• How to Buy Soap Nuts

The “12 Tips” to Ensure Your Satisfaction When Buying and Using Soap Nuts:

Purchasing soap nuts (soapnuts, soap berries etc.) isn’t simple. Let’s face it – it’s a fruit, and there’s lots of sketchy and erroneous info floating about. If you know little about apples, how do you know which ones to buy? Are you going to eat them raw or bake a pie? Are they best for your intended use? Are they a good value? Exporters and retailers create confusion by selling different species, different grades, and making claims that are misleading and not factual. Different instructions compound the confusion. This article can’t cover everything, but it helps you make better decisions about what soap nuts are best for YOU: what to look for, how to obtain the best value, and what to avoid. These tips ward off the majority of common mistakes – and help ensure a good buying experience.

NOTICE – October 2013: Like it isn’t scary enough that Chinese schools, airports, and entire cities are being shut down due to toxic smog, plus 1000’s of US pets are sick, dead or dying from tainted doggie treats from China, now China-grown soapberries of questionable quality are being imported to the US. One tenacious Chinese business owner in SC boasts to reap “long term benefits” by “conquering” the US market through sales of the low cost berries. The owner continued, I know you do not want us in this market. We are here, and we will stay.”
– Learn more: China Soap Nuts – Just Say “NO!”

As mentioned on our Welcome Page, we avoid calling out specific brand names (good or bad). Sometimes it’s simply unavoidable to make vital points. The goal is to our teach readers how to think, and what to consider. Content is subjective and based upon the educated opinions of the author, plus input and reviews from readers. Visit our Welcome Page for more detailed “who, what and whys”.
– SoapNuts.Pro is here for YOU!

A quick outline:
1) Buy soap nuts by weightNEVER by loads claimed.
2) Buy only “DE-SEEDED” soap nuts.
3) Be mindful of what’s real and what’s only marketing “hype”.
4) Avoid soap nuts packaged for retail in Asia – and say NO to China grown.
5) Know exactly what you’re buying.
6) Expect nothing, assume nothing.
7) Be certain the soap nuts are returnable.
8) Pay for soap nuts with a credit card, Paypal or similar.
9) Stick with suppliers that are proven reliable.
10) Don’t let price alone be the determining factor in your buying decision.
11) Buy mukorossi or trifoliatus soap nuts.
12) Know what’s normal for soap nuts – and what’s not!

1) Buy soap nuts by weight – NEVER by number of “loads” claimed. This should be a no-brainer, but it’s the #1 Tip for good reason. To compare value you must compare NET weights. Any claim about loads is subjective, and usually used as a sales tactic to fool you. Sometimes it’s hard to find the weight! I’ve often had to zoom in on a product picture to locate it. Sounds crazy, but it’s true.

Selling soap nuts by “Loads” is a dubious, antiquated marketing tactic that is commonly practiced. Even if apples-to-apples (in product quality), the number of loads received varies a lot from user to user. It’s an unreliable and misleading means of measurement. Just consider for a moment how many variables there are when washing your laundry: Washer type (regular or HE, front or top loader), washer size, cycle(s) selected, duration of cycles chosen, load size, water hardness, water temp, degree of soiling – just to name a few. ALL affect the results – and yields. And that’s not factoring in YOU. The number of loads obtained depends greatly upon the user.

Many NEW users get taken by this one. Many don’t give this much thought when buying soap nuts for the first time? Most folks are more focused on whether if they will be pleased with the results, or if they’ll even work at all – far from how many loads they’ll get. A retailer can claim almost any number of loads they choose – and maybe even show that it’s possible. But using the outer limits of something’s potential as the primary measurement of quantity makes no sense. I’ve seen loads “guaranteed”. Given our busy lives rarely will anyone keep track of every single laundry load done in their household. Such a guarantee is a hollow promise that the seller will rarely – if ever – be held accountable for. Consumers are unknowingly misled. That’s disturbing – particularly when saving money is one of the reasons for buying the soapberries!

THINK - before you buy.

THINK – before you buy.

It’s impossible to accurately provide the number of wash loads YOU’LL get from X-amount of soap nuts. Again, there’s too many variables. Many folks are just beginning to learn how to use them correctly. At best we can only calculate rough estimates based upon weight.

Using “loads” as a yardstick for measurement began with the first (now defunct) big retailer of them in the US. It was – and remains – a very bad method – for YOU! Thankfully, we pay closer attention to details than we did years ago. We read labels more thoroughly. We check those “costs per ounce” or “per unit” prices at the grocery store. We’re much smarter shoppers today. Soap nuts were an esoteric product years ago, and buyers couldn’t really compare brands. Not anymore. However, soap nuts are still primarily sold in small stores and on the Internet where we don’t have the luxury of using those convenient “per unit cost” tags that the big grocery stores provide. For the time being, we have to look closer, think for ourselves, and crunch a few numbers. It’s not hard.

This problematic means of measurement creates confusion for shoppers. Exaggerated claims of “loads” is a way to make a seller’s product appear cheaper than the other guys. That’s the strategy. – WEIGHT is the ONLY reliable benchmark for wise, prudent shoppers. Never base your comparisons upon loads claimed. Keep it simple. What’s the cost per ounce? Period. Do that, and you’re almost finished. Next we look at the quality. First issue being “de-seeded” or not. Simple, huh?

NOTE: Akin to “loads” are SIZE claims. (i.e, Small, Medium, Large, Family Size, etc.). Size is also subjective. It’s only marginally useful when “packages” of the same brand – never between brands. Enough said. This should be common sense.

The following calculation is based upon personal experience and TONS of feedback from regular soap nut users:
It’s simple – and easy to remember:  10 LOADS PER OUNCE.
Disregarded all claims that deviate far from that. Depending upon your personal efforts and your variables at home you may get more or less to start. It’s a great benchmark and reasonable expectation to begin with.

Used traditionally (the wash bag method), a half-ounce (around five average sized, de-seeded, mukorossi soap nuts) is the normal amount you should use. That will typically wash 5-7 loads with good results. I’m using 5 loads to be conservative. Using 5 soap nuts per wash bag, and 5 washes per bag, it’s a safe bet that you’ll be pleased with the results from EVERY wash. If you get more – great! With experience most learn to extend the effectiveness of the soap berries (more on this later).

If you cut back on how many berries used, or if you use the berries for too many washes, their effectiveness will decline. In either case, the amount of saponin (the active ingredient) released decreases. Again, common sense: Less soap, less cleaning power.

When using reasonable benchmarks: A pound of good quality, de-seeded, mukorossi soap nuts should yield around 160 washes. You can significantly increase your yield as you get better at optimizing their performance. You’ll be amazed at all you’ll begin to learn. It’s fun experimenting with them.

Misrepresentation of load yield.

Here are two 100 gram (3.5oz) bags pictured. The soapberries look okay to me (probably ~35 actual berries per bag), but the seller claims one bag to yield 100 loads. 35 (or up to 50 loads tops) is realistic. That’s two – three times actual yield.

• Common claims deserving extra scrutiny:
“360 LOADS” — from a 20.5 oz box.
(210-290 loads is closer.)
“360 LOADS”
from a 16 oz (1 lb) box. (160-200 loads is realistic.)
“100 LOADS”
from a 6.5 oz. box.
(65-80 loads is closer.)
“100 LOADS”
from a 5 oz. box.
(50-60 loads is realistic.)
“10 LOADS”
from a 1/2-oz box. (5-8 is more like it. Particularly when new to soap nuts – who are usually those buying such trial sizes.)

These are all inflated claims. They’re not even consistent in the math. All correlating “costs PER LOAD” will be equally distorted.

Try to keep in mind that some sellers are often almost as new to soapberries as you may be. I’ve talked with many that are nearly clueless, and simply regurgitate whatever their supplier tells them. Some others make up stuff on their own to try to gain a competitive edge. That’s even worse sometimes, particularly those that are not experienced business people.

At right is a new brand I’ve found that are a tad overly “creative” in their marketing. I had to dig deep to even find the details about what they were selling. I was so buried in other sales jargon that it took a long time to find out that they were only tiny 100 gram (about 3.5 oz) bags. These are a perfect example of the stuff “newbie” sellers commonly do. To the experienced eye, it’s obvious how small the bags actually are. Look closely. You’ll see that the bags are about the width of about four full soap nuts. That’s small.

I must admit that I didn’t even notice it myself right away. I can only imagine what a new buyer would see – or not see. These little bags currently sell for about $12-13 each – some expensive soap nuts! But yeah… We do get a “Bonus Tracking System” for FREE: Use safety pins on the wash bag to keep track of the loads done. Oh, joy! I can get stuck and bleed all over my laundry when I eventually get stuck by a sprung safety pin. (I’m seriously not kidding about any of this. And still haven’t been able to determine if any safety pins are even included or not. Let’s leave that at intentional vagueness.)

Simply follow the common sense tips you are being provided here – and always think for yourself. Do that and you’ll do fine.

Freshly harvested and de-seeded mukorossi soap berries.

2) Buy only “DE-SEEDED” soap nuts. – Be 100% certain this is spelled out – plainly and clearly in the description. Be aware that many photos are simply “stock images”, so don’t rely on pictures. They may or may not be representative of the actual product.

A very common term I see used that is a major red flag is “WHOLE”. Almost invariably it means NOT de-seeded. My best advice is to simply avoid any referred to as “whole”. If ever considering “whole”, a fair price should be approximately half of the prevailing rate for de-seeded mukorossi.

One caveat: It is common to find trifoliatus or saponaria berries with seeds. These are the lowest valued of all. We’ll discuss these species in more detail elsewhere, but for now simply keep in mind that there’s many such soap nuts on the market. Their ultra-low cost can be very attractive to retailers. It’s common to see sellers of these just “gloss over” the specifics. (More on typical tactics below.)

It’s common to find seeds once in a while (a few seeds out of 100 soap berries is no big deal). Some just slip through unnoticed. However, throughout the “batch” purchased they should show breaks or cracks in the skin and pulp where the seeds were removed. It’s typical for there to be a mix of full and partial shells (the latter often being referred to as the “pieces”). When sorted and graded in the US, you can often select your quality level of choice. When packaged overseas, they are almost always a mix. Sometimes, these are referred to as “bulk”.

As with all “Tips” here, the focus is on ensuring you of a good value, and protection from possibly unsavory sales people and practices. As shown, the seeds should be removed – leaving only the valuable saponin-rich hollow outer skin and pulp that is dried. Most long-term users know this. Today however, the market is growing so rapidly that many consumers don’t understand this, or know how to tell the difference. We’re going to fix that problem.

A soap nut containing a seed will weigh DOUBLE (or more) than a seedless one. It’s a big seed! Being sold by weight when exported is precisely why we are finding so many soap nuts with seeds on the market. They create “lucrative” opportunities for both exporters and retailers alike. (Lucrative is such an interesting word…don’t you think?) Whenever such lucrative opportunities arise, there’s always someone who will capitalize on it. – There was a day when it was rare to ever find sellers of soap nuts with seeds.

Some interesting sales tactics have arisen from this scenario of “WHOLE” soap nuts. Here’s just a couple:
1 –
The seller markets them at very cheap prices – typically with very little specifics and/or a lot of generalized information. The effort being to simply let the story, benefits – and price – sell the product. This distracts the buyer from looking at the truly important details. The buyer of them is often one who still thinks that they’re all the same. No major harm is done here, aside from some disappointment. Ultimately it’s not the “good deal” the buyer may have thought they had. (Oh well…you get what you pay for.)
2 –
The seller sells them at or near the prevailing market rates for top-quality – and pockets “a bundle”. This is the very bad scenario, and harm is most definitely done. The consumer ends up getting stung – big time – paying double or more than a fair price. Here again, either a lack of specifics, or a whole bunch of vague and generalized information, descriptions, instructions, etc. are typically used by the seller. A lot of info (even if useless to an experienced user) can give an appearance of credibility to a newbie.

“Whole Soap Nuts” (i.e., obviously with seeds). Notice how pristine their condition is? Not a single crack in the shell. They look as though they were picked right off the tree – which is actually the case. They are too perfect. Most of the weight of such soap nuts are the big seeds inside. Those seeds have no functional use at all for washing or cleaning purposes. They are usually very cheap – no additional labor cost, heavy, and sold by weight. So, the bottom line: As the saying goes, “You get what you pay for.”

Even when you’re buying by weight (not by loads) – as you should be – then seeds add unwanted weight that YOU are paying for! My advice again is to just steer clear of any that don’t specifically state, “seedless”, “de-seeded”, or “pieces”. – It’s really that simple.

NOTE: Seeds can also permanently spot or stain laundry – particularly when left in contact with wet laundry for even a short period of time. Their dense, jet black outer skin can leave a dark spot on your favorite blouse or linens. So, remove all seeds found. You’ll sometimes hear them rattling a bit in a mukorossi soap nut – not the case with the smaller species (such as trifoliatus and saponaria). When berries of the smaller species dry out and shrink down the shell and seed become very tightly bound. Hence very tough to remove. A larger mukorossi soap berry (with a seed) may leave a slight air gap between the shell and seed, hence looser and easier to detect. Break it open and the seed will often fall right out.

I have read only one seller ever attempting to justify a benefit to seeds that boiled down to what I will describe as “increased agitation.” (The importance of agitation is discussed at length in numerous posts here.) It’s a great idea, but one problem: They won’t work like that. I’ve tried. I’ve experimented with this notion in mind years ago. Once being soaked, that big seed does not bounce around in that soft, wet shell – no more than the seed will in a big ripe black cherry. There isn’t a large enough weight differential once saturated. I truly do appreciate the creative thinking, but just apply some common sense.

example of soap nuts with seeds

Another good example of soap nuts that have NOT been “de-seeded”. If they look like this – avoid them. Look for the tell-tale signs that they’ve been cracked open. These are near perfectly round. After de-seeding they’ll be more irregular. Such “whole” ones will be heavy and feel solid. It’s VERY easy to tell the difference – even just from pictures.

(Dropping a few significantly heavier typical marbles or even a couple large stainless ball-bearings into the wash bag is a FAR, FAR BETTER WAY to achieve this effect much more effectively. They work – if you don’t mind the noise at times. Plus they last indefinitely – with zero risk of staining anything! Just be sure to tie the wash bag extra tight, or double tie the bag so they can’t possibly fall out. DON’T EVER use small ball bearings that can get stuck in your machine! Been there… BIG hassle… I quit playing with this idea after that episode. Not worth it…)

Only use seeds for cultivating new tress – or be creative with them. See the post at left called “Soap Nuts with Seeds” for more info! Also see post at right, “Soap Nut Trees”, to learn more about the trees. It includes info on how to grow your own, too!



3) Be mindful of the marketing oriented claims – the “hype”. There’s a lot of creative marketing that’s getting thrown about. It’s always in an effort for a company to try to differentiate their brand in some way. Just stop and think. Your common sense will go a long way. “Organic”, “gourmet”, “generic” are just trick terms. “Gourmet” being humorous of course. (I can’t wait to scarf down my next plate of soapberries!) For the most part, “organic” is now being tossed around so much that the term has become almost useless. All soap berries are “organic” by definition (same as they are “natural”). Don’t think any such generalized terms are meaningful. Look for OFFICIAL Organic Certifications. Ask for proof. Statement of “organic” alone means nothing – at least unless someone invents synthetic ones. I’ve seen it claimed that a company doesn’t sell cheap “generic” soap nuts. Hmmm… So, what is a “generic” soap nut? Some of the marketing is simply ridiculous.

Only OFFICIAL USDA Certified Organic and EcoCert Certified Organic (the international certification agent) provide assurances of chemical-free processing and sanitary processing conditions. There are very steep fines and stiff penalties for fraudulent use of them that inhibit their abuse. However, when buying soap nuts, the species, condition, and reputation of the seller remains paramount. Keep in mind that there is nothing to stop an exporter of inferior quality soap nuts from obtaining official certification that a seller may then use. The species, quality, effectiveness and value of the soap berries are NOT criteria used in the official organic certification processes. Write me at [email protected], or leave a comment if I confused you on this. I understand. It gets confusing.

But let’s address a more important issue regarding “creative marketing” & “product differentiation”:

One small retailer (brand) now claims better soap nuts because of using a “proprietary sterilization process”. Sterilized? This process is claimed to also magically increase the effectiveness of the berries. Oh, brother… Please spare me… But even forgetting about the claim of increased effectiveness, claiming a need to sterilize Certified Organic imports becomes a very serious matter.

This is clever marketing to be sure, but it’s terribly irresponsible. Personally, I believe the claimed reason for sterilizing is simply not true at all. If it was, we’d be hearing about it all over the news! (Think about all the consumer scares: tomatoes, lettuce, spinach, pork, etc., etc.) Those were real – and documented cases. To actually create a public “scare” or concern for the sheer purpose of marketing is about as downright low as I can imagine. This issue is currently being investigated by the State of California. It’s been reported to the proper authorities. This is not an issue to play around with. If the claimed reason were true, then by law the company was required to file a report with the Department of Health and Safety. (I also address this issue in the FAQs for I’ve received many questions about it. It compliments this, and has a little more of my personal spin put on it.) This issue has received more attention than usual because the company was pitching for venture capital (investors) on a popular TV show. Many consumers saw it. They received no offers on the show, and it was very embarrassing, but I’ll elaborate in the FAQs.

This whole issue greatly intrigues me for it utilizes the powerful marketing tactic of FEAR. – By design, it is to stir concern in the minds of the consumers – and worse, create an unwarranted fear of other brands. Use of “fear tactics” in consumer products marketing strategies is essentially never done – at least never initiated by any reputable firm. It’s playing with fire. The issue is huge, and it raises questions of monumental importance. (Sure, we see lame fear tactics every single day used in the political arenas. And, yes, we all hate it. But it’s taken for what it’s worth, and usually just shrugged off being seen for what it is.) – This matter is another ballgame. We’re discussing matters of public health and safety!

The BIG problem here: We’ve seen absolutely zero substance, evidence, documentation or proof of any kind whatsoever to support any need for sterilization – NONE. – Please keep in mind that this company has a long track record of exaggerating and making blatantly false claims – this time caught outright on national TV!

So, in a nutshell: This appears to be one more attempt of this company to try to differentiate their brand. But in this case, it’s without regard for the very serious consequences. The company will likely face big problems. If an agriculture product is brought into this country, and found to be contaminated (by a lab no less as was stated on TV and Facebook) then there must be an official report filed – again, by law. If there was any truth in this matter, without a filed report (California’s response was that is no such report exists) then laws were violated, and the company will face grave consequences.

Frankly, I don’t think this scheme was fully thought through, or reviewed by a competent trade/commerce attorney. Be it due to zealousness, greed, or simply ignorance – a major line was crossed. Albeit all earlier references are deleted now, what was stated (on TV and some of what was posted online) was documented, and there’s no back-peddling that will ever undo it. I sure wouldn’t want to be in their shoes right now.

Certified Organic exporters, importers, handlers, and sellers across the globe will be (or are) outraged. The implications of such reckless claims and statements aren’t taken lightly. They’re an outright and unjust indictment of the reputations of many companies. That company is now in the cross-hairs of many large, reputable companies. It’s taken years of hard work and tons of money for so many companies around the world to become Certified Organic compliant under stringent and often overbearing government regulations.

Consumers wanted assurances of receiving genuinely chemical-free cleaning alternatives – and companies responded. Official Organic Certified products are now available for them. Going beyond Organic Certification especially for products not for human consumption appears counter-intuitive to me, and based in marketing efforts alone – not consumer need. However, I am doing my due diligence as you have come to expect of me.

Here is some preliminary information that should prove helpful.

The Government in India requires strict quality assurance programs be in placed and followed by Indian Exporters. They are very serious about protecting their status as a major agriculture exporter.
– Legitimate exporters are to be providing a Certificate of Analysis with each export.
– A reputable Indian company exporting agricultural products to the US will have a US FDA Reg. Number.

(Does this raise any questions for you regarding this issue? This brand? Their supplier? Their claims? – It sure does for me.)

Certified Organic products from India are certified by EcoCert (recognized by the National Organic Program, NOP, and the USDA). There are very specific requirements with regard to the handling and storage of product.
There are inspections at the US receiving port by US Department  of Agriculture, Customs and Homeland Security.

Also very interesting: Post harvest sterilization of a Certified Organic product can alter the product, plus involves the use of substances such as:
– either ethyl or isopropyl alcohols
– bleach
– carbon dioxide
– chlorine
– detergents
– ethylene
– ozone
– peroxide
(List courtesy of the Arizona College of Agricultural and Life Science.)

Final note: There are many illegal exporters in India and Nepal. The Indian Government advises companies/importers to verify that they are buying from a registered legitimate business so that they can be assured that Government regulations have been followed.

4) Avoid soap nuts packaged for retail in Asia. Plus just say “NO” to China grown!

A detailed post has now been published (04-2013) on this important issue of China-grown soap berries. Please see: China Soap Nuts – Just say NO!

There are numerous reasons for this. Once sealed and packaged for retail, nobody will inspect your soap berries before you own them. Let’s remember we are talking about a raw fruit here. The overseas sorting and inspection of soap berries prior to packaging is often low in quality control. Keep in mind that these retail packages will be at sea in large cargo containers (without climate control) for many weeks or even months. They will travel on open seas over a great distance through all kinds of climates and weather. Who knows what will happen to them during this long journey. They will get very hot and very cold. Condensation and moisture can build up and degrade the soap berries. I have received soap nuts packaged overseas that were overly wet and stuck together, blackish in color, plus contained many seeds, hairs, and all kinds of leaves and debris.

It’s much cheaper for retailers to purchase them “ready for retail” because of the low Asian labor costs. Interestingly though, soap nuts that are packaged overseas are usually comparably priced to ones that have been inspected and packaged in the US or Canada. Buy soap nuts that have been inspected and sorted AFTER their long voyage. This will assure you of better quality control over the final processing and packaging. You can also feel more comfortable that Fair Trade practices have been adhered to.

China grown soap nuts

China grown soap nuts: The worst of the worst. These are pictures known to be used by sellers of China grown soapberries. Jan, 23, 2014: US Dept. of Agriculture enforcement agents concluded a 6-month investigation finding them in violation of US National Organic Program regulations. The seller’s web site was shut down. They are currently still found on third-party web sites usually undercutting prices of reputable sellers. The list of grandiose and wholly unsupported claims made by the seller(s) is long and forever changing. Evidence shows operations out of a residential apartment in S. Carolina and without proper business licensing. These represent the “black market” for soap nuts. They are brought into the US from China. It is unclear if smuggled or through the proper channels of US Customs. – They potentially carry hazardous chemical and biological contaminants.

Update 5-2012: For the most part, I have been referring to soap berries coming out of Southeast Asia from numerous new unestablished exporters that have jumped on the soap nut bandwagon since their rise in popularity. However, in recent months a new country of origin has arisen. You guessed it: China. As usual, if something is selling, it’s only a matter of time before China catches on. And numerous species grow in China.

Here’s my issues: I’ve already been approached by Chinese exporters claiming that they have “plantation grown” soap berries – at cheap prices. “Cheap” certainly doesn’t surprise me for it is almost synonymous with consumer goods from China – both in quality and price. It’s important to realize that a China “plantation” means “field-grown and harvested” – NOT wild-crafted as those from India.

The seller(s) of China-grown soap nuts appear to have no bounds in the claims they make. It’s common to read “Certified Organic”, “Organically grown”, “from remote mountains…” and all kinds of bogus claims. Many claims are in direct violation of the Regulations established by the National Organic Program (NOP) of which all USDA Organic suppliers and handlers must adhere to.

Now please follow me on this: One Chinese seller actually listed their soap nuts as a seller of brands that truly are Certified USDA Organic on Amazon. The Chinese seller was selling their berries under the name of a legitimate seller. The #1 Amazon seller stopped this via threat of legal action (both for consumer fraud and violations for misuse of the USDA Organic Seal). The Chinese seller then started listing again under the name of a different seller! It’s outrageous, but true!

So, a few points:
1 – There are soap nuts grown and harvested in China under “who knows what?” conditions.
2 – Typical Western consumers want nothing to do with Chinese products – particularly anything grown there.
3 – Nothing claimed can be believed. They change product titles, names and descriptions routinely. Sometimes their China origin is never mentioned – at all. Numerous claims are in direct violation of NOP Regulations. No proof of ANY claim has ever been provided. In other words: They’ll simply claim ANYTHING to sell their berries.
4 – “Plantation grown”? What does that tell you? Commercial fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals, etc.
5 – The Chinese seller will provide no proof or evidence of a legal US Customs entry number. i.e., Basically, we have no clue how they even got here.
6 – The primary seller stated that they’re in South Carolina and are shipping from South Carolina. To date we can find no listing in the SC Corp. Commission for the company. i.e., If operating under the radar – there’s no business license fees, taxes, etc.
7 – They have fraudulently posed as reputable established brands.
8 – They make utterly grandiose claims, yet present zero to substantiate anything.
9 –  No official Certifications are presented whatsoever. No Organic Certification. No mention of Fair Trade. Nothing…
10 – We get cheap generically packaged soap nuts of highly questionable quality – nothing more.
Lastly – And frankly, I really don’t like their arrogance. Read their own words posted in the “must read” post: China Soap Nuts – Just say NO! Personally, I’d trash them if they were FREE! And no Chinese profiteers are going to dictate anything to me (nor anyone else that I’ve spoken with). They actually speak of “conquering” our markets.

Well, they can’t “buy us” by peddling their cheap goods. Nor will they undo any of the good we’ve accomplished these many years in providing aid to all the hardworking villagers in India and Nepal. No way…

You’re going to have to be watchful for these. I’ve given you enough dots to easily connect yourself. i.e. If you see a name brand product on Amazon or eBay or similar being offered from some seller at half the regular price, ask yourself, “What’s wrong with this picture?” If you think you’ll just return them, don’t kid yourself. You’ll have a hard time ever getting a full refund. In the end – you’ll have been had. – Count on it.

5) Know exactly what you’re buying. Be certain of what you want. Soap berries are still so new to the general public that there are many big gaps in the information available. Retailers tend to focus on the general, when the specifics are vitally important to a good transaction. As I’ve written hundreds of times, “A soap nut is NOT just a soap nut.”

High-quality, de-seeded mukorossi soap nuts.

Understanding that takes a bit of study. And we still must also separate the hype from the facts. It is crucial to understand that many soap nut retailers are simply trying to sell the concept that soap nuts are a better, natural way to clean. Very few are educating consumers about all the very important particulars. Sellers tend to tell you what you want to hear. Period. This oversimplification is the root of the problem. Only when consumers become well schooled regarding the differences, will sellers recognize the need to become more knowledgeable in order to satisfy the marketplace. Understand that, and we are almost home. The burden is truly upon us – the consumers. Only in recent years have most of us started reading product labels much more carefully – and with much more skepticism. Be skeptical. That’s great! Soap nuts may be exactly what you want. They may not. We must learn to ask the right questions.

6) Expect nothing, assume nothing. If it isn’t spelled out clearly, something is likely wrong. Good soap nut retailers are very knowledgeable and will specify all the important aspects. They’ll describe their soap nuts’ species, weight, condition, de-seeded or not, age, packaging, accessories such as wash bags and instructions, etc. Quite simply, assume nothing and you won’t be disappointed. If everything about the soap nuts has been clearly verified by the seller, you will most likely be pleased. There are many start-up soap nut businesses today. Some really care and are sincerely promoting this wonderful green alternative. Others only want to sell something, and don’t care much about what it is. The ones that do care will show it.

7) Be certain the soap nuts are returnable. All good sellers will stand behind their products. Unless you’ve made a certain “deal” and are willing to agree to a no return policy, returns should be acceptable. Expect to lose the shipping costs and to have to pay to ship them back. At least you won’t get stuck with poor quality soap nuts.

8) Pay for soap nuts with a credit card, Paypal or similar. In a worst case scenario, this will provide you buyer protection and an out from a bad transaction. You can always dispute a charge for “merchandise not as described”. Be extremely leery of any seller who wants cash, debit card, wire transfer, Western Union, etc. Getting your money back will be unlikely. A good seller will have credit card processing and/or Paypal available. If not, beware. As always, when buying soap nuts online be certain that you are purchasing through a verified secure store.

9) Stick with suppliers that are proven reliable. Good sellers will have a well-known and documented reputation for quality products and customer service. The exception to this is the new seller. I highly support the efforts of so many people that are developing new, honest, green soap nut businesses. Everybody has to start somewhere. With a new seller that has little history, get to know them. Follow the above tips, and if all is in order, support them. They are foot soldiers of the green movement and deserve our support.

10) Don’t let price alone be the determining factor in your buying decision. That’s a huge mistake, be it whether you are paying a lot or a little. If buying cheaply priced soap nuts, that’s asking for inferior quality and disappointing transaction. Paying more however does not ensure better quality. I’ve seen prices go from A to Z without any correlation to quality. Only by knowing exactly what you are buying can you expect a good transaction.

11) Buy mukorossi or trifoliatus soap nuts. I personally prefer mukorossi soap nuts because they are the species of choice for quality exporters and are consistently of high saponin content (the all-important active ingredient in soap nuts).

Trifoliatus is often being sold with seeds, and sometimes misrepresented as mukorossi. It’s a cheap alternative with lucrative profiteering potential. Trifoliatus (seed excluded) is high in saponin content, same as mukorossi, but it has a lower market value. If you are buying trifoliatus you should be paying much less. If you really know your soap nuts and/or are making liquids and powders in volume, it can be a cost effective way for you to go without compromising effectiveness. Trifoliatus is however much more similar in appearance to other species with lower saponin content, hence more difficult to be assured of what you actually have. Only one soap nut being harvested in high volume is distinctly different in appearance than other species. That is mukorossi. Particularly for the new soap nuts user, sticking with mukorossi makes for a far safer bet that you’ll be buying a quality soap berry. Both whole soap nuts and pieces are equally effective. Pieces also make for good buying opportunities. Note: As mentioned above, be aware that “whole” may be used by some sellers to describe soap nuts that have not been properly de-seeded. Be sure that this is clear.

Images added to illustrate age:

Exhibit E: Aged soap nuts. Species not determined.

D and E: Miscellaneous images showing soap nuts of significant age. Once soap nuts have reached a black coloration as shown it becomes very difficult to determine the year of harvest. It is not uncommon for older soap nuts to become very gummy due to high humidity at time of packaging, moisture release from the berries, and condensation if they have been sealed in plastic bags for long periods.

Exhibit D: Aged mukorossi soap nuts.

Exhibit D: Aged mukorossi soap nuts. Black in color. Photo: Maggies Pure Land.

12) Know what’s normal for soap nuts – and what’s not. Akin to Tip #5 above, this is the only way you can evaluate your transaction. Soap nuts are mainly harvested from January through March (particularly mukorossi). The new harvest will typically sell at a premium price, while the previous year’s harvest will be discounted to clear floor space. Very freshly harvested mukorossi soap nuts will be large (about the diameter of a U.S. nickel and up to the size of a quarter), sticky, and yellow/golden in color. A good processor will allow them to air dry before packaging or sealing if overly moist. As they age in the first year they will darken to a reddish and then brownish color. Ultimately the soap nuts will turn black. If overly moist they will darken more quickly.

It is quite common to find black soap nuts as seen in pictures D and E, and they may be up to two or even three years old. If soap nuts are processed and stored properly they will be somewhat dry, yet remain a bit tacky to the touch, and get no more than dark brown in color. They can remain this way for very long periods, but require a stable storage environment. Storage at a humidity level of 25 to 30% and temperature of 60 to 65°F is ideal for extended storage periods. Unfortunately maintaining such stability is difficult for many suppliers, hence overly dry and overly moist soap nuts are commonly found. It is recommended to buy as fresh of soap nuts as possible. If needed, allow them to dry to the point where they are slightly moist and pliable. Then seal in an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place. This will ensure long term freshness. Trifoliatus is similar except they are much smaller, usually darker in color, and drier even when very fresh. The important thing is to get what you are paying for.

Know the species you are buying and when the soap berries were harvested. If you do, you’ll then know exactly what to expect. If it’s Springtime and you are buying – and paying for – high quality, de-seeded mukorossi, then you’ll know that the soap nuts should be large, golden-ish and tacky. If they are small (like a U.S. dime), or very dark, or very gummy, or very dry, or full of seeds, then something is definitely wrong. Don’t pay as much for previous year’s soap nuts as the current harvest. If the soap nuts have been properly stored, the previous year’s harvest can create great buying opportunities. They will still be highly effective and available at bargain prices.

I want to sincerely thank all the fair and honest sellers that have done their homework, and are properly and accurately representing their products. Hopefully, these writings and pictures will help you to quickly identify such good sellers. They are the ones who are not just after a quick buck, and will help lead consumers to the wonderful experiences soap nuts offer us all.

You are now ready to buy soap nuts with a minimal risk of being disappointed.

Good luck and enjoy!

IMPORTANT: Please see the article “Soap Nuts with Seeds” for a more in-depth discussion regarding this serious issue with many being sold these days. – There are good pictures from active sellers and exporters used as examples of this growing problem.

ALSO: Please see the article “Why from the USA?” for a more in-depth discussion regarding the issue of processing and packaging soap nuts in the USA vs. overseas.

CAUTION: Don’t miss the updated post about China-grown soapberry seller(s) found in violation of U.S. Federal law, USDA regulations – and carrying a high risk of contamination. Many grandiose claims, and statements of being tested safe are made – however none (not a single one) has ever been substantiated. Online and third-party availability only. No address or phone is provided for the seller. The berries are characteristically soft, slimy and oily while having a dark reddish purple to black color (like old, dirty motor oil). Commonly noted is the scent of petroleum. Best to return (if possible) or discard in an environmentally friendly fashion.
(See full post in left-side column for the latest info.) – Just say “NO” to China-grown.

• Varieties & Quality

Soap nuts were originally discovered and used by locals as a cleansing medium. They were primarily used for bathing and personal hygiene and a plethora of cleaning uses. They make an exceptional jewelry cleaner for example. Soap nuts were also used in numerous medicinal treatments and worked as an effective, yet safe, chemical-free pest repellent. These same uses prevail today – PLUS there is a long list of NEW uses in our modern age.

The botanical term Sapindus is derived from the Latin word “sapo” (soap) and (Indian) indicus, referring to its lather-producing fruit. It is this genus of tree that produces soap nuts – and there are many varieties. Saponin is found in many plants such as yucca, agave, soapwort, and others. What makes the soap nut SO special is their extraordinarily high concentration of saponin (the active ingredient and natural surfactant in soap nuts). Extracting enough saponin from other plants would simply not be feasible. However, Sapindus trees produce a fruit that not only makes it feasible, Sapindus trees make it easy AND SUSTAINABLE.

Soap nuts are a common name for the ripened and dried fruit harvested from a Sapindus tree. There are two primary species being harvested today: Mukorossi and Trifoliatus. Both are found mainly in Southeast Asia. Both are of the family Sapindaceae. I am often asked why does NaturOli use only Mukorossi soap nuts. The Mukorossi species consistently produces the highest level of saponin of the many soap berry varieties. Hence, consumers get the best possible experience from them. Also, other than Mukorossi and Trifoliatus there is no infrastructure and supply chain for the other varieties. When ordering tens of thousands of kilos, the Southeast Asian exporters are the only suppliers that can meet the demand. With time, increased consumer awareness, and increased demand this scenario will change. In decades to come, we will find suppliers in many regions around the Rocky, Andes, Sierra, Appalachian and other mountain ranges. Most likely it will be the Mukorossi variety being grown and harvested.

Sapindus Mukorossi is a large soapberry tree growing primarily in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains of China, northern India and Nepal. It is a prolific fruit producer and lives around ninety years. It is native to China and considered alien to the Doon Valley in India where it flourishes in poor soil conditions. It aids in the reducing soil erosion in these regions. The soap nut flowers are small, white and grouped in panicles (clusters). The fruits are round, yellowish berries that become gummy and wrinkled as they ripen. It produces large, colorful and glossy soapberries compared to other species. It is the most highly valued species.

Sapindus Trifoliatus is a smaller soapberry tree typically found in Southern India, Pakistan and numerous countries in Southeast Asia. It prefers lower altitudes and warmer climates. It produces a smaller soap nut (about half the size of the Mukorossi soap nut). It contains saponin as do all Sapindus fruits, however not as high of level as Mukorossi soap berries. Harvesting and de-seeding the smaller soap nuts is more difficult. Being sold by weight makes Trifoliatus less desirable in many ways. There is more work for the harvesters for less money. There is less money involved per kilo for the exporters. And they are of lower quality and effectiveness for the consumer. Trifoliatus soap nuts are certainly a valuable resource for saponin. HOWEVER, they are also the primary species sold deceptively to be its far superior cousin, the Mukorossi soap nut.

Local villagers, farmers, families and co-ops harvest the soap nuts after the fruit falls from the tree. Properly processed, the seeds are removed and the shells are dried in the sun. They are then sold to the exporters. Currently only about half of the Mukorossi soap nuts available are harvested annually. The rest go to waste. Harvesting provides an economic stimulus for these economically depressed regions. Increased global demand will provide additional stimulus and encourage more cultivation.

Many other varieties of these remarkable soap nut trees grow around the globe with differing data with regards to their fruits. There are actually many types of saponin, too – also with varying properties. We will be studying these soap nut varieties and their individual properties for many years to come. We have much to still learn. The consensus at NaturOli is that the further we drill into the benefits of soap nuts and saponin the more we continue to discover. Who knows how deep this rabbit hole goes?

• What are Soap Nuts?

Are they soap NUTS or soap BERRIES? A little botany:

Soap nuts are not “nuts”. Of course you can take that a few different ways, but I am referring to only the botany. A soap nut is not a nut at all. It is a berry – a fruit. This has confused many people. Most consumers have never seen a soapberry growing on the tree. Most only see the dried fruit. Being hard and crinkled it looks like a nut. It erroneously began being referred to as a soap nut, and the name stuck.

One can become very confused when trying to determine what is rightfully a “nut”. It is a very broad term. Using some definitions, a soapberry could be referred to as a nut or seed. Botanically speaking, a nut is a dried fruit with one seed. That fits for a soap nut. However, the BIG catch is that with a true NUT – the fruit cannot be separated from the seed. A freshly picked ripe soapberry will resemble a cherry. They vary from species to species, but they have a large single seed in each berry and a juicy pulp and skin. Of course, some can get nit-picky here because some nuts have shells, hence they can be separated. However, those “shells” were never a fruit-like pulp. They are woody – nothing like the pulp of a cherry. A soap nut is NOT a nut. It IS a fruit.

Even in India, the soapberry exporters refer to them as soap nuts because that is what most people call them. This does not help the situation. Most all sellers call them and brand them as “nuts”. It is common to see both the one and two word versions of each name to further complicate matters. As usual, the consumer is left confused. I use all the terms interchangeably mainly because “nuts” is so ingrained now, but would prefer for readers to think of them as berries. Again, think of them much like a cherry – a de-seeded (hopefully), dried cherry at the consumer level.

Many different species of soapberries grow around the globe. Simply visit Wikipedia searching under the genus sapindus for some of the many types of soapberries:

Be they shrubs or trees, we know that soapberries come from sapindus vegetation. We know the species differ significantly. A great deal more study is required to isolate all the differences.

Please be wary of what you read. As stated on Wikipedia, “Common names include soapberry and soapnut, both names referring to the use of the crushed seeds to make soap.” This statement is VERY misleading. It is not the crushed seed that produces soap. It is saponins (the natural substance within them) that produce soap. If it helps, think of saponins as soapberry juice. Saponin predominantly is derived from the pulp and skin of the fruit. The seeds have yet to be determined of significant value.

Personally, I feel much of the confusion is semantics. Much is written by those other than botanical experts and then copied and pasted over and over. I try to write to how I believe most of us think. Is a cherry a fruit or a seed? That depends upon HOW you think. However, most of us think of it as a fruit or berry. It has a big seed inside and we eat the pulp and skin. It is with THIS mindset that I describe soapberries.

I have read claims that soapberries are closely related to the goji berry or wolfberry. This is a little troubling for they VERY different in most of their characteristics. Goji berries are more similar to tiny tomatoes, and often are for culinary and nutritional use. They do not come from the same order of the plant kingdom – and you DO NOT want to eat soapberries.

One seller (that I am not yet permitted to disclose) will soon launch a massive campaign that may earmark a turning point. The soap nut may begin to become more rightfully known as a soapberry. In the meantime, don’t get confused. Regardless of the term, they are all a fruit, and there are different types that yield different results.

That is all that the average consumer NEEDS to know – for now.


• Variations

All soap nuts are not created equal.

Soap nuts are a fruit that comes from a genus of trees and shrubs known as Sapindus. It is their remarkable ability to produce truly all-natural soap (saponin, the natural active ingredient) that makes them very special and unique. Saponin is the ideal natural, organic detergent and cleanser. (When I state “organic”, I am using the term synonymously with natural – from the earth.) However, all soap nuts are not the same. They vary greatly – and the results you receive from them vary accordingly.

As a consumer, you receive soap nuts as dried fruits with their seeds removed (hopefully since they are sold by weight). If they were not dried they would rot, as would any fruit. Think of soap nuts as you would a bag of dried fruit snacks or big dry raisins. They remind me of cherries. They have a very large seed and relatively thin pulp and skin. While fresh off the tree, a small slit and little squeeze will pop the seed out. The pulp and skin are then left to dry in the sun. When made wet again and agitated the saponin is released creating the suds you will see.

However, as an apple is not just an apple, and a grape is not just a grape, a soap nut is not just a soap nut. Do you think a vineyard cares about the type and quality of the grapes they grow? You bet. If all is not right, an entire harvest could become worthless. A grape is probably the most extreme example I can think of to make my point. Such is the beauty of extremes – they make points easy to understand. It is such fundamentals that we will apply to soap nuts. This article is to provide some basics to assist you in becoming a more informed consumer of soap nuts.

Premature pre-harvest sapindus mukorossi berries developing on the tree.

Premature pre-harvest sapindus mukorossi berries developing on the tree.

As with grapes the varieties run from A to Z. A vineyard is extremely particular regarding the grapes they grow. Different grapes produce different wines. With soap nuts, we don’t need to go to quite that extreme for there are no culinary aspects. The value of a soap nut distills down to one thing – its saponin content (the natural surfactant). A surfactant is what reduces water’s surface tension and allows the water to effectively penetrate fabrics and loosen dirt and grime.

Consider 100% pure saponin as having no variables (other than those caused by the extraction process or method of use). It is what it is, and does what it does. It is the concentration of the saponin contained within the soap nut that we are concerned with. From species to species across the globe, soap nuts vary greatly.

Without going into all the different soap nut species in detail, the Sapindus Mukorossi species are relatively large and contain the most consistently high level of saponin. It is the most prized and highest valued of the many varieties. The Mukorossi soap nut tree grows wild throughout an immense region around the Himalayan Mountains extending from southern China, through Nepal and into northern India. It is called the Chinese soapberry because its true origin is China. It is officially an alien species to the Doon Valley region of the Indian Himalayans where it flourishes today.

Alternately, Sapindus Marginatus as one example (aka the Florida soapberry) is a soap nut, but it does not seem to work as effectively or consistently. The same goes for Sapindus Trifoliatus, a smaller tree from mainly from southern India and Pakistan. They both produce soap nuts, but the quality of the berry is not as consistently high. This appears to be the case for most or possibly all other varieties currently known. There are numerous variables to consider and many data gaps. In this author’s opinion, Mukorossi reigns supreme if you do not want to do a lot of experimentation to get good results.

Fully ripened sapindus mukorossi soap berries still on the tree in India. This is a great depiction of Mother Nature's propensity towards variations. The berries vary greatly in both size and color making thorough sorting vital. The large golden berries will be of highest value. The very dark red berries will be either left on the trees to fall, rot, enrich, and seed the Himalayan soils. If harvested they will be steeply discounted at market for they will become undesirably dark early in the season. Mature trees are very prolific producers, hence allowing harvesters to be highly selective in obtaining the premium quality "yellow/golden" soap berries. It's estimated that only half of the fruits produce actually make it to market (and our homes).

Fully ripened sapindus mukorossi soap berries still on the tree in India. This is a great depiction of Mother Nature's propensity towards variations. The berries vary greatly in both size and color making thorough sorting vital. The large golden berries will be of highest value. The very dark red berries will be either left on the trees to fall, rot, enrich, and seed the Himalayan soils. If harvested they will be steeply discounted at market for they will become undesirably dark early in the season. Mature trees are very prolific producers, hence allowing harvesters to be highly selective in obtaining the premium quality "yellow/golden" soap berries. It's estimated that only half of the fruits produce actually make it to market (and our homes).

Most people have no clue as to what a soap nut looks like. The name implies that it looks like a nut. Even those of us who see and use soap nuts routinely are not always able to immediately determine one species from another. For example, a prematurely harvested Mukorossi soap nut would look similar to a mature Trifoliatus soap nut once dried. And as with all things in nature variations are common. From soapberry tree to soapberry tree even of the same species every soap nut is not identical. Size varies, color varies, saponin content varies, etc. And then there are always those mutant soap nuts. I’ve seen some very unusual looking soap nuts. As a former tree farmer, Mother Nature never ceases to have her inconsistencies. Let’s not rule out evolutionary changes and possible cross-pollination for increasing the variables with soap nuts.

Complicating this further, it is impossible without laboratory analysis to determine the soap nut species once in liquid or powder form. Given the increase in popularity of soap nut liquid and powder, it is only reasonable to assume increased usage of the less expensive varieties to produce these soap nut products.

The color of soap nuts naturally changes as they age causing more confusion. This is normal. Mukorossi soap nuts are initially golden in color and change to reddish and ultimately blackish. Color is mainly a gauge of the age of the soap nut. If properly stored, the color will not alter the soap nuts’ effectiveness. However, if improperly stored (either too dry or too wet) they will prematurely show signs of age and may lose saponin content or worse – become contaminated. Although soap nuts are naturally anti-fungal and antimicrobial, they are not bulletproof, so to speak.

Again, this article is to help consumers understand that a soap nut is NOT just a soap nut. As the market evolves we see more variants in the market. Cheap, slimy black mukorossi berries from China have popped up in the past year. They’re purported to be better because of “rich dark” color meaning that they have high saponin levels. Nothing could be further from the facts. Wise consumers need to have a basic understanding of these things. As illustrated clearly in the pictures above, color has nothing to do with saponin content. Never assume a seller knows exactly what they are selling. Never assume they are being wholly honest about their product either. For novices, these are common mistakes. I have seen it many times. In some cases, what was sold was anything except what it was claimed to be. Do your own homework and ask questions. I try to help you ask the right questions.

Sadly, whenever there are data gaps and uninformed consumers, people will step in and take advantage of the situation for personal gain. I hope that everyone who tries soap nuts gets the experience that high quality berries provide. The biggest crime occurring in the soap nut business today is unknowing consumers having unsatisfactory experiences because an uneducated or unscrupulous seller sold the customer an inferior quality product.

My goal is to minimize such experiences from happening.