More About Tallow…
If you hear the word ‘tallow’ what imagery does it conjure?
Maybe visions of grand Victorian ballrooms, filled with aristocrats dressed in their “fineries”, illuminated by (tallow) candlelight?
Maybe instead, of a huge, boiling pot of stew served to King Henry VIII, with bread and (tallow) dripping?
Or how about of a hardworking man using (tallow) grease and soot to polish and soften his handmade, leather boots?
Or possibly of smelly, Edwardian “urchins” or “rag-a-muffins” washed by their mothers wielding a large yellow bar of (tallow) soap?
They’re all good examples of how tallow has been utilised for centuries. We might associate it with “olden day times” but as our culture, daily tasks and living conditions have refined with time, so too has tallow. These days when someone mentions this fat, I think of a luxuriously creamy, near-odorless, all-natural base for my handmade sudsy soaps. Psst…it’s excellent to cook with too!
WHAT DOES ‘TALLOW’ MEAN?
Merriam-Webster defines it as: the white nearly tasteless solid rendered fat of cattle (and sheep) used chiefly in soap, candles and lubricants.
The word has been dated back to the 14th century (the Middle Ages) and according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, potentially comes from the Middle English word “talwgh” related to the Middle Low German word “talg” meaning “tallow”. This word is thought to be from Proto-Germanic “talga” which means “firm, compact material” and the Gothic word “tulgus” also for “firm, solid”.
WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?
Tallow is beef suet (fat from around the organs) that has been gently melted using low heat, filtered of impurities and allowed to cool. When it solidifies again, you are left with a soft, edible, near-white substance that is shelf-stable at room temperature. It can last unspoiled, for months when frozen or kept in an air-tight container. Unlike suet, rendered tallow does not need refrigerating.
WHICH WAYS CAN IT BE USED?
Tallow has had many uses throughout history, all across the world, such as for candles, cooking, lubricants, skincare, and more recently, even bio-fuel.
Simple tallow candles were being produced as far back as 500B.C. Ancient Egyptians created ‘rushlights’ torches by coating reed cores in softened animal fats. However, the ancient Romans of 3000B.C were credited with developing the wicked candle by dipping rolled papyrus repeatedly into raw melted tallow. The resulting candles (along with oil lamps) were used to light their homes, aid travelers at night and for use in religious ceremonies. These natural tallow candles burned fast, melted in summer temperatures and filled the air with an awful smell. By the 1300s, tallow candles were already ubiquitous and even used in street lighting. Expensive alternatives were later made available to the rich classes such as the discovery of spermaceti made from Sperm Whale oil in the 1800s or refined European bees wax candles in the 1900s, which burned brighter, for longer and without producing thick smoke.
Despite not being in very high demand these days, beef tallow has been used for baking and cooking by all classes and cultures for hundreds of years due to its high smoke point, which means it can withstand high temperatures without going rancid. Historically, all sorts of dishes would have contained tallow, including pies, stews, sauces, cakes, breads and even the Native Americans used it for their staple diet of beef tallow, dried meat and berries. Personally, I recommend using it to enhance roast vegetables, saute meats and flavor savory sauce bases. I hear it takes homemade fries to another level!
Tallow has been used as a lubricant for leather, metal and wood-working industries for many years. It was a surplus bi-product of the meat industry and therefore cheap and accessible to most people. Specifically, for steam-driven piston engines, tallow was used to grease the moving parts as it could withstand high temperatures without washing away from the hot vapors. It was widely used as a lubrication for locomotives and steamship engines until the 1950s when it was replaced with cheaper rapeseed oil. Since before the American Civil War, tallow was used to lubricate ammunition in firearms and is still a compound used for projectile lubricants even to this day. Present day bio-degradable motor oil lists tallow in its ingredients too.
Sebum is an important, natural, odourless substance of oils, fatty acids, waxes and cholesterol found all over the body, except the palms and soles. It is secreted by the sebaceous glands in the middle layers of skin and combats bacteria, prevents skin damage and locks in moisture. The composition of fatty acids in rendered suet is similar to that of human skin’s sebum which means it can more easily be absorbed by the skin. Tallow contains Vitamins A, D, E, K, B12, Omega3s, Omega6, and Omega9 – some of which are only found in animal products, and are important for good health. This often makes it a suitable alternative for those with more sensitive skin types too. Because of these attributes, tallow has been used throughout history in balms, salves and lotions to moisturize and soothe.
In textiles: as a starch, lubricant and softener in textile manufacturing
In biodiesels: tallow is a suitable alternative to more common plant-based oils
In airplane fuels: August 24, 2010, a US DOD aircraft flew on a blend of conventional jet fuel and biofuel made from tallow
In printing: a paste formed with bitumen is applied as a resistance to acid etching on the metal print plates
In industry: as flux for soldering in industrial environments
HOW DOES IT BECOME SOAP?
Sodium tallowate is a mixture of salts and fatty acids obtained during soapmaking by reacting tallow with lye (or caustic soda) and water. Within the soaping industry, ‘tallowate’ is used informally to describe all soaps made from tallow rather than the more commonly used plant oils. The heated fat (acid) and cooled water/lye solution (base) are combined when their temperatures have a difference of no more than 10*F. Mixing these ingredients causes a chemical reaction called saponification which creates a salt (soap). When the correct consistency is reached, the mixture is poured into molds and left for 4-24 hours (depending on warmth, size, additives etc) until mostly set. The bars are then left out in a well ventilated place to cure for at least 4 weeks, allowing any excess water to evaporate before they are ready to use!
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO USE IT?
Incredibly, tallow has anti-microbial, anti-fungal and anti-inflammatory properties. It is particularly good for healing rashes and other inflamed skin conditions, as well as for cleaning cuts and scrapes. Grass fed beef tallow is also an excellent source of Conjugated Linoleic Acid, a powerful antioxidant, along with beneficial ratios of Omega 3 and Omega 6 fats, which our body is unable to make itself. There are also Vitamins A, D, E, K, & B12 which support our bodies in some pretty great ways.
Eye Health: Crucial in the process of converting light that enters the eye, into electrical signals that can be sent to the brain.
Blood Health: Used in the production of white blood cells which fight off infections and clear your bloodstream of bacteria or pathogens.
Muscle Health: Studies suggest high Vitamin D levels may be related to muscle strength, function and lean mass
Bone Health: Helps to support optimum bone density by enabling the body to absorb calcium more easily.
Skin Health: A front-runner in skincare circles. Helps skin retain moisture to stay soft, and protects cells from harmful effects of UV rays.
Blood Health: A fat-soluble vitamin that aids in the creation of a vital blood clotting factor.
Bone Health: Helps the body produces a protein called promthrombin which helps to regulate bone metabolism.
Neural Health: As an essential nutrient, B12 plays a significant role in creating DNA, as well as nourishing both our brains and our nervous systems.
OMEGA 3 (ALA, DHA, EPA) FATTY ACIDS
There are three types of Omega-3 fatty acids. ALA, DHA and EPA. Together and separately they help build and maintain a healthy body, positively affecting many functions, systems and processes.
ALA – Heart Health: Shown to help prevent heart disease, stroke and generally improve cardiovascular wellness.
DHA – Eye Heath: This is a major structural component of the eye’s retina and reduces the risk of macular degeneration.
EPA – Hormonal Health: Proven to reduce the risk of depression and anxiety by aiding in hormonal regulation and oil production on the surface of the skin.
OMEGA 6 FATTY ACID
Cell Growth: Plays a crucial role in stimulating the growth of health cells in our hair and skin.
Digestive Health: Lowers harmful LDL cholesterol and boosts protective HDL. Also improves the body’s sensitivity to insulin by managing blood sugar levels.
OLEIC (47%) FATTY ACID/OMEGA 9
Skin Repair: Also known as Omega 9, this fatty acid contains compounds that reinforce the strength of cell membranes and has anti-inflammatory properties to support the healing of wounds.
PALMITIC (26%) FATTY ACID
Skin Hydration: Acts as an emollient which means it slows the loss of water through the skin, retaining moisture by helping to build an oily protective barrier.
STAERIC (14%) FATTY ACID
Skin Appearance: This helps in the softening and smoothing of the surface of the skin, reducing blemishes, fine lines and wrinkles.
As shown above, all the nutrients found within rendered tallow, contribute to neurological, hormonal and cardiovascular health as well as, healthy muscle growth, bone development and immune function. It is also a ‘waste’ product of a huge industry so is kinder to the environment and no rainforests are lost or orangutans displaced for this ingredient. These are the reasons I believe tallow is superior to plant oils for soap-making.