14 Feb Artisanal olive oil soap making in Crete
According to legend the process of Saponification – soap making – was first discovered at the island of Lesvos in the North East Aegean Sea and recorded by the Ancient Greek poet Sappho (620-565 BC).As the rains washed away the animal fat and ashes (residues from animal sacrifices to ancient gods) it gave a yellowish colour to the river. Housewives doing their laundry further down the stream noticed that the dirt would get removed from their clothes more easily. And that’s how it all started – by complete chance!
So now saponification is all about the process of converting any fat into soap by treating it with alkali.
Marseille soap is now famous but there was a time back in the 17th century when Cretan soap was equally well known, all because of the Cretan olive oil used. Cretans not only used to export olive oil to Marseille but also used to export bars of soap all around the Mediterranean basin, to Syria, the Middle East and Asia Minor. Ever since the Minoan times, after all, olive oil was heavily used for cosmetic purposes.
So, olive oil soap making in Crete has a long history! Over many centuries olive oil has been used in Cretan homes for the purpose of making soap both for household cleaning as well as body care. It used to be a real community activity that would take place once a year, usually in the winter when rainwater was plentiful.
Women would use left-over scraps of oil residues from the storage barrels to make soap for cleaning purposes and would keep smaller amounts of olive oil to prepare fragrant body care olive oil soap. When we make our own batches of olive oil soap here at the Olive Farm we use the cold method of soap making. We mix olive oil and lye and begin the chemical reaction of saponification.
Our ingredients list includes olive oil, rain water (this is what our grandmothers used!), dried herbs, and essential oils, infused oils and often spices, grains and even goat’s milk. The soap bars retain all the natural moisturizing properties of olive oil, are smooth, totally healthy, rich in vitamin E and antioxidants and suitable for all skin types. We further enrich those with the properties of specific wild herbs and essential oils.
If you visit us for a workshop soap is not the only thing you will get to make during the afternoon. Another natural product that our grandmothers used extensively was beeswax salve. Not many people know about this little miracle that we keep in small jars in our homes. It is simply a mixture of beeswax and olive oil with the addition of specific essential oils and/or infusions. It is in fact 100% nature in a jar, full of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, fatty acids and antimicrobial, anti-aging, emollient, anti-fungal, antibiotic and moisturizing properties.
Join our workshops and learn these age old recipes. Make your own olive oil soap and salve and prepare wonderfully valuable gifts for your friends. Come and spend a couple of hours at the Olive Farm in Crete. Feel energized and inspired. We will provide you with all the instructions you need to repeat the process at home and a goody bag with a beeswax balm, olive oil soap and some dried herbs.