When my father-in-law presented me with a cup of fat taken from his oxtail stew, I accepted the challenge to turn this into what’s traditionally known in South Africa as “Boereseep” (Translation: Farmer’s soap). Although I personally prefer plant-based soap recipes, my students often ask how to make soap with animal fat – either because they are farmers, have access to animal fat scraps or they simply have memories of their grandmother’s soap-making.
If your grandmother made soap, she either collected the oil and fat from each meal into a jar, or she rendered the pure fat scraps from the butcher. This recipe attempts the former – using tallow fat collected from a meal. Except, I’ll skip the part where your grandmother used firewood ashes for the lye.
If you’ve never made your own soap bars from scratch (with lye), please stop right here. This recipe assumes that you have basic soap-making knowledge. First, please read my beginner soap bar recipe, so that you will know all the safety precautions to take. You’ll also benefit from the more detailed instructions and step-by-step photographs. For more in-depth lessons on formulating your own soap recipes, enrol in my soap-making course.
You can use any type of tallow for this batch size, it doesn’t have to be from beef. Tallow is also sourced from sheep, goats and deer. Based on my calculations, you can also substitute other animal fat like lard (sourced from pigs), goose fat and chicken fat. The soap properties will be slightly different for each (i.e. some harder / softer / more bubbly etc.). However, you must stick to beef tallow if you’re going to make larger batches. The minuscule differences in lye amounts are negligible when making this small batch size (i.e. 1g or less). But if you start scaling up, then those become very big differences! You’ll have to re-calculate for larger batches with different animal fats. You cannot substitute with plant oils, rather refer to my beginner soap recipe or my multi-purpose soap recipe for that. Animal fats have a different fatty acid profile, and therefore require a different amount of sodium hydroxide for the saponification reaction to occur. When it comes to soap-making, you just cannot substitute oils, because every fat has a different profile.
Cost & Shelf Life
Cost price: R1.72 per 100g soap bar, or R3.43 for entire 200g recipe. Remember, the tallow was “free” and so is the tap water (kinda).
Lasted me about: 2 weeks using every day (one bar).
Shelf life: 2 years if stored away from direct sunlight.
- Stew Fragrance: The soap does have a mild oxtail aroma, which is not great. I did expect this, but I wanted to make a plain soap bar on my first attempt. Next time, I will definitely add essential oils to mask the fragrance. Masculine base notes will work best to overpower it like: cinnamon, clove and aniseed etc.
- Straining is time consuming: It takes quite a bit of time to strain the fat before you can use it, especially because it re-solidifies as it cools. So you may have to re-melt multiple times depending on how much fat you’re using. I had to re-melt twice for two bars. I’ve heard that using a cheese / muslin cloth is quicker than coffee filter paper, but the filter paper is better for catching more unwanted bits.
- Poor lather: There are bubbles, but they are very flat and fine. This is more of a creamy bar. The lather is poor compared to the fluffy, voluminous bubbles of a coconut oil soap.
- Goo-Factor: This is the kind of soap that becomes soft and “smooshy” when not stored in a proper soap dish that allows the bar to drain excess water and dry between uses.
Cherry on Top
- Cheapest soap: If you use the fat from your dinner/farm and tap water, this works out to be the cheapest soap recipe there is! I’ll never buy tallow, so for me it will always be a free ingredient.
- Long lasting: Tallow produces a hard bar of soap. It will last longer than castile soap, and similar to a coconut oil soap. The longer you let it cure, the harder it will get and the longer it will last.
- Creamy & conditioning soap: This soap produces a more creamy lather than coconut oil soap. If you prefer luxurious creaminess, then this is the soap for you.
- Save money & reduce waste: Making use of the fat from your meals for soap-making is super frugal.
- Caustic soda: is also known as sodium hydroxide (NaOH), which most people know as drain cleaner. It is a highly alkaline substance (pH 14) used to dissolve fats in drains, and saponify oils into soap. Although it is a hazardous chemical, in the soap-making process it is necessary to convert all oil into soap. When measured accurately, there will be zero caustic soda in your final soap bar. The final products of the chemical reaction are sodium salt, glycerine and soap. This is why it is safe in natural soap, but it should be used with caution. i.e. Water + Caustic Soda + Oil —> Salt + Soap + Glycerine. (buy here)
- Tallow: is an animal fat most commonly sourced from bovine (cattle), but can also be sourced from other domestic or wild ruminants like sheep, goats, deer, buffalo, elk, moose and caribou etc.
a note on sustainability
I’m expecting some criticism from vegans for this recipe, but I’ve made up my mind to post it anyway. After much thought, I’ve decided that in a world where people still eat meat and farm animals, making tallow soap is actually sustainable. Hear me out. We don’t farm animals in order to make soap. The animal fat is actually considered a waste product, and therefore using it is less wasteful. Collecting the fat from animal-based meals is also pretty resourceful. I won’t buy tallow from a cosmetic supplier to make soap or anything else, but if I was a farmer, I would totally make use of the whole animal. Given the choice between commercial palm oil (which causes deforestation), and my neighbour’s stew fat – I’m going to choose the stew fat. I totally support that kind of resourcefulness.
Let me know how your tallow soap turns out. Did you render the pure fat, or also collect it from a meal?