Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pressure Canning Soapnuts

A fair while ago Donna had purchased a large bag of soapnuts.  They are advertised as being a natural alternative to many soaps in the household.  So far we have been using them mostly for laundry, but I did fill a small bottle for Kenny to try using in the sauna (I wondered if maybe they would be "no more tears" sort of gentle, as well as something more natural than most commercially prepared soaps).

Unfortunately, after a bit Kenny decided that he didn't like the smell (seems mild enough to me) or the texture.  Admittedly, they don't quite get as lathery as commercial soaps, but a bit of research seems to indicate that the lather is purely psychological anyway.

So back to laundry for the soap nuts.  I started cooking up a litre of the mixture at a time, using the rice cooker during off-times of appliance use.  Donna noticed occasional black deposits inside the container I was storing it in, and pointed out that she had read that you really shouldn't keep the prepared mixture of soap nuts around for more than two or three weeks, as it had the potential to go off, or grow mold, or explode, or something that I wasn't paying much attention to.

Last week, when I helped her set up to can some ground beef that had been on sale at a decent price, she suggested that she had also heard that you can pressure can the soapnuts (or was it the mixture only?) and then they will keep for much longer (of course!)

When Kenny and I arrived home from our rather extensive back-to-back dental appointments, the sun was shining reasonably well, and we had a couple hours left before sundown, so I thought I would take a crack at it.  Especially since the processing time at pressure was a laughable fifteen minutes.

In the kitchen processing system, soapnuts processing is considered an especially simple operation.  In the Aikihomestead kitchen, a dedicated husband and father is an asset known as "Daddy".  This is one of his stories...



Start out with my head assistant at Burger Barn.

Return home and begin assembling jars and setting up canning station.

Place four or five pieces of soapnut in each jar.

Half fill with room temperature water.

Add a splash of vinegar to the canning vessel to prevent any possible scale buildup.

Top up jars with boiling water to facilitate reaching proper temperature in the canning vessel.

Add Tattler lids, rings, and place in canning vessel, along with another half litre of boiling water.

Note the staggered position of the jars to help ensure more uniform steam exposure.

Crank up to 1000 watts to try to encourage boiling.

Add a jar of crystalized honey to take advantage of the warmth.

Grow impatient as the button doesn't pop up quickly enough.  But still make sure you get 10 minutes of steam escaping.

Crank up to 1800 watts until the button pops up.  Then dial back to 700 watts sheepishly.

Set timer for 15 minutes once steam starts.

Wait for button to drop again after power shuts off.  N.B. liquid honey again!

Enjoy the cans of soap!

Looks good.  I'll have to run it through a sieve before I can use it though.


3 comments:

  1. Soap nuts are a common topic in the cloth diaper realm as a lot of families who cloth diaper also seek less chemical-based washing alternatives. Unfortunately they don't actually do anything to wash your clothes. One of the other cloth nappy companies here is run by a lady with a PhD in biochemistry and she assisted in a peer-reviewed study on soap nuts and a number of other alternative washing materials and came to the conclusion that they do no better than washing with just water in terms of bacteria destruction. Especially if you guys are using a low-power alternative for washing your clothes, you might as well be just washing with water if you're going to use soap nuts.

    I'm sorry to deliver some mildly disappointing news but it's simply the facts on these things.

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  2. Speaking as someone who frequently listens to Freakanomics, at least in this case the soap nuts were a sunk cost. Donna had purchased a large bag quite some time ago, and the canning process allowed me to use up the entire bag. Now you have fostered some conversation as to whether or not we choose to purchase more.
    Do you have any recommendations for other options? Keeping in mind we are on a greywater system, so we are reluctant to use anything more harsh than required. I would be willing to consider just using water.
    We are not using a low-power alternative for washing. We have a nearly normal washing machine now!

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  3. Unfortunately I don't have much advice in the way of alternatives from over here. In the Nordics we have something called Svanemærke which denotes products that meet given standards of ingredient quality and allergy-testing purity. There is even a line of people care products (hand/body/dish/laundry soap, shampoos, conditioners, baby wipes, creams, all washy substances that have to do with humans) called Neutral which has no dyes and smells to it. It works very well and has the consumer confidence of not causing you to itch or flare up if you have sensitive skin.

    Ultimately for any detergent, regardless of its mildness/harshness/biodegradability, to be an effective laundry detergent needs enzymes and a percarbonate. These are needed to effectively kill bacteria that form on our clothes (because let's face it, everyone passes a little gas here and there). In addition you need an adequate amount of water both in your wash and rinses to carry the dead bacteria away so any remaining ones don't have anything to munch on and thrive. Beyond all this, know that wash cycles do not need to be over 60C in general as 60 is sufficient to kill most bacteria that form on our clothes, and anything that is not defeated by a 60C wash will likely survive the 95C wash anyway, especially since even many brand new washers don't necessarily reach these advertised temperatures.

    Sorry about the long winded post, but with running this cloth diaper business I've learned a whole lot about effective washing of specifically very soiled fabrics and how to keep from potentially creating a nest of bacteria that live on Henrik's bum all day.

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