Olive oil and soap have a long history. From Aleppo to Italy to the Castile region of Spain, they have long been connected to each other and to a tradition of quality. So strong is the connection that marketers of commercial skin detergents have discovered their own label value. Featuring the words “olive oil” on the label means they can continue making cheap, irritating soap and still gain positive perceptual value.
Olive oil carries considerable weight when it comes to judging high-quality soap. Some consumers and soapmakers think soap without olive oil is automatically inferior. We hear it often. We understand the appeal. But for us, it’s not about perceptions and label value. For us, it’s a matter of chemistry, quality, and price.
Olive oil produces good quality soap because it contains 80-82% oleic fatty acid, which contributes moisturizing ability to the lather. We have found its equivalents. We use high-oleic versions of organic sunflower and safflowers oil in our base recipe, both of which contain 81-85% oleic fatty acid. Other fatty acids also line up similarly to those of olive oil. From a soapmaking perspective, there is no functional difference substituting sunflower and safflower for olive oil. The final, high-quality soap product is unchanged.
The biggest problem with olive oil soap is the expense. Using the oils we do allows us to keep our prices down, making high-quality soap available to more small soap
businesses and their customers than we could if we used olive oil. In this way we’re bucking a certain aspect of the quality soap tradition, making it widely available and affordable. We’re firm believers that we all deserve soap compatible with our skin and bodies. Using sunflower and safflower oils helps make that possible.
The Bigger Environmental Picture
As soapmakers, we are always looking for ways to minimize our impact on the environment. Many of our ingredients travel a long way to get here. We buy as sustainably and responsibly as we can, but fuel for shipping adds to any ingredient’s impact. What we love about the safflower oil we use is that it’s produced specifically for us right here in Montana by an organic farmer we know. It doesn’t resolve the ongoing complications of organic ingredients and shipping, but it does help reduce the carbon footprint on one of our main ones.