How African Black Soap Is Made

Ghana soap making classAll regular soap is made from caustic soda(lye or also called sodium hydroxide). You can not make soap without lye and even surfactant is made with lye and then its pH is reduced that is why you will see on the labels of some natural shower gels stating surfactant from plant source or surfactant from coconut oil. True African black soap is made from water, oils and potash. (Extracted from How To Make African Black Soap).
With regards to what makes any African black soap authentic over another, black soaps are made all over the world with different oils and potash made from different ingredients. Different countries have long histories of  making this type of soap which we popularly call African black soap. I have been making African black soap now for a few years and have been  teaching it to students in person and online from all over the world. It has been amazing learning about how black soap is made in other parts of the world and the local resources used to make the same soap. For the most part, I teach people to always use what is local and easy to access to replicating the Ghana black soap.


 I was inspired to research the soap as there are many inaccuracies about it online. I learnt both at home with my 86 year old grandmother and by visiting other women who make it in different parts of Ghana throughout  2011 until 2014.  After talking extensively to women in different parts of Ghana who make African black soap, I learnt that despite people describing the recipe as an ancient protected recipe and other myths surrounding black soap. Women and in fact men who make black soap would easily tell how much of each ingredient they use. In fact most people in the villages in Ghana do not realise at all how popular black soaps are around the world and the myths that are purported. The original process for making African black soap is laborious which is the only thing that stands to create a barrier to producing black soap in large scale quantities. My biggest challenge had been to create a more simplified means of producing black soap at home and any where in the world and also to give sellers room to create black soap recipes to sell with little of the barriers  that the original means of making black soap presents.
These are the core of what you will learn on the black soap training course. How African black soap is made differs from country to country even though the finished soap would most of the time look similar as long as the original ingredients remains oil, potash and water. You will find that black soaps from Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Mali, HOW AFRICAN BLACK SOAP IS MADEBenin and Togo look
very similar and not distinguishable these days and they are often a light brown whereas black soaps made in Ethiopia where the potash is made from bamboo is often grey.
Black soap from northern Africa and some parts of the Mediterranean are more pitch black. The colour of black soaps varies from grey to carmel to pitch black sometimes as not all potash is made from the same source. In Ghana for instance the local potash is made from cocoa pods husk, the shell that covers cocoa seeds. Cocoa husk is similar to the outer shell of a melon but harder. It has high saponins and once the seeds are taken out of the pod to be processed for chocolate making etc, the husk are dried and burnt into ashes. This ash is highly caustic and it is used in both soap making, feeding poultry and other agricultural uses. Potash is organic making African black soap more organic when compared to other soaps made with caustic soda.
yellow cocoa pod pods
In other parts of Africa the potash is made from bamboo, cola nuts, shea nut kernel, camwood and several other woods that have saponins. Mediterranean countries still make black soap such as savon noire or hammam soap with olive pits. Aside these, there are several plants that have high saponins that is used to make potash and other organic potash that are used to make black soaps.
Black soap comes in many forms; as a powder, gel, semi solid and bar forms.The colour of authentic African black soap can be beige, caramel, dark brown, pitch black or a tan colour. Black soaps gets its colouring from the potash that is used, the oils, the cauldron and the cooking process.  I explain colouring in the training and how to achieve various shades when you make your own black soap. The paler coloured black soaps are often dried spread out on a mat for weeks in the sun. The harsh Ghanaian sun lightens the colour of the soap and it can even turn white when dry and goes brown when it comes into contact with water.

step by step process for making African black soap
African black soap does not get its colour from adding cocoa powder or charcoal. You can not make African black soap or true black soap with KOH(potassium hydroxide) or caustic soda(sodium hydroxide) as some tutorials implies online. Although African black soap can be made with plantain peelings, this is not widely used to make African black soaps in Ghana anymore as it is not sustainable to source commercial quantities of plantain peelings. It can be used when making small quantities but not large amounts of soaps.
Since learning how to make black soaps supervised by my grandmother who was a career African black soap maker and she was herself was taught how to make African black soap by her own mother who was also taught to make African black soap by her mother. My grandmother tells me that as far she knows, the women in her family were all soap makers before her.  One thing I have been keenly researching and asking elderly people consistently is their memory of learning to make black soap and the history of black soap making in Ghana as they had been told.

 

Despite it’s popularity to have been invented by Nigerians who took the soap to the Ghana. My grandmother explained that the Nigerian pepper traders simply took with them a version that was not local to Ghana. This version was a paler coloured soap compared to what was being made in Ghana with red palm oil which was notorious for staining clothes.

Soap makers in Ghana were already making the dark pitch black version called ‘amonkye’ or ‘amonkyem’ which is made with darker oils like sustainable palm oil these days and palm kernel oil in the Ashante region.  Funny enough, all my Nigerian students upon arriving in ghana for their black soap class always want to only learn the brown Ghana soap version as they claim the soap made in Nigeria is too dark. Some how, it would seem that the darker version of black soap is now made in Nigeria and the lighter version which till this day is still called ‘alata samina’ meaning Nigerian soap is made in Ghana.

MYTHS: It is not likely that any African black soap contains so much shea butter as the price of shea butter is really high, also when you use shea butter in soap making, not all of it completely saponifies so most soap makers will not use more than 50% shea butter in a soap recipe. Most brands actually only add the shea butter after the soap has been made to make it more moisturising.  They would also add other things such as cocoa butter and fragrance after purchasing it.

small container of African black soap

Dispelling some myths
There is no such thing as raw African black soap. The soap has been cooked so it can not be raw..
There is no such thing as organic African black soap. The soap has been made with various ingredients sourced from different locations; chances are it is not even traceable, and the soap goes through hours of cooking that. You can not separate the different components which are the potash, water and oils.  Extracted from the online training course How To Make African Black Soap.