A Brief History of Soap .
References to soap have been found in Sumerian clay tablets dating back as far as 2500 BC, and it is believed that the Babylonians were making soap as early as 2800 BC. At the ruins in Pompeii, archeologists uncovered a complete soap-making factory, with finished bars still intact.
The earliest soap recipes were crude mixtures of animal fat, wood ashes and water (a blend known as potash) boiled in a cauldron over an open fire. The resulting soft soap mixture was used for the cleaning of clothes and the body.
The Middle Ages
Then the practice of bathing declined during the Middle Ages, as it was thought that bathing was dangerous and unsanitary (yikes!) Soap was still produced during this era, but it was used primarily for washing clothes, and it became a highly secretive trade, with regional recipes jealously guarded by the craftsmen. The production of soap began to differ from region to region. For example, the Mediterranean countries used a pure vegetable oil base (usually olive oil) while the Northern European
countries produced soaps with a base of animal fat.
Baths are Back in Style
The 18th century saw a marked rise in the popularity of bathing (thank goodness), and as a result of basic supply & demand, gave way to an increase in the production of soap and new ways of making it. It was discovered that adding salt to the soap mixture would produce the hard bars we now take for granted. But soap production
during this time was still very much a process of trial and error, luck, and superstition, and it wasn't until the early 1900s that soap-making was transformed into a more scientific and sanitary process. But surprisingly enough, most modern soap makers of today still use basically the same production methods that were used at the turn of
the last century.
Soap Making Today
Soaps today are made still made with a pure vegetable oil or purified animal fat (tallow) base, plus sodium, natural emollients, water, and essential or fragrant oils. The chemical reaction formed when these ingredients are combined is called 'saponification'. Tallow is found today mostly in less expensive, low-lathering soaps. Most
high-end soaps do not contain tallow.
The milling process involves a process of grinding and compressing the soap mixture through metal rollers, which removes water and makes the soap more dense and long-lasting. Finer soap is milled at least twice, and some soaps are milled up to five or six times.
The most popular skin-softening emollients found in
natural soaps today include olive or coconut oil, shea butter or glycerin. A by-product of the soap making
process, glycerin is a natural humectant that actually attracts moisture to the skin, making glycerin-based soaps some of the most moisturizing available.
The Care & Handling of Soap
Because it's designed to dissolve in water, soap is best kept high and dry when not in use. Use a soap dish that provides drainage, or allows the soap to sit above the water that drips off of it.