shame! Have your notebook ready at all times and note everything!
6. Find out as much as possible in advance about the tested ingredient
Of course, you can experiment without searching for information about the ingredients. But why would you risk a bad batch when information is everywhere?
Many vendors report recommended usage for ingredients or indicate incompatibility with other ingredients. It is true that many sellers get this information by simple copy&paste technique from other pages and I have seen a lot of nonsense. So you need to think critically. On the other hand, all recommendations are good because they serve as a starting point. After all, one does not require you to blindly follow the instructions. Quite the opposite – experiment and go to the extremes, find out what the ingredient can do – and make notes!
So do not forget! 🙂