Why Do We Use Tallow?

Our pure tallow soap has three ingredients: grass-fed and grass-finished tallow, sodium hydroxide (lye), and water.   We make our beef tallow in-house from animals raised just a few miles from our workshop by Hover Farm and Gulden Farm. This is true old-fashioned soap with a local focus. The color will vary between batches depending on what season the cattle were processed in, and where they were in their feeding cycle. Each bar ships wrapped in paper or tissue. Quittner.

Why do we use tallow? Good question.

For those who don’t know, tallow is rendered beef fat, typically suet. Suet it the fat from around the kidneys of a cow. It’s often referred to as the “purest” or the “cleanest” fat, which can sound vague or even cheesy. If you’ve ever rendered tallow, though, you’ll get the point. Beef suet is very white and has few inclusions in it (also sometimes called “impurities”). When you render it, it has a smell…but not a super beef-y one. More like a suet smell. Because it is suet.

Once it’s rendered — or melted over low heat and filtered at least once but preferably more — you have tallow.

In the food world, tallow is known as a superior frying fat. It has a very high burning point, and (many agree) a lovely flavor. For years, McDonald’s fries were cooked in a mixture of vegetable oil and beef tallow, and when you hear your parents (or your grandparents) talk about how good McDonald’s fries used to be, this is what they are talking about. Other fast-food brands did it too, but a fat scare and rising costs in the 1990s led to a shift away from tallow to the canola, peanut, and other blended oils used predominately today. Some restaurants still use tallow, but they are generally not turning out the billions of fries McDonald’s had grown to.

Over time, we’ve learned that those fears around fat are largely unwarranted. It’s much healthier to use natural ingredients without additives or chemicals, than the highly processed fats and oils used in most fast-food today.

Pippa cuts tallow and sunflower oil soap into bars by hand.

Which brings me to skincare. Tallow is simple. It’s fat, minus water and filtered for inclusions like tissue or bits of glands. That may sound gross, but it’s pretty awesome actually.

Another awesome thing about it is that it is really close in chemistry to us — humans. The molecular structure of tallow is close to the molecular structure of our skin’s natural oils, so they two get along really well. Now, dermatologists are divided on this…but they would have a reason to be against it. Tallow skincare is old school, and those with enough motivation can make it at home. The same can’t be said for most of the stuff you find in the drug store aisle. Am I suggesting a conspiracy? Not quite, but I do think it is interesting that something natural and that had been used for generations before the rise of the skincare business is being poo-poo’d by those in the skincare business.

But, so far, we’ve only covered why we picked tallow from a molecular perspective. The second reason why — and to call it second is really misleading as it should really rank as #1B — is tallow is local to us in the Hudson Valley.

Quittner Tallow and Sunflower oil working balm

When we decided to bring our skincare and soap in-house and to make it all ourselves, the first thing we looked at was the ingredients list for each of the soaps we had been selling. Most, if not all, of the ingredients were coming from far away. Coconut oil isn’t bad, but coconuts certainly don’t grow here in the Hudson Valley. Most essential oils, too, are not available to purchase in the Hudson Valley in any volume. We were eventually able to find a source for local lavender essential oil, which we use sparingly as the cost is many times that of essential oils available from soap suppliers online.

Our pure tallow soap is simple. Tallow, water, and lye. We render the tallow from two local farms: Hover Farms and Gulden, both of which have self-serve meat stands so if you live in the area you should definitely grab a steak. The water comes from our tap by way of our Berkey filter. The lye isn’t local, but maybe someday we’ll make it ourselves too. Probably when we don’t have a toddler.

The other ‘main’ ingredient that goes into our scented and infused soaps is sunflower oil. Tallow soap is hard, and many people love it for that. But for those that like a silkier lather, adding sunflower oil did the trick. The sunflower oil is made by Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils.

All of these ingredients add up to lots of dollars and many hours that aren’t actually necessary in a literal sense, but that feel very fulfilling to us personally. Quittner is not a soap company and will never be a soap company, but we do make soap and skincare. We use our soap and balm in our home, and frequently hear from clients that both have been working for them, too. From healing cracked hands to soothing sensitive skin, tallow works for us. And that’s why we use it.

Discover our soap and balm. (Basil soap currently available in-store in very limited numbers. Herb soaps will return in the fall after the summer herb harvest.) 

Quittner herb-infused soaps, made seasonally, and balm.
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