I LOVE to make soap!
And as long as I've been doing it (not that long - really!) I'm always surprised by something about every batch! I think that's one of the reasons it's so appealing to me: no two loaves are ever quite the same. Every single batch - and every single bar - is uniquely different from the next... even when using the exact same recipe!
I use the hot-process method of soapmaking, and usually in a crockpot. I find there are fewer variables that take place during the hot-process method, greater chances for the success of every batch, and of course instant satisfaction: I don't recommend it, but a hot-process bar of soap is ready to be used fresh out of the mold. While I've tried other soapmaking methods (cold-process, in-the-mold oven process, even whipped soap), I think this particular method allows for greater control of the finished product. It's certainly a debateable topic - which is evident on the many soap boards and forums!
As to the variances that do take place, the temperature of one batch may have gotten just a bit hotter than another one, I may have blended one just a bit longer than the other, or source ingredients may differ widely.
Case in point: check out the photo. This is my All-Natural Oatmeal, Milk & Honey Facial Bar Soap. I used the exact same recipe to formulate both bars. The one on the left is obviously lighter, creamier-looking, definitely has a purer 'oatmeal' appearance to it, and is overall just more attractive. If I was offered both bars, being told they were both oatmeal soaps, I know I would certainly choose the bar on the left.
What's made such a dramatic change in my soap?
A different brand of coconut oil. That's it.
The oil I normally use is actually considered a higher quality oil, and I can get it in bulk quantities online at wholesale pricing. The other oil is considered 'inferior' and is more expensive (as I can only get it in 32oz containers) - but it produces the aesthetic qualities I'm looking for in my oatmeal bar. As to the general properties and qualities of each bar? I, and my testers, found them exactly the same.
So... what to do.
This is a quandry that all formulators - of anything - find themselves in from time to time. I run across this problem with mineral makeup, too. Due to the inherent nature of organic ingredients (my only meaning here is from the earth), some products will just be different from batch to batch, supplier to supplier.
How do I solve the problem? Well, one of my thoughts is to become a supplier myself, rather than buying from them. That way, I would have control over not only the quality of my ingredients, but where they come from, as well. Unfortunately, it's something that's not in my immediate future, however.
In the meantime, I guess I'll just have to decide not only which ingredients go into my formulations, but also which brand of ingredients I'll use in each recipe. More to track, but well worth it. I want finished products that are consistent and that I can be proud of, and I'll do whatever is necessary to achieve that goal!