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Tallow, i.e., rendered beef fat, is the most available triglyceride from animals. Typical vegetable oils used in soap making are palm oil, coconut oil, olive oil, and laurel oil.
Each species offers quite different fatty acid content and hence, results in soaps of distinct feel. Soap made from pure olive oil is sometimes called Castile soap or Marseille soap, and is reputed for being extra mild.
The Latin word sapo simply means "soap"; it was likely borrowed from an early Germanic language and is cognate with Latin sebum, "tallow", which appears in Pliny the Elder's account.
The insoluble oil/fat molecules become associated inside micelles, tiny spheres formed from soap molecules with polar hydrophilic (water-attracting) groups on the outside and encasing a lipophilic (fat-attracting) pocket, which shields the oil/fat molecules from the water making it soluble.
The glycerin, a useful byproduct, can remain in the soap product as a softening agent, or be isolated for other uses.