Time: 2 hrs
Yields: approximately 1200 g soap
UPDATE 16 June 2019:
I really did manage to wait for a whole year before using my soap, and let me tell you IT WAS WORTH EVERY DAY OF WAITING! The soap is absolutely amazing! I’m not sure if it’s the long curing time, the added laurel berry oil, or both, but it’s by far one of the best soaps I’ve come across. No wonder they’ve kept the same recipe for the past 2000 years.
So what’s the soap like? For one, the colour lightened up significantly during that year. What started as an olive green colour is now a creamy very light beige. And for another, it doesn’t go mushy at all in your soap dish. I tried standing it in a little bit of water, and it’s still nice and solid after a week. Bit slimy, yes, but not mushy at all. To the cleaning bit: it’s a very mild cleansing soap and your skin doesn’t feel dry at all. That’s actually not surprising though, because olive oil on its own already doesn’t make a harsh soap, so I wasn’t really expecting a harsh soap anyway. It does make your skin feel amazing. This is also due to the laurel berry oil, which is said to have skin healing and soothing properties – great for all sorts of skin problems.
However, the soap doesn’t have much of a lather. I’m not really bothered by it, but I know some people do like their bubbles. I suggest if you want bubbles to substitute 50 g of olive oil with 50 g of castor oil. The caustic soda amount will remain the same (I checked!).
Another topic of discussion in our family was the scent, which wasn’t to everyone’s liking. Some said it reminded them of tobacco. Luckily the scent of the laurel berry oil is very faint after curing, and personally, I like it, as did most people I asked. You could easily add a fragrance or essential oils to your soap to mask the scent. But as I said, it’s really very, very faint!
Today is World Refugee day and I wanted to raise awareness to the soap makers from Aleppo, Syria. Here’s a BBC report on how the war has threatened the ancient tradition of soap making in Aleppo. And although the report is from 2013, there have been continued attacks on Aleppo.
So what’s so special about Aleppo? Well, Aleppo soap is one of the most ancient soap recipes in the world, and has been around for 2000 years or more. Soap makers in Aleppo still use the traditional methods making this soap, which is said to boast many skin care benefits and helps with skin problems such as dry skin, rashes, eczema, psoriasis, dermatitis and fungal infections. The reason for its skin healing properties is the inclusion of laurel berry oil, which is a powerful antibacterial, anti fungal, astringent and wound healer. Apart from laurel berry oil, Aleppo soap’s only other ingredients are olive oil and lye.
Check out the following video:
I tried to make a soap as true as possible to this ancient method, using a hot process technique and 22.5% of laurel berry oil, which is available from Pure Nature. You will need 250 ml for this recipe. The NaOH SAP value of laurel berry oil is 0.141.
Note Aleppo soaps are cured for over a year to achieve the best quality soap, however, you’ll be able to use these soaps after 4 weeks, if you can’t wait that long.
Before starting, please read the safety and precautions post, especially since this tutorial requires the handling of caustic soda!
If you have never soap before, I strongly recommend you check out the basic cold process soap tutorial first, and make several other easier soaps before continuing. Aleppo soap uses the hot process soap techniques and it is definitely an advantage if you know the basics of soap making.
ONE: Measure out the caustic soda and the water in separate containers. Then add the caustic soda to the water (never the other way round!) and stir until the caustic soda has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool down.
TWO: Weigh out the olive oil and laurel berry oil directly to the crock pot or rice cooker. Turn it on and set it to the lowest setting. My rice cooker only has two settings: ‘warm’ or ‘boil’, so I used the ‘warm’ setting.
250 ml of laurel berry oil should give you 225 g of oil. Just keep shaking the bottle until you get the last few drops out!
THREE: Once the lye has cooled down to room temperature, and making sure you are (still) wearing protective gear, carefully pour the lye solution to the oils, avoiding any splashes. The reason I cool down the lye is to avoid overheating and potentially have a volcano erupting in my soap (when the soap overheats and starts to expand and literally ‘erupt’ out of the mould).
FOUR: Use your stick blender to mix until it has emulsified and thickened to a thin trace. Don’t you love the colour of the soap?
You’ll also notice the scent of the laurel berry oil has changed in the soap, kind of medicinal herby but also clean. I think the fragrance is absolutely divine!
FIVE: After the soap has reached trace, stretch some cling foil over the pot to keep in the moisture, and place the lid on.
SIX: Keep the soap at the lowest temperature for the next hour or so until the whole soap has gelled, which you can recognise by the opaque appearance. Make sure you keep an eye on the soap during this time, as it can erupt. If you see the soap expanding, use a spoon or whisk to stir the soap down again. That usually helps.
SEVEN: Once the soap has completely gelled, it is ready for pouring. Scoop or pour the soap into your soap mold and leave it to harden and set overnight. Don’t worry about covering or insulating the soap as it has already gelled, in other words, completed the saponification process.
EIGHT: The following day, unmold the soap and cut it into bars or cubes. The bars of soap will need a further 4 weeks to cure before they are ready for use. However, true Aleppo soaps are cured for 6 months or even a year. So if you have patience, put them away somewhere and forget about them for a year. The longer you cure a soap, the harder and better quality bar of soap you will get.
To support refugees in Syria, our family is participating in the Ration Challenge by Oxfam this week. This means that for one week we will eat the same kind of rations that the refugees receive in one of the refugee camps. We’re on day 4 and have 3 more days to go, and it’s been tough. The challenge has made us appreciate not only that we have sufficient food to eat (and waste!), but also the variety of foods that are available to us and the convenience of having kitchen appliances. I can’t imagine having to live off lentils, beans, chickpeas and rice every day. There’s only so much you can make with such limited ingredients.
- 775 g olive oil
- 225 g laurel berry oil
- 129 g caustic soda
- 260 g water
- Measure out the caustic soda and the water. Then add the caustic soda to the water (not the other way round!) and stir until the caustic soda has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool down.
- Weigh out the olive oil and laurel berry oil in your crock pot or rice cooker, and turn it on the lowest setting.
- Once the lye has cooled down to room temperature, pour the lye to the oils and, using a stick blender, mix until emulsified.
- Put the lid on (optional place a sheet of cling foil underneath first to keep the moisture in).
- Leave it to ‘cook’ until the mixture has completely ‘gelled’.
- Scoop into the mold and leave to harden overnight.
- The next day remove the soap and cut into bars or cubes. The soap bars will need to cure for a further 4 weeks until ready for use, but ideally for 6 months or more according to the original recipe.