Jordanian family cleaning up with donkey milk soap venture

Mother and son founders say research shows this type of milk reduces signs of ageing

Friends and family initially mocked one Jordanian family's venture to make soap from donkey milk.

But now, a year on, the company is cleaning up, as customers bray for more.

Atan Donkey Milk Soaps produces 100 per cent natural soaps from its farm in Madaba, 35 kilometres south-west of the capital Amman.

It keeps 12 donkeys there and also has a small manufacturing workshop in the Jordanian capital.

Although other regions around the Mediterranean produce soap from donkey milk, this is the first for Jordan.

“At the beginning, many laughed at the idea,” said Emad Attiyat, 32, co-founder of the business – which takes its name from the Arabic for a jenny or female donkey, "atan".

Sceptics scoffed they “would use nothing on their skin related to donkeys,” said Mr Attiyat, who has a degree in management information systems.

“After trying the soap, all that changed, and now we produce more than 4,500 bars of soap per month to meet the demand,” he said.

'Reducing aging'

Donkey milk is said to be rich in minerals and proteins that can help moisturise the skin.

It also has high levels of antioxidants, which protect the skin from sunlight and the effects of ageing, according to beauticians.

One litre of milk produces around 30 bars of soap, but milking each female is a painstaking task done with a hand-held electronic pump.

Each donkey has to be milked three times a day in order to get about a litre of milk, leaving about another litre for her foal.

The milk is frozen and transferred to the company's workshop in Amman to be turned into soap.

Research has shown donkey milk can “help regenerate skin cells, reduce signs of ageing and help cure some skin diseases such as eczema”, said Mr Attiyat's mother and co-founder of the business, Salma Al Zubi.

Ms Al Zubi came up with the idea for the venture.

An environmental activist and retired teacher, she says donkey's milk soap contributes to balancing skin moisture levels and removing wrinkles, not to mention treating spots and acne.

Now in her 60s, Ms Al Zubi helps mix ingredients in the company's Amman workshop, wearing a face mask and gloves to ensure hygiene levels.

Olive oil, almond oil, coconut oil and shea butter are added to the donkey milk to produce the soap, which is then sold through the Atan Donkey Milk Soaps Facebook page.

A 85-gram bar of soap costs 8 Jordanian dinars ($11), while a large 125-gram bar retails at 10 dinars.

By comparison, a litre of donkey's milk in Europe can fetch as much as 60 euros ($70) and is used in making expensive cheeses.

Providing jobs

Mr Attiyat is now hoping to expand production to face and hand creams and lotions.

Donkey milk is “rich in proteins and minerals including magnesium, copper, sodium, manganese, zinc, calcium and iron – all of which are very important for the skin,” said dietitian Susanna Haddad, who works at a beauty centre in Amman.

It contains “higher percentages of whey, which has antimicrobial properties” and can also prevent the growth of viruses and bacteria, she said.

As she poured the mixture into special silicon moulds to shape the bars, Ms Al Zubi said the venture had provided jobs for several family members “including my son Emad, who has suffered from unemployment for many years".

Jordan's already weak economy has been badly hit by the year-long restrictions and closures imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The poverty rate, according to official figures, rose to 15.7 per cent by late 2020, while it could soar to more than 24 per cent this year, according to some estimates.

Unemployment increased in the first quarter of 2021 to reach 25 per cent – 50 per cent among young people – in a country whose public debt exceeded $48 billion, or more than 108 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP).

Loyal customer, lawyer Esraa Al Turk, 48, said she had been attracted to the donkey milk soap because it is a natural product.

“I take care of my skin,” she said, adding that although she did not wear much make-up, she had now “become more daring about leave home without any cosmetics on my face".

Updated: September 8th 2021, 12:29 PM