An addendum to the “How to Buy Soap Nuts” post. This problem has become SO widespread that it warrants its own post.
Bottom line: Soap nuts with seeds are a rip off – plus the seeds might even ruin your nice laundry. You must question sellers thoroughly. Those seemingly good deals usually are far from it.
I anticipated a flood of soap nut retailers entering the market with cheap, low quality product. Major exporters in India and Nepal report a “big increase” in the volume of both mukorossi and trifoliatus soap berries with seeds being shipped to the US and Canada. They’re popping up all over. EBay and similar sites are loaded with them. I believe that the more sellers, the better. More sellers increase public awareness. HOWEVER – many greedy retailers are causing more trouble than good.
Unfortunately, there’s an abundance of retailers without adequate knowledge and experience regarding all the important aspects of soap berries. Price and profit often become primary concerns. Seeds are one of the easiest ways for a retailer to dramatically reduce their cost, and many unknowing consumers don’t even realize that they’ve been had.
It’s easy to be fooled (particularly new users). And we want those new users’ first experience to be a good one!
“Whole” soap nuts are being promoted heavily – frequently with “WHOLE” meaning “WITH SEEDS”. As explained before, they are very inexpensive if not de-seeded (particularly the trifoliatus species). Seeds only add weight – lots of it – without adding any value. (Except for planting new trees.) Adjacent to each paragraph in this update are illustrative images directly from current eBay sellers. (I enhanced the clarity and sharpness of the soap berries in some pics so you would be better able to see far more detail. Other than improving clarity they have not been altered in any way.)
The species in each image can’t be determined with certainty since there is no object of reference to judge size. Although referred to as mukorossi in each case, some soap berries have characteristics far more similar in appearance to trifoliatus. With trifoliatus, there is typically a larger light spot (relative to the size of the whole soap berry) where it breaks off from the stem. Plus there is often a more distinct color variation particularly along the the ridge lines of the “crinkles”, wherein the high ridge lines tend to be significantly lighter than the darker crevices. All-in-all it makes them look more “crinkled”. Also, after some aging when containing seeds it is common to notice a natural splitting or “bursting open” of the outer skin on and around the weaker stem area. This is due to the contraction of the soap nut’s pulp and skin around its rock-hard seed as its shell shrinks. As mentioned before, the “shell” and seed become very tightly bonded together and difficult to separate. (See Exhibit C in the “How to Buy Soap Nuts” post.) But be that as it may, you can certainly see that the skin and pump are completely intact (excepting the ones intentionally broken open for illustration). There are no man-made cuts or slits or partially broken berries – the key indicators of properly de-seeded soap nuts.
Study the examples provided and draw your own conclusions. Each image has been pulled from actual advertisements from active soap nut retail sellers and exporters. One big aspect of using soap nuts is saving money. The last thing you want is to get scammed. Don’t rely solely on pictures though. Many are generic shots and are not representative of the product. Ask questions!
CASE NOTE (added 1-20-10): I’ve been made aware that a US based herb and oil seller is selling “whole”, certified organic soap nuts at a very cheap price. So I ordered some. In my best judgement, they’re trifoliatus (not mukorossi) and have certainly NOT been de-seeded. Hence, explaining the price. The seller’s description reads as follows: “Soap Nuts, whole, sapindus mukorossi. Profile: Also known as Sapindus mukorossi, Sapindus trifoliatus, Sapindus saponaria, soapberry, and soap pods. Introduction: Soap nuts are found in both the eastern and western hemispheres, but are native to India and Nepal…” This is precisely the kind of sketchy and generalized info that leads to consumer confusion. The product photo makes it difficult to determine the species and condition for it is likely only a “stock” photo. To be usable for the “wash bag” method of laundry washing, from what I received, the outer skins had to be tediously broken away and peeled off the seed. Not fun. Well over half of the weight of the bag of soap nuts turned out to be seeds. The worst thing is that a “newbie” user may end up being disappointed. Thankfully I’ve been able to assist some buyers, but how many will never know all the facts? If you are one to think that OTCO (Oregon Tilth) and USDA organic labels are stand-alone “Good Housekeeping” seals of approval, you may really want to think twice. They have nothing to do with either the seeds or the species.
As a last example (hopefully) of how retailers may use seeds (and other factors) in an attempt to misrepresent the value of their product, the following is (copied and pasted) how this particular brand is currently described on Amazon. (There’s now a few “eBayers” that have now upgraded to selling on Amazon, too.) That’s too bad, but at least Amazon has a better system for weeding out the bad sellers and products – they let consumers do it.
Anyway, there’s a nice little tap dance to distract shoppers. A wise consumer must learn to read between the lines. In this case, it’s what is not said that’s the problem. Not a single word is mentioned about de-seeding, age, where packaged, etc. “De-seeded” or “Seedless” are big selling points. It’s almost always be noted if they are. There’s some very good info mentioned that I like to see, but the emphasis is on generalities and their brochure’s “conservative” cost per load claim of $0.17 per load. I don’t know this seller, nor want to single them out in any way, but it reads like the same smoke and mirrors that I’ve read 1000 times before. It’s highly unlikely that a $38 product will sell for $13.95. And then I see $28.95 on their web site for the same item. Nothing computes.
What’s amiss? – Who knows?
See the “12 Tips for Buying Soap Nuts”. I don’t have all the answers for what every retailer does, but my intuition has become pretty good. The price alone raises the first flag. All the generalizations raises a second. I’d need to ask a lot of questions. It’s very easy for a retailer to talk around the most important stuff.
Do you wonder why I write about this issue – particularly giving it such a high level of importance? The reason is that I don’t need to be a pollster to ascertain that many of those who purchase “WHOLE” soap nuts are new or “first-time” buyers. – It’s very obvious given your emails – plus the comments and reviews I commonly read all over the net.
The scenarios I discuss are not problematic for experienced users. They “get it”. But the new or “first time” buyers may form their opinions based upon their initial experiences – and never fully understand all of the facts. In many cases, they are taken advantage of by paying far too much for the product they purchased – and they don’t even have a clue that they were taken. That’s sad. But, how could they possibly know the truth without having a frame of reference to compare with? They can’t. And also sadly, given the large number of “first time” buyers, there’s many who will capitalize upon that lack of knowledge and experience. Such is business. If it was always honest, there would be a lot less late night “get-rich-quick” infomercials on TV.
This is what I want to help with. – I’d like for all first experiences to be only good ones! Hopefully all new users will continue using soap nuts, and share their wonderful benefits!
Read between the lines and use that common sense of yours. You’ll do just fine.