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Green Gold - An Ancient Ingredient

At Cunning Folk Soap we know that knowledge is power. We spend more time researching our natural ingredients than we do making soap! It is essential as a soap maker when formulating your bars to be aware of the ways specific ingredients act alone and in with combination of others chemically to be able to make informed decisions on what is appropriate for your recipe. Knowing the history of an ingredient and a finished product is a way to feel connected to these materials, being aware of the journey they have faced before they reach your craft table allows one an educated appreciation. As creators we must take pride in all that we do, be thankful to the Earth for giving us the divine opportunity to work with its most precious resources. Olive oil has been a passion across the entire human race since beyond recorded history. These are brief facts I consider during my formulations.

Archaeologists have found evidence of man’s love for the olive dating as far back as 5000 BC. People have been extracting the precious green oil since the first civilizations. It is unclear as to who discovered this fruit and began to pull its oils. We do know that olive oil have been a pivotal part of everyday life and the agricultural economy ever since. It first gained popularity among ancient Phoenicians, Greeks, Egyptians, and Minoans. As the Greek empire flourished and expanded the reach of the olive oil did as well. The Greeks shared their passion and drove trade to the corners of their reach via the olive. Anywhere an ox cart could travel people were planting their own olive trees as it was such a coveted substance. As Greece fell to Rome, the Romans picked up the trade where it left off as it was the backbone of their current economy. The Romans were the first to begin cultivating olives in Italy.

In everyday life people would use olive oil in cooking as well as to protect delicate surfaces, aid the tanning process, it was used to make medicine, used for anointment and blessings during religious ceremonies, and lighting. Their perfumes and moisturizers were concoctions of different herbs based with fine olive oil. Olive oil was used as the first skin cleanser until people discovered that combining soda ash with olive oil created soap. The first bars of soap were made entirely with olive oil, which is called Castile Soap.

What about the olive are we so drawn to?

When ingested olive oil is most recognized as a monounsaturated fatty acid; this makes it the most beneficial type of fat for people who have concerns about raising their “good” cholesterol and lowering their “bad” cholesterol levels. It is a healthy choice when in the kitchen. Soap makers choose olive oil as it is highly beneficial to the skin. Olive oil pomace is a considered a lower quality cooking oil as it is not as pure of an oil extract. When you are making soap, an unrefined version of the oil you are using is a good thing. This means the oil has a higher level of particles that do not saponify. Saponification is the chemical process that happens in soap making when you combine your lye solution to a fatty acid mixture. The two combine and create a new solution at a molecular level. When a soap maker uses unrefined fatty acids there results higher levels of skin loving particles that are freely floating in the soap to aid in moisturizing. In the case of the olive oil pomace, it still contains quite a bit of olive flesh which does not saponify and does give natural benefits to the skin.

Olive oil pomace is high in oleic acid which is easily absorbed into the skin and creates a protective barrier against the elements. It has a humectant nature which helps to draw moisture to the skin and aid in skin cell regeneration. When used alone in soap making, olive oil pomace creates an exceptionally mild bar of soap that is highly conditioning yet it has no bubbles and a “slimy” lather.

Vincent Van Gogh

The Cunning Folk use olive oil pomace in every batch of soap we make as a base oil. To create a balanced bar of soap in terms of conditioning and the bar’s physical hardness, we formulate our fatty acids to be about 60% hard oils (oils that are solid at room temperature) and 40% soft oils (liquid at room temperature). Our soaps are formulated carefully and each recipe is tweaked to gain the maximum nourishing effects of the natural oils it contains. When using oils that have high levels of particles that do not saponify one must be carefully calculated and plan for the worst case scenarios. The soap making process is tricky and when one does not think scientifically, you end up wasting materials. There is a limited amount of time to work with your newly mixed lye/fatty acid solution in which it is still liquid. It will begin to harden straight away. Certain conditions lead to speeding up the process such as using olive oil pomace and other specific ingredients whose chemical makeup cause rapid saponification. It is recommended to all soap makers who plan to add color and scents to work with cool lye and oil and always have a plan B for your design as time constraints may not allow for the perfect mantra swirl!

This is our first blog post! Exciting stuff! Please feel free to comment below! Let's start a dialogue. What did you think of my writing? Do you have questions I left unanswered? What ingredients would you like to learn of next? I look forward to hearing form you!

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