Soap is one of the most ubiquitous items in the world. When we hear the word ‘soap’ we usually think of the liquid soap or bar soap sitting next to a sink, but soaps are also used in types of grease and thickening agents as well as detergents and even in the production of oil paint.
A Short History of Soap
How was soap made in the old days? Soap was actually used for cleaning clothes as early as 2800 BC. Virtually all civilisations across the Middle East, the ancient Romans and Chinese through to medieval Europe, have made soap in broadly the same way, that is mixing fats and oils with alkali-based substances such as ash with the eventual addition of aromatic herbs and fragrances.
The ancient Babylonians (in modern-day Iraq) used a mixture of oil and wood ash – believed to be the world’s earliest chemical reaction. And in ancient Egypt, they used a combination of animal fat or vegetable oil with soda ash. The ancient Romans were famous for their soap. They used a variety of ingredients to make it, including animal fat, wood ash, and plant oils. The soap was usually made in the autumn, when there was an abundance of fat from slaughtered animals. The ruins of a soap factory were even found in the remains of Roman Pompeii.
Through the centuries the recipes and manufacturing techniques for producing soap continued to evolve and eventually became industrialised. Today, the biggest soap manufacturers make tens of millions of bars every year.
The Process of Making Soap
This is how olive oil soap is made in the West Bank.
It’s being poured on the floor to cool and solidify. Nablus soap is made from just three ingredients: olive oil, baking soda, and water.
Ahmad al-Fakhouri, Nablus Soap Company supervisor: “They turn into a beautiful-smelling soap that lacks any chemical ingredients. There’s only one natural ingredient, the olive oil.”
The first step is to cook all three ingredients together in a huge stainless steel pot. It takes about 5 tons of olive oil. To cook soap, you need to add the oil and baking soda and let them soak for a day. The following day you continue the cooking process.
When it’s ready, workers carry out the boiling-hot liquid one bucket at a time. They pour the liquid soap onto the floor, where it cools.
Next, they measure out and mark the soap with an outline of the distinctive Nablus bar shape. Then, workers use hammers to stamp the soap with Nablus Soap Company seal.
And it takes one or two days just to cut the soap and pile it up. Then, it’s left for 40 days to dry before it’s packaged and sold.
Olive Oil Soap with health and cosmetic properties
Olive oil soap is very mild, long-lasting and can be used full strength on any skin type to help retain moisture and elasticity. It is no surprise that olive oil soap soothes and nourishes the skin because it takes advantage of the natural moisturising properties of olive oil.
Apart from simple olive oil, soap may also contain herbal extracts (thyme, rosemary, aloe, etc.), with added health and cosmetic properties. Amalthia is a soap with a difference. It contains extracts from sea squill (Urginea maritime, also called wild onion). According to the producer, the type of sea squill used (one of 50 species found on Crete) reduces hair loss and is good for dandruff, skin conditions and skin hygiene and care in general. The soap is exported to several different countries.
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Video source: Noel’s Farm