What Are Tallow Candles?

There are dozens of options when it comes to picking out the parts of your candle, and that even includes deciding what wax to use. As wax is the main part of your candle, it’s incredibly important to pick the right kind—so why are you hearing about tallow, and what are the benefits? What are they used for?

What are tallow candles?

Tallow candles are made from tallow, or the hardened and heavily saturated animal fat that is taken from around the animal’s kidneys. Any animal can produce tallow except for pork, and most tallow is created from cows or sheep. Candles have been made for thousands of years using tallow. 

Historically, tallow candles were used for creating light before the invention of electricity. While there were advantages and disadvantages to creating tallow candles, it’s important to know how the candle making process developed throughout history, some problems you may face with creating tallow candles, and even how to render the tallow yourself. Read on to find out more about the historical candle making process. 

History of Candle Making

The search for light through the darkness started early in our written history. Starting during Antiquity; the early Greek people would create candles that were used to honor the birthday of the goddess Artemis. Which is widely considered one of the possible starts of the tradition of placing candles on birthday cakes. 

Even back then, people were finding ways to combat the darkness—one of the earliest forms of candles were called rushlights. Which were simply made by soaking part of the rush plant in fat or grease. They could burn extremely fast, but provided enough light to use during the nighttime, and were used from antiquity all the way through World War II and even later. 

What Are Tallow Candles?

Tallow started becoming a common way to make candles during the times of the Romans, around 500 BCE. These candles were commonly given as gifts during Saturnalia. The holiday that would eventually become part of our Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations. 

In Eastern culture, candles made of whale fat have been found in mausoleums dating back to the 210s BCE. While during the first century AD. Indigenous peoples of the Alaskan region would simply catch an eulachon; a type of smelt fish, dry it, and light it on fire to create their candles. 

During the Middle Ages

 candle makers—or chandlers, the origin of the word chandelier—would save fats from the kitchen to create their candles. At this point, tallow became the standard for creating such candles, even though the smell was less than ideal. 

By modernity, the whaling industry made it much easier to get spermaceti. Which is an oil from sperm whales used in candle making. It produced a brighter light, did not create the smell that tallow did, and was much cheaper than beeswax. To add onto the options, colza oil was discovered, which could make candles with clear, smokeless flames. During the Industrial Revolution, candles were made in factories. And as oil refineries became more common. Paraffin wax was discovered; which could be made into high quality, low expense candles.

By the time that kerosene lamps were being created in mass quantities and then the discovery of the light bulb, the candle industry became less of utility and more of luxury. 

What are the problems with tallow candles?

Historically, it has been recorded that tallow candles smell—and they smell bad. Because they’re created from the fat from cows and sheep, they contain glycerin—it is a naturally occurring compound found in tallow and soybeans and is used in the food industry as both a sugar substitute and to preserve foods. It is also used in personal care, having many uses from being used as a treatment for wounds to being used as a gentle soap. Regardless of its uses, though, the small was so bad in certain Medieval European cities that they were banned. After that, beeswax was used for churches and the wealthy, since they were so expensive to make. 

In many cases now, tallow is cleaned thoroughly to remove that meaty smell from them, and are created with fragrance added. 

What are the benefits to tallow candles?

Despite their disadvantages, there are many advantages to tallow candles. For one, they are non-toxic. Because they are created from the fat of animals, they are natural, and do not have the harmful effects that a wax like paraffin might have. These candles don’t produce any fumes or toxic additives that could contribute to those lung problems that paraffin wax might. Because they are non-toxic, they are also environmentally friendly and do not add air pollution when they burn. 

They are also a sustainable resource and help the environment. Tallow is a part of the animal that would be thrown away typically, but reusing it for candles actually helps the environment by not adding to our waste.

When it comes to burning a tallow candle, you’ll find that they burn slower, and they last longer. 

How do you make tallow?

What Are Tallow Candles?

If you’re willing to put in the work, there is a very easy way to make your own tallow for your tallow candles. First, you have to acquire animal fat. Anything but pork fat is considered tallow, so if you are a hunter, you can acquire it that way, or speak to your local butcher to see if they will sell it or even give it to you. You will need a dense fat to create the best tallow candle. Whether you are doing it yourself or asking the local butcher, fat from around the kidneys works the best. 

Next, you have to render the tallow. It will remove impurities and make your candles more efficient. Freeze the fat, then cut out as much of the nonfat material as you can before placing it into a crock pot or heated pot on your stove. You can add water to your mixture or just render it at a low heat. Make sure you continue to stir and keep the temperature low to prevent burning. 

Small pieces of fat may rise to the top;

remove those and discard them. When the fat is melted, remove from heat, allow cooling just enough to handle, and then strain it through cheesecloth to remove all other impurities. You can allow that tallow to cool to be melted again at a later date, or you can take it back to the pan to create your candles. From there, you can use your tallow like any other sort of candle wax. 

Tallow works best in any sort of container or mold. When it comes to wicks, more natural options like cotton can be used for wicks. You may need to experiment to find the best type for the tallow you are working with. 

Candle making is a very old craft and creating your candles with tallow can be evocative of days gone by. If you’re a historian or someone who wants to know how to make candles in such a way for potential emergencies, or even if you’re just looking for a natural option for your luxury candles, it doesn’t matter—tallow can and will work for you. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

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Is tallow the same as lard, and is that the same as suet?

While tallow is the heavily saturated animal fat that comes mainly from sheep and cows, lard is the same sort of heavily saturated fat, but it comes from pork. While they each have their uses, you can, in fact, make candles out of straight lard, the same as tallow. Suet, on the other hand, is simply the rendered version of tallow. 

What are some other uses for tallow?

Tallow is extremely useful among all sorts of home and personal care, including cooking. It was frequently used as both a cooking oil and an ingredient, along with making soaps and being used in the leather and wood industries. McDonald’s even cooked their fries in tallow until the nineties because of the belief that using saturated fats caused heart disease, which has since been disproven. When you cook tallow, it has a very high smoke point, meaning it can be used with very high heat without oxidizing. 

Can you add fragrance to tallow candles?

Tallow candles are notorious for having a bad, meaty smell, but rendering out your tallow fat properly and adding fragrance can help with that. You can add essential oils or fragrance oils to your tallow candles to make them smell. Like typical candle wax, they can be fragranced the same way. 

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