Shall we gel?
This is a question that each soap maker has a choice over. So what is the gel phase when making soap you ask and why do we get so excited or exercised by it?
Each batch of soap made with the same set of ingredients will have a slight difference in the appearance depending on the gel phase
I make cold processed soap and the gel phase is the reference to the saponification process when the soap gets to a certain temperature and becomes gelatinous, this can occur up to 170 degrees ( not a good idea to put your fingers in the soap at this stage to see if it really is hot!).
Gelling is a common occurrence when making soap. If I have gelled my soap then in the first few weeks of pouring the batch it will become quite hard as it evaporates the water. If I did not gel the soap it will take a little longer to harden and will also develop a slight translucent appearance.
In this age of appearance it is down to personal choice as to gel or not as it does not have any effect on the quality of the fully cured bar of soap.
How Do I Gel?
So if I want to gel my soap I insulate it soon after pouring, this entails placing it in a cardboard box and then covering it in some old towels and left in a warm draught free area for 24hrs. Now what do you class as a warm room I hear you ask? This is personal to you and the environment you live in – however too hot and the soap can ‘volcano’ or tunnel or just explode ( only happened once with some Honey & Oat soap) so watch your temperatures.
If I don’t want to gel my soap then I soap at colder temperature and then place the soap in the freezer or cold area immediately after pouring, I also leave it uncovered except for a top cover to prevent soda ash ( story for another day).
When to gel?
Up to a few months ago I have always preferred to gel with 2 exceptions.
If I am making Honey & Oat soap I do not gel – the sugars in the honey already add heat and I like the paler colour when it is not gelled.
I have also just started to make goats milk soap: gel phase and milk soap are not friends. Any type of milk soaps are best soaped cold (very cold), or else you run the risk of scorching the milk proteins and sugars. From first hand experience this results in a brownish soap that doesn’t smell great!
Also from personal experience I can confirm that it can result in a huge soapy fudge like mess as milk soaps are already prone to getting too hot. I was still able to use the goats milk soap it was just a darker colour thank I had aimed for.
So the question to gel or not is a bit like the marmite question – do you love it or hate it?