I love mint, it reminds me of spending time with my Nana in San Diego. She grew mint in her a small screened in porch in the back of her house. She would ask my sister or I to go pick some for fresh mint herbal tea or just to chew on for better breath. I enjoy the smell, the way it makes my fingers feel after handling it and I really like the taste of real mint, not the fake stuff you taste in peppermint patties, but real, natural, fresh mint.
Last year I went a little crazy with mint varieties and bought more then I really had room for…the thing about mint is that it is really, really easy to grow. In fact, it is a strong hardy herb that will take over everything if you don’t control it. With this in mind I planted my three small pint mint plants in a half whiskey barrel size planter that lives on my back porch. Halfway through the summer I had a full half barrel of mint, my three tiny plants had grown so much they were spilling out of their container. I quickly realized this was way more mint then I could possibly eat on my own, so I decided to make some Mint Extract, nearly 2 pints of it! By the end of fall I had another large amount of mint I needed to find a use for as well as the 2 pints of mint extract in my freezer.
Why not make soap! Not that I had a lot of experience making soap, more like NO experience, but how difficult could it be, right?
I imagined making cute green colored soap with the refreshing aroma of homegrown garden mint to give out as holiday gifts. I started scouring the internet in search of soap making recipes, to my delight I found literally hundreds of search results with good information, recipes, and tutorials. I distinctly remember reading one particular tutorial that talked about all the ways soap making can go completely wrong. Determined not to make “those” mistakes, I purchased the necessary ingredients including the lye from Amazon and got down to business.
After my very brilliant husband assured me that lye did not react with Alcohol chemically I felt it would be safe to use my Mint Extract in the soap recipe. I carefully choose one online recipe and started the process. I followed the directions precisely and almost immediately ran into a snag. After heating my oils and melting the more solid ones, I mistakenly thought the hot oil would take longer to cool then the lye & water mixture. I grossly underestimated the heat released from this chemical reaction. The soap recipe directions clearly stated it should take the lye mixture and the oil mixture about 10 minutes to cool to a temperature between 95° to 105°, 20 minutes later my oil mixture needed reheated and my lye mixture was still at 130°. This coupled with the cheap thermometer I was using made it rather difficult to gauge my temperature accurately. About 40 minutes after I started the reaction with the lye and water and reheated the oil mixture 3 different times it appeared the desired temperature had been reached for both parts.
I quickly put my gloves and eye protection back on and started to combine the oil and lye mixtures. I hand mixed, for a full 5 minutes, then begin to use my immersion blender, being careful not to create too many bubbles I quickly reached “trace” and proceeded to add my “other” ingredients. For me this was my Mint Extract. I carefully measured out an amount I felt was appropriate and poured it into the soap, then using the immersion blender I started to stir. To my surprise, rather then blend, the mixture suddenly became thick and then hard! I hadn’t even gotten the Extract fully combined, and I had a lovely bowl of light green soap!
Once the soap fully hardened, in about an hour, I simply turned the bowl upside down and an odd shaped half spherical block of soap popped out. After allowing my first batch of soap to dry for about 24 hours I set about cutting it into pieces, which of course looked absolutely NOTHING like what I had envisioned.
Resolving to use the “ugly” soap for us, after leaving it cure for six weeks I noticed it developed an strange white crust on the outside of several pieces.
In the end I realized that when I added the alcohol which has a room temperature much lower then my soap mixture, I cooled the entire thing much to quickly, this caused the soap to harden much too quick and altered the soapification process, hence the white crust.