Many consumers of natural soaps ask why are the natural soaps opaque,while the so called glycerine soaps are transparent. This is a question thatpuzzles many who are searching for the most natural soap bar productthey can buy.
Natural soaps contain the glycerine that was originally part of the oil or fatto generate the soap. When the soap molecule is split the result is freeglycerine and soap. Glycerine is found in all soaps made by the "coldprocess", which does not salt out the glycerin by the introduction of abrine solution. Transparent soaps in addition to glycerine, if they are madeby the "cold process" contain alcohol as well. There are several recipes forthe making of homemade transparent soaps. These recipes all require themelting down of cured soap and adding alcohol. The simple alcohol usedin these recipes vary from pure grain, rubbing, whiskey or vodka for thealcohol. For the home soap maker it is suggested that transparent soapsbe made in small batches. It is difficult to control the melting of the soapinto the alcohol without igniting the mixture of soap and alcohol. It is soapsuspended in a solution of alcohol that makes a soap transparent; not theglycerine in the soap itself.
When checking the labels of commercially prepared transparent soaps,alcohol is listed. The higher price transparent soaps do not use a simplealcohol to bring about the transparent solution of soap. These soaps havea complex alcohol called sorbitol. Sorbitol, originally obtained from amountain ash, is produced from hydrogenated glucose The soaps thatemploy sorbitol are usually not natural soaps but are made fromcomponents of isolated fatty acids. Basically to answer the originalquestion a soap to be transparent must be suspended in an alcoholsolution or be a composition bar of fatty acids in a sorbitol solution.
The transparent natural soap bar might be pretty to look at and fine fordecoration. The addition of the alcohol makes the soap drying, an attributethat most people do not want or need in their soaps for use.
The difference between alcohols is based on the number of carbon atomsthat make up the alcohol molecule. The lower number of carbon atoms,the alcohol is called a simple alcohol and in nature is a drying substanceas it evaporates quickly. A longer chain alcohol which includes glycerol(glycerine) and sorbitol is classified as a humectant and has moisturizingproperties. Complex alcohols are heavy and sweet substances. Glycerineand sorbital both are both considered safe ingredients for consumption. Many of the sugar free foods on the markets including sugar free chewinggum toothpaste, baked goods such as cookies, and candies containsorbitol. It is very similar to glycerol in its reactions.
Transparent soaps made with sorbitol and glycerine will not be drying likethose made with the simpler drying alcohols. The problem is the extraenergy required to produce a transparent soap made with sorbitol. Whilesorbitol was first isolated from the berries of the mountain ash in the 19thcentury; it is now synthesized by the hydrogenation of glucose. Thisrequires extra energy to produce a transparent soap than a natural soap. The glycerine in a natural soap yields all the moisturizing benefits ofsorbitol without the extra energy Glycerine a is natural result of the soapmaking process.
When a person decides to live a more natural life style; one shouldconsider the amount of energy necessary for the production of any item. Energy in manufacturing requires a drain on our energy sources . One isby direct use of petrochemicals to manufacture artificial substances. Theother being the use of energy in extra steps in production. Electricity theenergy that drives manufacturing operations depends too on the use of theworld's supply of fossil fuels.
Sorbitol is used as a humectant in many types of products for protection against loss ofmoisture content. The moisture-stabilizing and textural properties of sorbitol are used inthe production of confectionery, baked goods and chocolate where products tend tobecome dry or harden. Its moisture-stabilizing action protects these products from dryingand maintains their initial freshness during storage.
Sorbitol is very stable and chemically unreactive. It can withstand high temperatures anddoes not participate in Maillard (browning) reactions. This is an advantage, for example,in the production of cookies where a fresh color with no appearance of browning isdesired. Sorbitol also combines well with other food ingredients such as sugars, gellingagents, proteins and vegetable fats. It functions well in many food products such aschewing gums, candies, frozen desserts, cookies, cakes, icings and fillings as well as oralcare products, including toothpaste and mouthwash.
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