Updated: May 13, 2019
Walmart’s greatest gift to soap makers (other than all of their amazing prices on soaping essentials and oils) is their Great Value Vegetable Shortening. When Wally created this 48 ounce can of oily, fatty and amazing goodness, they must have been thinking of all of the soap makers across the United States… that, or bakers… but let’s just pretend they made it for us. All jokes aside, vegetable shortening is a wonderful and affordable addition to soap.
You can purchase the Great Value Brand for only $2.98 for a 48 ounce can or use brand names like Crisco ($6.88 for 48 ounces). If you purchase the Great Value brand you are only spending $0.06 an ounce. That is by far the cheapest oil that you will find, hands down. Just because the price is low, doesn’t mean the quality is. In fact, vegetable shortening has a diverse fatty acid content that provides the perfect blend of soap qualities.
So what exactly is vegetable shortening? In baking, the term "shortening" is used to describe a solid fat in a recipe. Examples of animal shortening include lard, butter and tallow. “Vegetable shortening" is used to describe a solid* fat made from vegetable oils. (If you outside of the U.S., be sure to ask restaurant and bakery suppliers, most will have vegetable shortening available for purchase.)
In the Ultimate Guide to Hot Process Soap, we learned that the fats we use in soap making can be saturated or unsaturated. Most vegetable oils, like soybean and corn oil, are unsaturated fats. These unsaturated fats appear liquid at room temperature and are able to slip and slide paste each other because of their chemical composition and because they do not have hydrogen bound to the fatty acid ends. Most plant butters, animal fats and a few oils like coconut and palm oil are made up of saturated fats and appear solid at room temperature.
If vegetable shortening is made from vegetable oils, which are liquid at room temperature, how can vegetable shortening be a solid? Liquid vegetable oil is converted into vegetable shortening by a process called hydrogenation. Unsaturated fats do not have hydrogen on the ends of the fatty acids, but through the process of hydrogenation, we are able to force hydrogen to bind to the ends of the unsaturated fatty acids. We do this by forcing hydrogen to bubble through the oil under pressure and heat, and in the presence of a catalyst. This results in vegetable shortening that is solid at room temperature, white in color and has saturated fats.
In soap making, we can take advantage of this process that converts fairly inexpensive liquid vegetable oils that are high in unsaturated fats to a solid fat with lots of saturated fats, which are often much more expensive. As you learned in UG2HP, our recipes, especially HTFHP recipes, must have saturated fats to provide hardness, lather stability, longevity and more.
Vegetable shortening is comprised of soybean oil, hydrogenated palm oil, palm oil, monoglycerides and diglycerides. All of these are made up of fatty acids bonded to a glycerol. A monoglyceride has one fatty acid bonded to a glycerol, a diglyceride has two fatty acids bonded to a glycerol and a triglyceride has three fatty acids and a glycerol. The stability of the molecule increases with each added fatty acid.
From what you learned in the Soap Science chapter, we know that we must use a lye solution to break the bonds between fatty acids and glycerol to create soap. We also know that each fatty acid type adds different properties to the soap. There are multiple fatty acid types in this single, easy-to-scoop can of vegetable shortening because it is comprised of both saturated and unsaturated fats from multiple plant sources. Vegetable shortening has palm oil, which is high in palmitic and stearic acid, both saturated fats that add hardness, longevity and lather stability. It is also soybean oil which is high in oleic acid and adds conditioning and softening properties, and can be used in a eutectic mixture with lauric acid to increase the lathering abilities. This allows vegetable shortening to add both hardening and conditioning properties to the recipe. There are also additional monogylcerides and diglycerides that also saponify and add other soap qualities, and glycerin.
Now that we know what vegetable shortening is, and what soap qualities it adds to our recipe, we can use this information to make our “informed recipe”. We know that using it will add hardness, stability and conditioning to our recipe. At such a “Great Value” and with so many benefits, you can use large amounts of vegetable shortening in your recipes. Because fluid hot process soap making is my favorite method of making soap, I like to use vegetable shortening to my advantage when formulating a recipe, not only because of its low price, but also because it accelerates the rate of trace and reduces the total amount of time required for saponification. For many of my HTFHP recipes, I will use 40-60% vegetable shortening. This not only makes an excellent informed recipe, but it also significantly reduces the cost of each bar. It is important to note that if the rest of your total recipe is high in polyunsaturated fats, using a higher concentration of vegetable shortening can increase the risk of oxidation, although I have personally never experienced this because I create informed recipes. Read this article to learn more about Oxidation & Rancidity in Soap.
Have you used shortening in your recipes? Do you have any tips, recipes or itsuggebstions with shortening? Share below!ow!w!!the Student Recipe Book to try our "$2.88 Budget Vegetable Shortening Recipe". This recipe will create 12 full size bars and fill an entire 10-inch loaf for less than $3 in oils. Yep, this recipe is not only budget-friendly, but it also creates a bubbly and intensely moisturizing soap that takes advantage of vegetable shortening and all that it has to offer. This recipe is designed for both LTHP and Fluid HP.
Have you used shortening in your recipes? Do you have any tips, recipes or suggestions for vegetable shortening? Share below!
For more information about soap science, recipe formulating, hot process soap and fluid hot process soap, be sure to get your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Hot Process Soap today by visiting our Bookstore now! Do you want to learn how to make beautiful liquid soap in less than 30 minutes, from start to finish? Get your copy of The Ultimate Guide to Liquid Soap today! Just released!
*Semi-solid fat is the correct term, but we use "solid" for the purpose of this article