A LOST ART
Traditional, handmade and based on natural oils: The success story of Patounis Soap, a family business in Corfu, dates back to 1850. Today, it’s not only one of the few soap manufactures which still use traditional techniques and local olive products, but also a company that has also been named ‘a monument of industrial heritage’. As the oldest soap factory in Greece, Patounis’ original recipe has been passed down through five generations. After driving into the city, we meet owner Apostolos Patounis, who shares with us the story of soapmaking based on heritage – and nature’s abundant offerings.
WHAT MAKES PATOUNIS SOAP SO SPECIAL?
What is most important to us is that we still operate like we did in the old days. We still use the same ingredients, the same method to manufacture with the same recipes. Today, the operation is listed as ‘intangible cultural heritage’. For our ancestral recipes, we only use natural oil that is friendly to the skin and the final product contains no additives, no perfume, no colour or any other chemicals.
WHAT KINDS OF SOAP DO YOU PRODUCE?
We make three kinds of soap and the difference between them is the oil with which they are made. Each one has its own distinct characteristics. We make olive oil soap: a very mild soap, good for people with sensitive skin. The olive oil that we use is exclusively from producers in the area. Then we make a soap from a combination of two oils: 80% olive oil and 20% palm kernel oil. It’s also a mild soap, but it produces more foam, so it’s more pleasant to use. Finally, we have our most practical one, the green olive soap. It’s made of olive pomace oil. It contains the chlorophyll of the oil, which is dark green. This soap is the most cleansing, most anti-septic one and known for its wound-healing properties. There’s also the ‘green laundry’ soap. The difference between them is the PH balance. It’s more alkaline, which makes it more effective for removing stains from clothes. In the early days, it was a necessity and it accounted for more than 90% of the production in this industry. When detergents and the washing machine were introduced, this industry disappeared in a very short time. Not just here, but around the world. Today, our green olive soap is our most popular.
COULD YOU PLEASE WALK US THROUGH THE PROCESS OF SOAP MAKING, FROM LIQUID MIXTURE TO SOLID BAR?
We start by putting the oil inside a kettle, depending on which kind of soap we’re going to make. First, we process the oil in a solution of natrium hydroxide to instigate the saponification, the cooking process which takes ten days. Once all the oil has turned into soap, we take it out of the kettle and balance the PH value using solutions of sea salt. That’s all we use: oil, soda, sea salt and water. Next we put the soap into a large mould. At this stage, the soap is hot but not fluid anymore, more like yoghurt. After sliding across the surface and compressing the soap to get the bubbles out, we put hot water on top to give it a shiny finish. It’s pretty much like ironing clothes. Finally, we wait for the soap to solidify before the stamping and cutting. In summer, it can take up to a month for the soap to be ready, in winter it’s faster.
WHAT’S THE STORY BEHIND THE TRADITION OF SOAP MAKING IN GREECE?
We were among the first, if not the first to start making soap in the whole of Greece. Soap making started from the Ionian islands and then it spread to the Aegean. As far as I know, we learnt from the French. Originally, my family imported soap from France. Then we started to make our own soap. Soap making was very popular in the early days. There were more than half a dozen of soap factories on the island. Nowadays, this is the last one in all of Greece and one of the very few productions around the world still making soap the way it used to be made.