` Olive Oil Based 'Marseille Soap' in Danger


Olive Oil Based 'Marseille Soap' in Danger

Mar. 8, 2013
By Alice Alech

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Savons de Mar­seille (Mar­seille Soaps) are big blocks of olive oil soaps crafted in France’s old­est city since the Mid­dle Ages. A law decreed in 1688, stip­u­lated strict meth­ods had to be employed before the soap could be classed as Savon de Mar­seille. The soap gained much pop­u­lar­ity in France over the years becom­ing a sim­ple but trusted mul­ti­pur­pose house­hold icon.

How­ever, no patent or pro­tec­tion mea­sures were set up, which means that any­one can make Savon de Mar­seille any­where in the world.

Soap fac­to­ries in France’s sec­ond-largest city used to num­ber in the hun­dreds. Today, only a few soap man­u­fac­tur­ers in Mar­seille craft the gen­uine prod­uct fol­low­ing the tra­di­tional strict meth­ods. Yet there are so many knock-offs on the mar­ket these days that these last four remain­ing man­u­fac­tures of Savon de Mar­seille now have to defend their prod­uct.

The gen­uine green Savon de Mar­seille made by Le Sérail, one tra­di­tional Mar­seille Soap firm, con­tains at least 72 per­cent olive oil, is made in a caul­dron, respects a five-stage man­u­fac­tur­ing process last­ing at least 10 days and has no addi­tives.


This is not the case for imi­ta­tions. Fake soaps with the Savon de Mar­seille mark now include per­fumes, come in dif­fer­ent col­ors and are not man­u­fac­tured in the Mar­seille area. Soaps with the Savon de Mar­seille stamp are even being made in Asia, and they are often not even made with olive oil at all but with ani­mal fats, or tal­low.” These soaps are nei­ther hypo-aller­genic nor biodegrad­able as the gen­uine Savon de Mar­seille has always been.

Aim­ing to pro­tect their prod­uct, the Mar­seille man­u­fac­tur­ers have argued that the Pro­tected Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tion (PGI), the Euro­pean offi­cial recog­ni­tion of ori­gin and qual­ity, should apply to Savon de Mar­seille as it does with food prod­ucts.

Michel Bian­coni, soap­mas­ter at Le Fer a Cheval, one of the four gen­uine man­u­fac­tur­ers, said it is impor­tant to con­tinue mak­ing the gen­uine authen­tic soap despite the costs and seem­ingly long man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

The four man­u­fac­tur­ers have formed a union to pro­tect their busi­nesses and fight the coun­ter­feit­ers. L’union des Pro­fes­sion­nels du Savon de Mar­seille will fight to safe­guard the com­po­si­tion, method of man­u­fac­ture and the geo­graphic ori­gin of authen­tic Savon de Mar­seille.

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