What is Saponification? (part 1)
We make soap, we make alot of soap and in order to do so we rely on a process called saponification. What is saponification? Simply put it is what happens when you mix lye with oils. The word Saponification is derived from Mount Sapo in Italy. Roman legend claims that soap was first produced at Mount Sapo, by accident! A temple that sat atop Mount Sapo was used to sacrifice and then burn animals. Women cleaning clothes in the streams below the temple noticed that after it rained the water was sudsy and their clothes were cleaner. It was a combination of wood ash from the fire, water from the rain, and the animal fats that ran down the mountain side reacting to produce a crude soap.
Modern day soap is made by the same basic chemical reaction, mixing NaOH with water, (lye) with fats and oils. No, you can not make soap without lye. Fats and oils are made of molecular chains of glycerol and fatty acids. They form a letter E like shape with the glycerol being the backbone of the molecule and the fatty acids attached to the glycerol. The lye causes a hydrolysis (breaking apart) of this molecule yielding much desired glycerin and soap. Industrial manufactured soap often adds NaCl to the completed saponification reaction precipitating the soap and separating the gycerin which is removed by vacuum distillation. Basically leaving a detergent bar. Handcrafted soap retains the glycerin and produces a mild cleansing product.