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Tradition moving with the times by Hilary Paipeti
Strolling down the long eastern side of San Rocco Square past modern
shops and establishments, you come on an anachronism. A stone-framed
doorway, a bare floor, scrubbed wooden furbishings, and a clean smell
of soap. It's the Patounis Soap Factory,which since 1891 has been
manufacturing cleansing products - in the same premises, and under the
same family ownership.
This pure olive oil soap is a commodity that, in many local
households, is still a basic daily-use item and, in foreign homes, is
one that constitutes a natural product which accords with
eco-conscious trends. Old crates display the wares - white soap for
personal use and green for laundry and scrubbing. They are the end
products of a process which is carried out on the vast factory floor
which opens, Tardis-style, from the modest shopfront. Sun filters in
from skylights in the lofty raftered ceiling, sheening the uneven
flagstones and throwing shadows in distant corners. Original antique
implements and vessels reflect the long tradition of the industry.
It is a tradition which dates back to 1850, when the first Patounis
set up shop in Zakynthos as the Bazakis - Patounis Company. In 1891
Patounis opened a subsidiary factory in Corfu, still in use, with much
of the original equipment.
Soap manufacture was already a long-standing industry in Corfu due to
the large quantity of olive oil produced on the island. The first
commercial enterprises covering local needs dated from the start of
the 19th century. Prior to this, the women made the soap themselves.
Though produced commercially, Patounis soap is still hand-made in the
old way. Apostolos Patounis, whose great-great grandfather founded the
factory, believes that it is one of the few establishments left which
makes pure, traditional olive oil soap by the old-fashioned ‘stamped’
method, as opposed to the more conventional ‘pressed’ process. He says
that the only other factory he knows of is in Aleppo, Syria.
The soap starts as olive oil which is processed with caustic soda in
heated tubs for approximately one week (the chemical reaction produces
soap and water, so there is no pollutive waste). The resulting liquid
soap is then cast in open moulds, where it stays for a week or two to
solidify. Then it is marked, stamped and cut into bars. Finally the
bars are placed on wooden racks to cure for 3-4 months. The factory
still utilizes the original moulds and racks.
Only the basic pure and natural ingredients required for
saponification are used in the process: lye (caustic soda), sea salt
(sodium chloride) and water, plus natural food dye to mark the surface
for stamping and cutting. No other ingredients or additives are used
unless specifically stated.
Four main types of soap are manufactured by Patounis. ‘Green soap’ is
made of crude (unprocessed) olive pomace oil, and contains olive
chlorophyll, hence the green colour of fresh soap, which gradually
fades as the soap dries and matures. Although this product was mainly
used for household chores (especially clothes), it was most renowned
for its disinfectant and healing properties on skin infections,
allergies, bed sores and strained muscles.
‘Strong green soap’ is a stronger formula of the ‘green soap’ with
free alkali in its mass. This makes it very effective for washing
clothes and dishes, and for use on hard ceramic surfaces.
‘White olive/palm kernel soap’ is made of pure virgin olive oil
(lampante grade) with the addition of edible palm kernel oil and is
used as a gentle personal cleanser (face and body) with good lathering
‘White olive oil soap’ is made as the white soap, without palm kernel
oil. While it has limited lathering ability, it is hypoallergenic and
the very best soap for use on the face.
All the soaps are 100% vegetarian and 100% biodegradable. Being
economical in use, the product survived the emergence of detergents,
and is still preferred by many older women, who constitute a large
portion of the local market.
Nevertheless, the factory has won the custom of the younger
generation. ‘We consider it purer and more natural than detergents,’
said one young lady. ‘It doesn’t feel artificial. My mother was a
customer of Apostolos’ father, so we’re carrying on a family
Other business comes from summer visitors, who buy for home use and
for gifts. They can buy direct from the Patounis works, or from
tourist shops in their local area who stock the soap on an exclusive
‘Although it seems a very simple product,' explains Apostolos, 'there
have been great developments over the last few years. We are currently
making experiments into improving the product.’
This seems to be one of the secrets of the Patounis success story - an
ability to move with the times. The original Patounis moved to Corfu
because it was more prosperous than Zakynthos, and the family business
survived while all their competitors closed down. ‘We were very active
with exports to the rest of Greece,’ said Apostolos, ‘so we had a
better base. Then in 1938 we opened our own laboratory for
experimentation and quality control. Recently we have gained a very
large export market, especially to Japan.’
It may seem contradictory that an anachronistic factory, which is
making a product by a century-old method, can be seen to be moving
with the times. But Patounis has tapped into a contemporary vein - the
desire of a growing number of people for a more natural and purer
lifestyle, to which Patounis soap can contribute.

Opening Times

0930 – 1400 Mon-Sat

1800 – 2030 Tues/Thurs/Fri

Guided Tours upon request

12 pm – Guided tours everyday

Apostolos Patounis

Ioannou Theotoki 9

Corfu GR 49100

tel (0030) 26610 39806

Fax (0030) 26610 20704


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