Storing soap nuts and/or preserving soap nut liquid is simpler than you may think.
This is touched upon in FAQs and various soap nuts related articles, but warrants its own post. I am frequently asked about the shelf life of soap nuts, so here you go.
Let’s break this into two kinds of storage: Storage of the raw, dry soap nuts and preserving soap nuts liquids.
Raw soap nuts:
Whether whole, pieces or dry soap nuts powder, this is very simple. First remember that a soap nut (soap berry) is a dried fruit. They are originally sun dried, and then continue to dry during open air storage (unless it’s very humid, of course). How long will a dried fruit last? A very long time – years. No preservatives are needed. The soap nuts should be stored in a stable, relatively dry environment. Just for reference, the perfect conditions are approximately 20 to 30% humidity and cool to room temperature. Avoid direct sunlight due to the heat created. Nothing special needs to be done by the average user for short-term storage (less than a year). Use common sense. If you are in a very moist environment use of an airtight container may be helpful. Be mindful of temperature changes and possible condensation. Silica packs can be helpful to dry out excess moisture in some cases. (You can find packets in many products you buy, such as electronics or anything where the manufacturer wants to avoid condensation and moisture. These work great.)
We do not have any culinary use for soap nuts; hence we do not need to be concerned with them becoming stale. The active ingredient, saponin, does not evaporate – but the moisture will. Potency may decrease if very old, and particularly if very dry or very moist from improper storage. (If sealed when overly moist, you’ll end up with a black gummy mess.) So, plain old-fashioned, dry-cabinet storage will be most peoples’ soap nut storage solution. The more stable and moderately dry the environment remains, the more they will continue to resemble the soap nuts on the day you put them away.
For long-term soap nuts storage, the basics are the same. However, use an airtight container becomes much more important. Vacuum sealing is a great option if you have the capability. I personally have soap nuts that are three years old and they are still effective and look good. The trick is to have them just a little pliable and slightly tacky – neither too dry or too moist before sealing them up.
It is common for soap nuts to change in color over time. That pretty golden color from a fresh new harvest will only last for a few months. They will continually deepen in color over time. Color is often your best indicator of age. When buying soap nuts, I recommend buying the freshest ones you can get. The reason being: Why not? I’ve often seen soap nuts that were new out of the box, but obviously a year or two (or more) old. They’ll work, but I’d much prefer big, plump soap nuts (preferably mukorossi soap berries) to ensure I’m getting the maximum level of saponin content.
Soap Nuts Liquid:
Storing soap nuts liquid is an entirely different story. Shy of being professionally preserved, there are two age-old ways to go: Freezing or canning. Period. Unless you really know what you are doing, don’t bother with at home preservatives (e.g., citric acid, tea tree oil, rosemary, etc). These are not full spectrum preservatives and will have limited usefulness. You may be able to extend the shelf life of the soap nuts liquid a little, but not enough to make much of a difference. If you are purely preserving the liquid (that is, strained of the soap berries), I suggest making soap nut liquid ice cubes. These are very convenient to use. Melt them as needed, or just toss some in with your laundry. If you are making other soap nut cleaners, melt as many as needed for the solution. Don’t make up more than you’ll use in a week. Having “ready to use” soap nuts liquid doesn’t get much more convenient.
Canning is another great option – particularly for long-term storage. It’s great if you are preserving the whole soap nut “stew” to play with another day. Most likely you either know or don’t know how to “can” food products. I won’t spend time here explaining how, but it is very simple. If you want to learn, there are many sites that will teach you step-by-step. Grandma could can her garden tomatoes and fruits, so you can do the same with your soap nuts.
So now, how difficult is it to store or preserve soap nuts regardless of form? Not at all. I’ve received emails from people that actually seemed overly concerned about the shelf life of their homemade soap nuts liquids. That’s a bit silly. Any unpreserved plant, fruit, vegetable or food product will go bad over time – particularly if in water. There’s no need to be afraid of it. If it goes sour, you’ll know it. You may still use it in compost or to water plants with it. My plants seem to love soap nuts regardless of state or condition.
Professionally preserved soap nut liquid is available, and also available in a very highly concentrated form. See NaturOli’s Extreme 18X soap nuts liquid cleaner for a highly concentrated formula with a two-year shelf life. You can also find it on Amazon and sometimes on Ebay. It can be used for laundry or a plethora of household cleaning needs, and is to be diluted as desired. I highly recommend it – and it has a long shelf life. Do be aware that there are numerous ways to extract saponin from soap nuts. Some processes use harsh chemical solvents. It’s fast and cheap. Needless to say, that’s not what most of us want to see for it defeats the purpose of safe natural liquid. Look for only products using a water-based saponin extraction process.
Go enjoy your soap nuts for a long time to come. Larger sizes cost less per ounce. So, I hope this will help you to take better advantage of those significant savings on soap nuts.