Monday, 19 December 2011

Aleppo Soap - Syria



The first thing that comes to mind when one sees this is most probably the word "crude". It looks unfinished, imperfect and unelegant, not at all like those cookiecutter-perfect factory-made products in eyecatching, stylish packaging that we've all grown accustomed to today.

I suppose if I told you that I bought this bar (block?) of soap from an old lady at a roadside stall somewhere in Syria, you'd believe me. I mean, come on, take a look at the rudimentary packaging that it came in:


The truth is, I bought this here in the Netherlands in a store that sells mainly cooking utensils and homeware. As usual, I was simply curious when I saw these chunks of soap. All that I had to go on with was the stamp on the soap - some Arabic words, "Laurel Olive Oil", 3, R and 1937 - and a very short description on a card where the soaps were displayed (all I remember now is the word 'Aleppo').


At home, I did some checking and found out that this soap was highly likely made by a family-run business called Fadel Fadel Sons in Syria. I came to this conclusion based on a comparison of the stamp on my block of soap with some images found online.

I found some basic information on Fadel Fadel Sons (established in 1937) on Alibaba.com, the Chinese business-to-business trade website. Fadel Fadel Sons calls this soap Aleppo Ghar Soap (Ghar - traditional Aleppo soap) and it appears that these days, they sell their soaps in much nicer-looking packaging - hey, printed boxes! I bought mine almost two years ago, so I don't know, perhaps they didn't put them in proper boxes then. The thought that my piece of soap may be a fake did cross my mind but I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt.



Here's what Fadel Fadel Sons says about their Aleppo Ghar Soap (excerpts):

• not produced by engineers or “fashion designers” in a uniform shape like most other commercially available soaps.
• made from pure virgin olive oil and pure (bay) laurel leaf oil.
• mild enough for everyday use.
• is made of 100% natural ingredients offering the highest level of responsible hygienic care, nourishment and protection for the skin.
• totally biodegradable.
• does not contain any animal fat, coloring materials, added perfume, acid, antioxidant, chemical or synthetic derivative.


It's a good thing that Fadel Fadel Sons also included the soap's list of ingredients on the trade website.

Ingredients:
Virgin olive oil, pure laurel leaf oil, soda (extracted from sea salt), water

I had wondered what the R on the stamp stood for and it turns out that it's actually ®, registered trademark sign. The company emphasises the following:

There are several factories in Aleppo that produce soaps containing palm oil, animal fats and artificial coloring. The registered trademark "Fadel Fadel Sons" guarantees its soap is made exclusively from olive oil, laurel leaf oil, and soda (extracted from sea salt).

I had read that these Aleppo soaps won't dry your skin out. On hindsight, I must have had unrealistic expectations as I thought I could kiss my body moisturisers goodbye. I experimented with that for three weeks and totally stayed away from body lotions etc. Unfortunately, it was in the colder, drier months and my skin became way too dry. I decided that I didn't like the soap and promptly put it away.

Well, about two months ago, I took the piece of soap out to use again but this time, I retained my usual routine of applying body moisturiser after a shower. I had better results this time. They say that it can be used on the face too but I haven't tried that.

Here are my observations:

• If you're used to gripping flat bars of soap, lathering yourself with this chunk of soap would take some getting used to.
• It smells raw, green, earthy and.....funny.
• It lathers well enough.
• The skin does feel squeaky clean afterwards.
• Unless you live in a hot and humid country, I'd recommend still using a body moisturiser after your shower.
• Due to the time given for the soaps to dry and mature - almost a year - before they are packaged for sale, the outer part of the soap is golden brown and the inside, green (which is the original colour).


I paid around €6 for my block of soap. I believe it was a 200g block. I'm still on the fence about this Aleppo soap but I will say that my interest has been piqued. I think Fadel Fadel Sons makes several versions of this soap by varying the ratio between the olive oil and laurel leaf oil ingredients. The higher the proportion of laurel leaf oil, the higher the price. I have absolutely no idea what the ratio for my block of soap is. Perhaps the number 3 refers to which version of soap it is.

If you're looking for "pretty" (pretty in appearance and in smell), then the Aleppo soap won't be for you.

Personally, I'd like to try more Aleppo soaps in the future (it makes a nice change from the usual shower creams/gels). The store where I bought this one from no longer stocks this, so I'll have to find other sources.


Some interesting bits:
• Aleppo is a city in Syria.
• Aleppo soaps have been used for many, many centuries. It is said to be the first hard soap ever created.
• Other names: laurel soap, ghar soap, savon d'Alep
• Place the soap in the cupboad/wardrobe to deter moths

Have a read on how Aleppo soaps are made.

9 comments:

Girlie Blogger said...

Crude - yes. But Crude is also natural. Natural stuff is always better than pretty.

SeeSarahSwatch said...

my family is originally from syria & i read arabic at an intermediate level, so i was really surprised when i saw this haha! my family in syria uses these soaps exclusively :]

Anonymous said...

Different! Interesting post though!. I think the shape is unfinished and imperfect to give it "the natural look" with natural and healthy ingredients. Take care, Nicole x

BlackCherry said...

Aleppo soap is very famous for treating atopic skin like eczema or psoriasis. Here in Spain you can find it easily.

Make soap is my next objective =)

Anonymous said...

Sometimes you can find unusual stuff in unexpected places.

It's ok the soap doesn't look stylish, it's not that important and it will not look the same after using it anyway. ;)

I think holding a chunk of soap like this is more of a disturbing problem. :D "KTee"xx

Fab Fingertips. said...

Whe I went to Tunisia years ago, I forgot to take my shower gel & bought some soap similar to this from a little lady selling in a medina (market). It was made of olive oil,lemons and other natural products and never once irritated my skin because it was all natural and no nasty chemicals.

Witoxicity said...

@Girlie Blog
Very true! That's why I'd like to try more of these. :)

@SeeSarahSwatch
I was hoping someone from Syria or with a Syrian background would read this post and there you are, Sarah! :D Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. You and your family (and many others, I'm sure) must know this soap inside out and must have been using it for generations. I read that Syria exports about 600 tonnes of Aleppo soap each year to Europe and the Far East where there is demand for the soaps with a high percentage of laurel oil. Approx. 3 million blocks of this soap per year - that's not a small figure!

It's too bad that you didn't provide a translation for the Arabic words on the stamp as I'd love to know what it says - perhaps it's the name of the soapmaker. :)

@Nicole
I like different. The crude look and its cubic form are its trademark and I don't mind that at all. What really matters is what's inside, right? :)

@BlackCherry
I'm not surprised that Aleppo soaps are easily available in Spain. After the Crusades, soap making using this formula spread to the Mediterranean region, and Spain was one of the first countries in Europe to produce such soaps.

Well, it sounds like you're on your way to setting up some kind of apothecary there, BlackCherry! :)

@KTee
Haha, yes, you've made a very good point there. All soaps will turn out looking more or less the same after a while, so it doesn't really matter how it looks at the beginning. It was quite weird holding the block of soap at first (I felt like it would have been easier to use it to scrub someone else's back in a hammam!) but as you can gather from the last picture, it gets easier and easier as it reduces in size. :)

@Fab Fingertips.
Oh, that's lovely! Things made the traditional way and with simple, natural ingredients, just like in the old days, are always better! :)

jam said...

Thanks for this post. I've been wanting to try this type of for years. I always look over the syriangate.com website for jewelry and soaps

Witoxicity said...

@jam
Hello, Jam! It's lovely to hear from you! It's been a while. :) Thanks for the site recommendation. I've had a look and oooh, they do have some gorgeous pieces there, especially the lamps and other homeware. If I understand correctly, they sell the soap in bulk though. Anyway, if you have the chance to buy just one piece, do give the Aleppo soap a try and you could perhaps let me know later what you think of it. :)