Monday, September 26, 2011

Question: How do we know what version of an ingredient to use and how to substitute it?

Ellbie writes in this postHi Susan. I have a question that is a little off topic but seems to fit into this series of posts. Some ingredients are available in liquid or solid so when you are looking at a recipe how do you know which is listed? AND how do figure out how much to use if you have the opposite? Thanks! This blog is so incredibly awesome!

Wow, what great questions! And the answers are - I'm not sure. We as recipe writers really need to be aware that what we have in our workshop may differ from what's in yours!

Unfortunately, there's isn't an easy rule to figure out how much of a powdered ingredient to add to your product in place of a liquid one. So we have to do a little more work to make sure we have the same ingredient amounts.

Knowing your ingredients really helps in this situation! (I think I've gone from gentle reminding to nagging now! But it's true!)

If you see something like 5% green tea in the heated water phase, then we know that can't be the powdered stuff as it tends to be heat sensitive and tends to be used at 0.5%. If we saw 5% green tea being used in the cool down phase, we'd still know it must be the liquid because 5% powdered green tea extract wouldn't dissolve well in any product and we'd have a ton of precipitate at the bottom of our container. (Click here for a post on solubility!) So we know this recipe uses liquid green tea extract, is just awful and full of lumps of green tea extract, or they're missing the decimal place and zero in front of the 5%!

If you see someone using 2% panthenol in the heated phase and something like "stir until dissolved", you know you have a powdered panthenol there because normally you'd add it to the cool down phase and it wouldn't have to dissolve. If you see something like aloe vera, odds are really good that it's aloe vera liquid or extract, not the gel, because the gel doesn't get used all that often.

Aloe vera gel is not the stuff that comes out of the plant as a gel. (It is aloe vera, but not a natural gel.) It's a gel that is gellified by using a carbomer to make a gel. I don't think I've come upon a recipe yet that has used aloe vera gel without using the words "aloe vera gel". People seem to think that aloe vera gel is more natural or organic, and I guess it could be, if your definition of natural or organic includes up to 2% carbomer and a neutralizer like TEA. (Click here for more information on making gels!) What you want is the aloe vera extract or powdered/concentrated aloe vera or aloe vera juice. 

With something like surfactants, it's easy to figure out the active amount and make that the same as the original recipe. For instance, let's say we have some 65% active SCI and the recipe calls for 85% active SCI. If we are using 20% SCI, this would mean we are using 17% active SCI in the recipe. So figure out how much 65% SCI you need to make up 17% - about 24% to 25% - add it to the product, and remove something else to make up for the difference.

If you have liquid green tea extract, how do you use it in place of powdered? Again, knowing your ingredients helps here (or at least having a reference with information on usage rates). Let's say I have a recipe with 0.5% green tea extract in the cool down phase. Find out the usage levels of the powdered version - 0.1% to 0.5%. Find out the usage levels of the liquid version - 1% to 5%. Find out in which phase you would use the one you have, then use it. I'd use 5% of the liquid because they'll both get used at their maximum levels. (This worked out well because of the suggested usage rates, but it won't always be that easy!)

Having said this, for the most part, once you've got the type of ingredient figured out, you're there. The liquid and solid versions of an ingredient tend to be the same and do the same thing, so if you have powdered panthenol you know it'll work as well as liquid panthenol. There will always be exceptions to any rule, so the best thing is to know the ingredients and how to substitute them.

Where to make space for those extra ingredients when we add more of something? If you're adding something to the water phase, remove an equal percentage of water. If you're adding something to the oil phase, count that as part of the oil phase and ensure you are either recalculating how much emulsifier you will need or removing some of the oils. (For instance, let's say you have 20% olive oil, and you add 5% hazelnut oil, remove 5% olive oil so you still have 20% oils in your oil phase!)

Great question, Ellbie, and not at all off topic! I hope I answered it for you. As with anything in cosmetic chemistry, there isn't a handy dandy jingle to remember to make it easier to figure these things out. Know your ingredients, know what they want you to have, and substitute accordingly. If that fails, write to the recipe writer and ask them what they mean!

Join me tomorrow for a few more questions and comments!


Ellbie said...

Thanks! That did help me. I am definitely getting better with regards to ingredients but still have a ways to go. I found for me I need to write something down in order for my brain to retain it so I am making note cards for the ingredients I have.

Anonymous said...

Great question and great explanation. Thank you!


Always.Looking.4.1.More said...

Hi Susan,

In regards to your comment,
"If you see something like aloe vera, odds are really good that it's aloe vera liquid or extract, not the gel, because the gel doesn't get used all that often."

I've come to the conclusion that not much of what we find in the way of aloe vera is what is says it is in ANY form. Have you ever smelled the gel (often referred to as "meat, or "inner fillet") of an aloe vera plant. It retains its natural smell no matter what form it's in, when it is allowed to remain in its natural state, without anything else added to it or taken away from it. I've smelled it, felt it, and even licked it right off the leaf (yick!). I smashed it, blended it, and strained it so all that was left was just "juice" (hardly any slime at all). No matter what I've done to it, the natural smell remains.

So I wonder what the aloe vera products I see in the stores by various suppliers really are when they have no smell whatsoever-- yet they claim on the labels to be "natural", or some say "no preservatives and nothing added", etc. Maybe they're not adding anything to the original gel, but I guess what they're not saying is how they "take away" the smell. It's the "take away" part that they leave out :-/