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A staple soap making ingredient : Olive Oil

Last week I talked about my new interest in using tallow, or lard, to make soap, something inspired by our visit to Beamish village. Tallow is one of the few oils that you can use on its own in a soap recipe – usually, to get the best quality soap bar, you need to incorporate a blend of oils and butters as they all have different characteristics, for example, contributing hardness, lather or cleansing properties to the finished product. However, tallow, coconut and olive oil all make a lovely soap used on their own.

If using an animal product to make soap or in a soap isn’t for you, olive oil is a great alternative. Like tallow, it has been used in soap making for thousands of years. It is thought that Aleppo soap, named after the town in Syria where it originated as the first hard soap made in quantity, was the precursor of Castile soap – made with 100% olive oil. While Aleppo soap is made with between 5% and 60% laurel oil in addition to olive oil, it is suggested that when the soap making tradition was re-introduced to Europe after the Crusades, makers had to make do with the oils that they had, in this case olive oil, and do with out those they didn’t – laurel.

Complicated soap recipes are a modern trend based on an unlimited access to a wide variety of oils and butters – kokum butter; broccoli oil, anyone? But blended recipes also tend to trace faster, be easier to manage during the soap making process, and have shorter curing times – meaning soap is made more quickly and ready to use sooner. Aleppo soap is cured for six to nine months, and Castile soap anywhere from 5 weeks to six months. Are they worth the wait?


High in oleic acid, olive oil results in a highly moisturising soap with a gentle, creamy lather. It makes for a hard, long-lasting bar that is suitable for all skin types, being a mild cleanser that is also conditioning. 100% olive oil bars are for everyone – even those with the most sensitive skin. It is a staple soap making ingredient, found in most homemade, cold process soaps for good reason, and olive oil makes up the largest percentage of the oils and butters used in Shepherds Cottage soaps.

It’s very good for your skin, and research suggests that it is also good for the planet: the Soap Folk blog Soap Folk Ingredients; Spotlight on Olive Oil speculates that compared to palm or soya oil, olive oil production, when well-managed, has a positive impact on the environment. Olive tree groves “increase landscape and habitat diversity and (protect) the soil against erosion and desertification.”

While we all look for more sustainable ways to live, there is much to recommend single oil soap recipes, especially if you have easy or direct access to those specific ingredients. What oils and butters do we have direct access to in the UK, and can you make soap out of them? That’s best answered in another post, but if you have any ideas, let me know! In the meantime, I hope you are all having a lovely summer, and if you work from home, like I do, I hope you are still managing to get everything done xx

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