Marseilles Soap is a natural soap produced according to the timeless
The name refers to the French city that perfected this technique and made it famous, beginning at the end of the 14th century, by the master soapmakers of the Ligurian Riviera and the Iberian peninsula.
By the end of the Medieval period, Marseilles soap production had not yet reached the peak of its fame (which was to occur during the 17th and 18th centuries). However, it is not rare to find documents that cite the fabrication of soap in the “Genovese” method, or Ligurian method, an area that was in the avant-garde of its sector, at least from a qualitative perspective. In fact, even in the 16th century Marseilles soapmakers spoke of soap made à la mode de Gaete o de Genes.
The ingredients used at that time were for the most part oils and fats that were easily procurable locally.
In Marseilles, most soap was made from olive oil from Provence and in the centuries to come, coconut oil and palm oil were added, resources that came from the French colonies. In the Ligurian Riviera, however, soap was made with local olive oil as well as animal fats, from the many farms in the surrounding hinterland.
Watch the film of the real Marseilles soapmaking method.
Filmed at the Gavarry plant, with Gavarry’s master soapmakers »
The true soapmaking method known as “Marseilles” is carried out in large cauldrons with ambient pressure and is made up of various phases which alternate as they complete the full process in 6 days and 6 nights:
• mixing: the oils and fats are combined in the cauldron, at which point the alkali is added, triggering the soapmaking process. The alkaline substance commonly used for high quality bar soaps is soda, traditionally derived from a marine plant called glasswort (salicornia). Centuries ago potash was often used, which was derived from ash from different types of wood, but the resulting soap was quite soft and mushy, and not easily formed into bars.
• cooking: The soap obtained from the reaction between the fatty substances and the alkali cooks at a temperature of roughly 100°C (212°F) during the day, resting at night, with the cauldron covered to maintain constant heat and to complete the soapmaking process.
• separation: The soap is then “washed” with water and sea salt to force any impurities and excess glycerin to the very bottom of the cauldron. The impurities are then drawn out through a tap at the bottom of the cauldron.
• liquidation: The pure soap which remains at the top of the cauldron is brought to the perfect standards as foreseen in the recipe. After a long rest, the soap is pumped into the concentration machine. With the help of an air vacuum and heat, the moisture evaporates and the soap takes on a solid form. A pure, high-quality soap must be neutral, meaning it has no free alkali. L’Amande’s Marseilles soap is still produced today according to the antique recipe from the Huilerie & Savonnerie de L’Amande from Marseille.