Thursday, March 10, 2011

Incense, part 2

The incense "dough" is made of a mixture of makko powder, which gives the incense it's bulk and base, and water, in one to one proportions. In the case of saffron incense, the makko and water are measured in teaspoons, while the incense is measured by the 1/8 teaspoon. (saffron is very fragrant.)

Makko powder has no scent of it's own (although there is always a burning odor) and as it is essentially a powdered wood, burns very easily. When the dough is formed into sticks and is thoroughly dry, the sticks are very fragile, and shatter easily. The addition of a very small amount of guar gum does several things. It adds enough flexibility to the incense sticks that they don't shatter as you try to place them in holders for burning. It slows the burning enough that the incense smolders and releases scent, rather than burning and giving off the smell of burning wood. And finally, the scent of the guar gum lets you know when the incense sticks are dry enough for use. When the sticks no longer smell like the sticky flap on a mailing envelope, you know they are dry! I use 3/4 teaspoon of guar gum for every 12 teaspoons of makko powder. (Now you know why a calculator was included in the tools for the project.)

When the dough is mixed, and then kneaded to make sure that everything is completely blended, I break off a piece, roll it into the size and shape to fit into the dough gun, and squeeze out lines of incense just slightly longer than the intended, finished size. I have no idea what the actual purpose of this dough gun is. I found it in a craft shop. There are few pictures of this part of the project as I did not want to pick up my camera when my hands were sticky and covered in dough.

As you can see from the picture above, the sticks look more like strings. Once you have used up the dough, you can straighten the sticks. This is best done by rolling them back and forth with open palms. In fact, over the next few days, as they dry, this should be done several times. One of the issues of this project is that they will dry unevenly-the edges will dry before the centers, causing the sticks to bend. Rolling them counteracts this. Letting them dry while tightly lined up, and moving the "outside" sticks to the middle (and vice versa) will also help balance out the moisture content and slow the drying time, so as to help keep them straight. You do not want them to dry too quickly, since that will encourage bending. On the other hand, you don't want them to dry too slowly because they will get moldy that way.

I use a marble board for this part of the project, similar to a pastry board. Here you can see the sticks drying. And the incense cone that I made with the small amount of dough that was left over and not enough to refill the dough gun.
Sourcing: I highly recommend RoseMountain Herbs for the makko powder. The best place I've found for the very small amount of guar gum that I use is The saffron, and the lavender (which will be my next project) come from my garden.


Penny said...

Do you use wooden sticks at all to roll the incense on or just the incense itself without the sticks? That may be a dumb question lol.

Lavanah said...

No dumb questions, ever.

This incense is formed without sticks, that's why I force the dough through the dough gun. Using wooden sticks tends to introduce another scent to the incense, that was why I came up with this method.

Although, with the lavender project, I may try to form some of the incense dough onto dried lavender stems and see how that works. The stems of the lavender plant are scented, too.

dandelionlady said...

Wow. First I just want to say, great blog, wonderful info. I was also wondering if you had tried using any other gums to hold everything together? I have xanthan gum on hand because of my daughter's gluten sensitivity, so it would be nice if I could just use that in my experiments, rather than buy something new.

Thanks for sharing such a wonderful tutorial!

Lavanah said...

Thank you, Dandelionlady.
I've never used xanthan gum, so the proportions might not be the same, but it should work. Previously, I've used gum arabic, because we had it in the house, and it worked just fine.