Marseille Soap : an authentic product from Provence
Marseille soap, or “Savon de Marseille” in French, has a rich and centuries-old history dating back to the 17th century in the city of Marseille, in the south of France. It is one of the oldest traditional soaps in the world, known for its high quality and natural ingredients.
The production of Marseille soap began in the 17th century when a law was enacted to regulate its manufacture. This law stipulated that Marseille soap must contain at least 72% vegetable oil, typically olive oil, and 28% other ingredients, such as caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) and water. The combination of oil and caustic soda in soap production triggers a chemical reaction called saponification, which transforms these ingredients into soap.
Marseille soap was originally produced in large vats and left to air dry for several weeks, often on the rooftops of houses in Marseille. This gave it its characteristic light green color and its cube or bar shape. Over the centuries, Marseille soap has been used for personal hygiene, laundry, and many other household applications. It has remained true to its traditional formula and gained a reputation for being gentle on the skin and environmentally friendly.
Marseille soap has endured through the ages, and despite the evolution of the personal care industry, it remains a popular and cherished product both in France and around the world. Today, it is produced in various forms, including liquid soaps and those enriched with various natural ingredients, but the essence of its original formula and its legacy of quality continue to stand the test of time.
The traditional recipe for Marseille soap is quite simple and uses natural ingredients. Here, I provide you with a basic version of the recipe:
72% vegetable oil (usually olive oil) 28% caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) Distilled water Instructions:
Preparation of the ingredients:
Measure and weigh the vegetable oil and caustic soda accurately. Use protective equipment, such as gloves and safety goggles, when handling caustic soda, as it is a corrosive chemical. Mixing:
In a suitable container, slowly pour the caustic soda into the distilled water, stirring constantly. This will generate heat and the release of vapors, so be sure to do this in a well-ventilated area and with great care. Let the caustic soda solution cool to room temperature. Combining ingredients:
In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil over low heat until it reaches approximately 40-50°C (100-120°F). Remove the pot from the heat and pour the caustic soda solution into the hot oil, stirring constantly. Saponification:
Continue mixing the combination until it starts to thicken and a trace forms. The trace is the point at which the mixture becomes thicker, and the marks of the spoon remain on the surface for a moment before disappearing. At this point, you can add essential oils, herbs, or other natural ingredients to personalize the soap. Molding and curing:
Pour the mixture into soap molds and let it rest in a cool, dry place for at least 4-6 weeks for the soap to cure. During this time, the soap will harden, and most of its water content will be lost. Cutting and storage:
Once the soap has cured, cut it into bars or tablets according to your preference and let it dry for a few more weeks before using. The longer it cures, the better the quality of the soap.
Please note that this is the basic version of the Marseille soap recipe. Nowadays, many variations can incorporate other natural ingredients like essential oils, herbs, or even goat’s milk to give it specific properties and a pleasant aroma. Always exercise caution when working with caustic soda and follow appropriate safety practices.
The Old Port : find your Marseille Soap !
The soap workshops at the Old Port (Vieux-Port) in Marseille are a captivating fusion of history, tradition, and hands-on creativity. Nestled in the heart of this iconic port area, these workshops offer visitors a chance to delve into the centuries-old craft of Marseille soap making. Skilled artisans guide participants through the intricate process of soap production, from blending natural ingredients to molding and curing. It’s a unique opportunity to witness the craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations and learn about the historical significance of soap in Marseille.
Visitors can often partake in interactive workshops where they can craft their own personalized soaps, choosing from an array of fragrances, herbs, and natural additives. This hands-on experience not only allows for a deeper connection with the art of soap making but also provides a memorable and creative souvenir to take home. The Old Port, with its picturesque views and bustling ambiance, provides the perfect setting for these workshops. Exploring the workshop and its surroundings offers a delightful blend of culture, history, and craftsmanship, making it a must-visit attraction for those looking to immerse themselves in the essence of Marseille’s heritage.