A chance encounter with Prince Charles years ago boosted the business for Mehmet Dede, the last generation of a soapmaking family in the southeastern Turkish province of Mardin. Dede is now the main supplier of the province's famous bıttım soap for Buckingham Palace and Clarence House.
The heir to the British throne visited Mardin, a historic place with an eclectic mix of different faiths and communities, in 2004. He apparently took a liking to handmade soap on display in Dede's small shop in the Artuklu district. For the past 15 years, Dede, himself heir to the throne of famed soapmakers of Artuklu going back four generations, delivers an undisclosed amount of bıttım soap to the U.K. Embassy in the capital Ankara to be sent to London for the prince.
Bıttım takes its name from a variation of the Arabic word for terebinth, a wild pistachio species native to southeastern Turkey. Made of the unripe fruit's oil, the soap is very popular in Turkey, though its production is mostly limited to Mardin and other southeastern provinces including Siirt. Along with wild pistachio extracts, it contains olive oil and is promoted as a soap good for skin care as well as preventing hair loss. It does not contain any other additives.
Dede told Ihlas News Agency (IHA) on Friday that along with bıttım, they delivered olive oil soap and juniper tar soap bars for the Prince of Wales.
"I am devoted to this profession and raised my son to take over. My grandfathers did this for more than one century. Soapmaking was a largely forgotten tradition back then, with few people producing them only for their own household needs. Now, it has evolved into a large sector," he said. He said the organic soaps they produce also do not harm the environment and can be used for skin care for infants as well due to their healthy content.
Along with Prince Charles, Dede counts statespeople, artists and academics from Turkey and abroad among his customers. "This is a good soap for hair and skin. Its odor is quite strong and less perfumed, but it is good for eczema and psoriasis as well," he added.
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