Soap making secrets: Where does the natural colorant annatto come from?

Soap making secrets: Annatto seed pods

One of my favorite natural colorants to use in my soap is annatto. I infuse olive oil with annatto seeds to get a rich orange color for my handmade Soap á l’orange. Annatto is a colorant that comes from the seeds of the achiote tree, which is native to tropical countries.

I’ve been using dried annatto seeds since I started making cold process soap.

Dried annatto seeds

In November, I was able to see where those seeds come from during a trip to Costa Rica.

Achiote (annatto) tree

The achiote tree is a relatively short evergreen, growing to around 30 feet at its tallest. It’s easy to see why the achiote is a popular landscaping plant in warm climates, even in the United States.

Achiote flower

It produces beautiful light pink flowers that stand in stark contrast to the bright red spiky seed pods that later develop.

Achiote (annatto) seed pod

Our guide for the day demonstrated how native Costa Ricans cracked the seed pod open and turned the seeds into a bright orange-red paste. With the help of a brave volunteer (who not five minutes earlier also volunteered to eat a termite), he showed us how the paste was used as face paint for certain ceremonies.

Making achiote (annatto) paste

Annatto is extremely versatile and is used to color everything from margarine to paint. Costa Ricans love using it in their most popular dish, arroz con pollo (rice with chicken). It gives the rice the same nice yellow tint as saffron at a fraction of the cost.

If you’d like to learn more about how to use annatto as a colorant in soap, check out my easy DIY for infusing olive oil

Soap making secrets: The benefits of hemp seed oil

Soap making secrets: The benefits of hemp seed oil

Before I start, I need to get something out of the way. This post is not about pot or drugs or getting high. It is about the mighty hemp plant and what it can do for your skin.

You’ve probably seen products like clothing and paper made from hemp fiber. You might also know that this versatile plant has been used to make things like bikes, cars and even houses. But, did you know hemp has another benefit locked away in its seeds? Hemp seeds are rich in the essential fatty acids, Omega-3 Linolenic Acid and Omega-6 Linoleic Acid. These fatty acids are thought to be beneficial antioxidants and they can help protect the skin from moisture loss, something that those of us in northern climates contend with during the cold winter months.

Unlike the strains of cannabis plants used for marijuana, hemp strains contain negligible amounts tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the stuff that gives marijuana its psychoactive kick. This means that products made with hemp, including food and bath products, are safe for those of us who like to “just say no.”

I’ve had a desire to use hemp seed oil in my soap for a while. I’ve used other soap made with hemp seed oil and I love the way it makes my skin feel. Around the same time the Grateful Dead where having their reunion concerts, I found a fragrance oil called, “Cannabis Flower.” I knew right away that I wanted to combine that fragrance with hemp seed oil in a soap bursting with psychedelic swirling colors. After a couple of tries, I finally perfected the look I was going for.

Feelin' groovy handmade soap

In addition to hemp seed oil, this soap it also has the skin loving combination of olive and rice bran oils that leaves skin feeling ultra moisturized. It smells green and herbaceous with a touch of floral notes like violet and gardenia.

Want to give this soap a try? It’s available now in the Emmet Street Creations store!



Soap making secrets: Using juniper berries in handmade soap

Soap making secrets: Exfoliating juniper berries

Many soap makers use botanical additives to add visual interest or exfoliating properties to their soap. Lavender buds and rose petals sprinkled on top of a bar add texture and beauty. Ground walnut shells or orange peels mixed throughout a soap can add exfoliation.

My additive of choice lately has been ground juniper berries. Juniper berries are the tiny little pine cone of the juniper bush. They’re used to flavor gin and meat and their piney scent makes them a wonderful addition to potpourri. When ground up in soap, they act is a gentle exfoliant.

I use ground juniper berries in my best selling Rosemary Mint & Juniper soap. I buy the juniper berries whole and use a spice grinder to grind them into a course powder. I add a couple of tablespoons of the powder to the soap batter just before I pour it into the mold.

Rosemary Mint & Juniper soap

The result is a lovely speckled soap that’s wonderful for smoothing out rough patches on feet, knees and elbows. The rosemary and peppermint essential oils that scent this soap leave your skin feeling cool and refreshed.

Need a little extra exfoliation? This soap is now available in the Emmet Street Creations store on Etsy. They sell out quickly so get yours today!

Soap making secrets: Color inspiration

Soap making secrets: Color inspiration

Last weekend, I took a trip to the Sandy Ridge Reservation in Lorain county. I love going to this reservation because of the number and diversity of birds I can see. But, in the late summer, the colors interest me as much as the birds. Late summer wildflowers, like tickseed and goldenrod, are on full display. On a stormy day, I love the contrast of the bright yellow flowers with the dark grey of the sky.

I often look to nature to find inspiration in my soap making. I gravitate towards the color blue. It reminds me of the summer sky and I tend to use it over and over. But, after my trip to the park, I posted a picture of a monarch caterpillar on Facebook. One of my followers mentioned that its colors would look great in a soap and I couldn’t agree more! So, I’m planning a new soap that will incorporate these amazing black, white and yellow stripes. I’ll be sure to provide updates on my progress!

Monarch caterpillar

I didn’t find a lot of birds at the park during this trip but I did find a lot of inspiration so I thought I’d share some of my favorite pictures from the day.

Yellow tickseed sunflowers


Yellow and white wild flowers


Yellow and purple wildflowers


Yellow flowers against a stormy sky


Where do you find inspiration for your art? Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Soap making secrets: The benefits of using essential oil in handmade soap

Soap making secrets: Essential Oil

What’s the first thing you do when you pick up new bar of soap? If you’re like most people, you pick it up and smell it. (Or, if you are like one person I encountered, you stick your fingernail into it. Don’t do that.)

Scent is a critical component of most soap and one of the tools a handmade soap maker uses to add amazing scent to their soap is essential oil. Essential oil is a natural oil that is extracted from a plant, fruit, root or other source that smells like the source it came from. For example, orange essential oil smells like oranges because the oil is extracted from the rind. Peppermint oil is distilled from the leaves of a peppermint plant.

Essential oils have the benefit of being a completely natural way to add scent to soap. While I do use fragrance oils, which are synthetically produce in a lab in some of my creations, I like being able to offer soaps that are 100% natural.

Looking to try handmade soap made with essential oils? The Emmet Street Creations store on Etsy can hook you up.

My natural Lavender soap made with soothing Hungarian lavender is the perfect soap to help you relax before a stressful day in the office.

Hungarian lavender handmade soap

Lemongrass essential has an uplifting scent and this Lemongrass and Green Tea soap will get your day started on a high note.

Lemongrass essential oil handmade soap

Get the benefits of three essential oils in one bar of soap with my Eucalyptus, Lavender and Peppermint soap. This pretty soap has an eye-opening scent that is sure invigorate your senses.

Eucalyptus, lavender & mint handmade soap


Do you have a favorite essential oil scent? Tell me about it in the comments or on the Emmet Street Creations Facebook page. Your idea just might spark my next creation!




Soap making secrets: How using a stick blender saves time

Soap making secrets - Stick blender

So far this year, I’ve revealed several soap making secrets. I’ve told you about lye and I’ve explained the different properties of common oils like coconut and olive oil. Now I’d like to explain the secret behind how lye, water and oils become soap. Be ready for your mind to be blown. The secret is…stirring. A lot of stirring. OK, maybe that isn’t exactly mind-blowing but without properly mixing the ingredients, a batch of soap is doomed.

Once the oils are melted and the lye water is cooled, the two are are mixed together and stirred until the batter begins to emulsify and thicken. Depending on the recipe, it can take an hour (or several) of stirring for the soap to fully emulsify.

For millennia, soap makers sported arm muscles like Popeye’s after a spinach binge thanks to hours and hours of stirring soap batter. When the stick blender became a common household product, soap makers quickly figured out how to use the technology to make their jobs easier. A few short bursts of mixing with a stick blender can bring soap batter to the desired consistency within minutes, not hours. The extra time saved means we can make more soap!

There are some precautions that I take every time I make a batch of soap with my stick blender. I always wear rubber gloves, a long-sleeved shirt, and goggles to protect myself from any splatter that might happen. When I insert the stick blender into the batter, I tap it several times on the bottom of the bowl. This helps any air bubbles trapped under the blender to escape. Air bubbles can show up in a finished bar of soap as tiny little holes or spots and aesthetically ruin a design. I always unplug my blender before attempting to clean the soap out of it. I really like all of my fingers. I’ve known them my whole life and we’ve become quite close. I would hate to lose any of them because I accidentally hit the power button while wiping soap batter off of the blade.

I credit my aunt for getting me started with soap making. During a visit several years ago, she gave me a stick blender that she no longer used. I was researching how to make soap at the time and I looked at her gift as a sign that I should stop dreaming about making soap and start doing it.

If you are interested in learning more about the soap making process, you can catch up on past installments of soap making secrets here.  Once you’re caught up, be sure to stop by the Emmet Street Creations shop on Etsy to try out some of the soaps you read about.

Soap making secrets: Using indigo powder as a natural colorant

Soap making secrets: Using indigo powder as a natural colorantA few weeks ago, I spent some time at the Cleveland Botanical Garden and was so inspired by the herb and dye gardens that I decided to work with indigo powder as a natural colorant in my soap.

Indigo is a plant-based dye that has been used for thousands of years as a dye for cloth and pottery. Did you know it’s also used to add color to bath and body products?

I used indigo powder in two different ways to achieve different looks.  For the striped soap on the left in the picture above, I mixed a small amount of indigo powder with olive oil. I then added the mixture to a small portion of the soap batter to make a dark blue layer. This soap is scented with a nice unisex blend that has fruity notes of lime, lemon zest and apple, along with floral notes of lily of the valley and rose.

For the second batch, I wanted the entire soap to be one color, so I mixed the indigo powder into the water portion of my soap recipe. Once it was diluted, I added the lye. I scented this soap, shown on the right above, with the juiciest smelling blueberry fragrance oil. I can’t stop sniffing it!

If you’re a soap maker interested in learning more about how to use indigo or other natural colorants in your formulations, I recommend reading this post by The Soap Queen, Anne-Marie Faiola. It’s loaded with great tips on usage rates of several natural colorants.

As I researched the use of indigo in soap, I learned that this stunningly beautiful dye has had a long and tumultuous history. If you’re interested in learning more, listen to this NPR interview with Catherine E McKinley, the author of “Indigo: In Search of the Color that Seduced the World.” I’ve added this book to my reading list!

I also learned that extracting dye from indigo containing plants is a difficult and arduous task. Because of this, most indigo used today is synthetic and not plant derived like the powder I used. But, I stumbled across a small company called Ricketts Indigo that is dedicated to using traditional methods of extracting dye. They create gorgeous cloth, towels, handkerchiefs and other items that are dyed with the indigo they grew and processed. Their shop is full of beautiful items that would make the perfect gift for anyone who uses the color indigo in their decor.

My indigo-inspired soaps will be available for purchase in the Emmet Street Creations Etsy store in mid-August. They’d make the perfect gift for that hard to buy for guy or gal.