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What Was The Original Homemade Soap?

September 24th, 2018 Leave a comment Go to comments

Where did the first bar of soap come from? That’s kind of like asking which came first, the chicken or the egg? Well, maybe not quite that primal, but soapmaking was one of the happy chance discoveries that humans made a long time ago.

There’s an ancient Roman legend that talks about how the women would go to the stream to wash clothes. This stream was on a hill called Mount Sapo where animal sacrifices were made as burnt offerings to the Roman gods. The women eventually realized that the best time to do the laundry was after it rained. There was something that made the dirt dissolve in the water more easily.

Now these women were pretty sharp because they make the connection between the white chunks on the hill and the cleaning ‘magic’. These chunks were created from the ashes and animal fat at the sacrificial altar. When the rain went through this mixture, it turned the ashes into a weak lye. That primordial lye mixed with the melted fat (tallow) and collected on the rocks as a very simple type of soap.

The rain washed this simple soap into the shallow waters they used to wash. So in essence, after a rain, there was nice soapy water waiting for them to use. So they collected the soap chunks to use on laundry days when it hadn’t rained.

(And here’s my little editorial note: they probably also got their husbands and sons to bathe with it!)

Now, I don’t know if that story is true because it seems to me that if it wasn’t ‘discovered’ until the time of the Romans that the Greeks must have been awfully dirty! But it makes for a good story. Especially the part about Mount Sapo. That gives us a direct connection to the term ‘saponification’ that is used in soap making circles.

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