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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mixology : Basic Guide To Making Emulsions

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An emulsion is an homogenous mix composed of two non miscible liquids, a widespread example being water & oil. The stability of the mix comes from a third ingredient called the emulsifier. It's this ingredient that holds the two other ones together. 
We use emulsions everyday & they can be found anywhere in our homes. From body lotions, conditioners, washing liquid, to cleansing agents & food. Mayonnaise is a very good culinary example of an emulsion. In this case, it's the egg that serves as the emulsifier along with (in some cases) a stabilizing agent.

For those of us that love making their own products & experimenting new things, making emulsions quickly becomes a must. As I stated above, it's used in a vast number of products & if you don't just want a mix of oils/ butters or water/floral waters, you are going to need to make en emulsion. It's the only way to incorporate hydrophilic (anything that mixes with water) & hydrophobic (anything that does not mix with water e.g oils) ingredients. And though making emulsions seem complicated & hard, the process is really quite straight forward.

First, let's explore the main components of an emulsion :

waters // oils // emulsifier // preservative

The quantity you use of each depends on the ingredients you are using, the amount of product you want & the quality of the results. It's up to you to decide what kind of results you are opting for before you can define the quantities you'll need. Normally, preservatives only make up 0.6 - 1% of the mix depending on the type of preservative you are using. Make sure you follow the instructions. Most of the time, emulsifiers look like white small solids, an good example is BTMS (used mostly in hair care formulations).

Once you know how much of what you are going to need, the next thing is to define what goes where and when. Making an emulsion comes with a strict order. We cannot put the ingredients together anyhow and anywhere. Generally, the oils & waters have to be heated along with the preservative but never together. The ingredients used in an emulsion fall under 3 categories :

water phase // oil phase // cool down phase

The waters go under water phase & the oils + the emulsifier under oil phase. Anything else goes under cool down phase 
Exceptions : Glycerin + some powders go under water phase for a better dispersion

Now, it's time to weigh your ingredients. I will advice you to weigh the different phases all at once & place them in different containers until you are ready to use them. Be careful to be as precise as possible. Sterilize your instruments & work place even before starting anything. Make sure there is no clutter around you & prepare the different instruments for the different stages. 

Stage 1. Measuring

Weigh everything with a good machine. Once you are done weighing, keep each phase in a safe, dark, cool place until ready to use. Be especially careful with the cool down phase that contains (if it's the case) volatile & sensitive ingredients such as essential oils

Stage 2. Heating

Get a big & wide frying pan. Pour water into it half way through. Put the pan on low heat. When it starts heating up, put your water phase & oil phase into the pan together. Please use STAINLESS STEEL containers and nothing else! Occasionally mix the oils + emulsifier to ease the melting. Depending on your ingredients & pan, 20 minutes should be enough however, I would advice you to take the temperatures (with a specialized thermometer) of each phase. This is an accurate way to make sure they are both at (about) the same temperature & over 70°C/158°F but less than 85°C/185°F. It is important for both phases to be at (about) the same temperature or else the emulsion could fail (failure to bond). If you don't have a thermometer (specially for such mixes) then 70°C should be around when bubbles start forming in the water phase (don't let it boil!! That's 100°C/212°F). Make sure your oils are totally melted and clear (not cloudy. Cloudy means the emulsifier is still a bit solid) or else your emulsion will only be partial.

Stage 3. Mixing

This is the most important part in the making of an emulsion. No matter how great your recipe is, if this stage is not done properly, you're not going to have an emulsion. Make sure to work quickly because once off the heat, the oils + emulsifier will tend to re-solidify. Carefully remove the oil phase from the pan then the water phase. Get an electric mixer (small electric mixers are great for small mixes). Put it on and start mixing the oils then, with proper care, pour in the waters gently as the mixer does it's thing. Keep on mixing even after pouring in the water phase. The mix should have a creamy texture now & an homogenous aspect. Mix for at least three minute straight. Then stop. You can put the mix in some cold water to accelerate the cooling. Mix some more for at least three minutes. After this, add in your cool down phase. Make sure the temperature of your mix is not higher than 30°C/86°F before adding the cool down phase or else, volatile ingredients will be lost & sensitive ingredients will loose their potency. Mix for a few seconds after adding each ingredients. Make sure your mixer is powerful enough & you use containers that are high enough to counter spills.

WARNING : When making emulsions, be sure to wear proper gear. Wear goggles, gloves, face mask, long sleeved tops & a protective coat. Handle hot containers & liquids with heat protective gloves (mittens) or use tools that helps you avoid touching the containers. Keep children & pets away. If possible, ask someone to assist you. And just so we all know & are clear on this, I will not, in any way, take responsibility for any  accidents that occur while making emulsions or any adverse effects suffered from emulsions you try at home.

Making emulsions can be fun & rewarding when you get the  customized results you were expecting. Don't hesitate to experiment with different recipes & try, try. Most times, it takes more than the first time to get it right.

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