`Olive Oil Based 'Marseille Soap' in Danger - Olive Oil Times

Olive Oil Based 'Marseille Soap' in Danger

Mar 8, 2013 5:00 AM EST
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.

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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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