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The History of Castile Soap

Updated on April 4, 2012

    Ever wonder when, why, how and where people started using castile soap.  If your like me...probably not.  I mean, let's face it.  It's not the most interesting topic.  Soap is just a cleanser right.  And today, soap is literally everywhere.  In every public and private bathroom, in every scented gift basket, and in every janitor's closet the foamy stuff has taken over.  Castile soap is no different right....  

In the beginning

    The earliest literary references to soap are from 1700 BC and the earliest theorized use of soap dates back to 2000 BC in the Fertile Crescent. So sorry guys, no such thing as caveman soap. Interestingly enough archeologists theorize that the original use of soap was not for general cleanliness.  Rather they believe it was for used for dressing wounds and hairdressing. 

    While certain groups of European peoples independently discovered soap and its uses.  Soap was largely unknown to Europe (including the Mediterranean region) for many centuries.  The Arab invasion of the Byzantine Empire is accepted by some to be the more or less official introduction of soap to Europe.     

"Sorry No Caveman Soap"
"Sorry No Caveman Soap"

Origin of Castile Soap

Now let me lay some chemistry on you. Soap, as most of us know it, is the result of a saponification reaction between a fatty acid under basic conditions. The end result is an alcohol and the salt of a carboxylic acid. Here is a link to see a good description of the process.

Centuries ago, Arab peoples in and around Europe often used animal fat as the fatty acid to make soap. Meanwhile, people in the Mediterranean found it most convenient to use the abundance of olive trees in their vicinity. Specifically, many Mediterranean people used olive oil (fatty acid) and the ashes of the barilla tree (base) to make soap.

One of the places to do this is the Castila region of Spain. The soap from this area was thus called Castile Soap. Many claim that castile soap was one of the first examples of hard, white soap to appear. Others claim that castile soap was reserved almost exclusively for the Spanish royalty; and later sought by a variety of European royalty for its mildness. While I personally don't know if any of these claims are true. Here are some of the more obvious facts.

1.)  Castile Soap was first made in Spain approximately around the 13th Century.  

2.) In many instances it has been called the queen of soaps. 

3.) Traditionally, Castile soap was actually made from a combination of animal fat or tallow and olive oil.  

4.) Its a great product...At least I think so. 


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