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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Soap Nuts

During my trip to India, I was able to go to the market a few times, always accompanied by at least 3 to 5 men.  I'm not sure I would have gone alone.  Maybe more because of what I hear than how it felt.  Anyway, going to the market with men who are not really into market things made me feel like I needed to hurry because I was wasting their time.  I did get time with my uncle to do typical Indian garment shopping, but the spices and food were a little complicated, mainly because our local friend kept insisting we'd find it later, or get a better deal further down.  As it was, "later" we had moved on to a different activity and "further down" nobody could stand the noise or the crowd or the stomach pains from the previous day's beverage.
With that said, I was still able to get most of the spices and snacks on my list and also stop and chat with a very long haired lady in a sari selling some dried berries while sitting cross legged on the floor.
STOP! I yelled to the 4 men entourage quickly scurrying down the way.
What is this?  How do you cook it?
Our local friend giggled and grabbed a handful of the berries, placing them in my hands so I could feel and smell them.  I imagined they were similar to the sourness of tamarind by the way they smelled, but they were extremely hard.  You don't eat them, he said.  The lady in the sari had let down her hair and was explaining how to use them in gujarati.  You make shampoo out of them!
Intrigued, I tested the shampoo method when I got home.  You just boil a handful of them for 10 minutes and then use the water to wash your hair.  It works quite well, though it doesn't foam.  It's psychological, to think the foamier, the cleaner.  My hair was perfectly clean, but I think it would take a lot of getting used to.  I love lathering foamy shampoo into my scalp.
Anyway, after doing a bit of research, I found that these little berries are called soap nuts, and they are not only used for hair and body.  They can be used for dishes and laundry too.
Laundry?  Ah interesting!  I make my own laundry detergent already, but why not try the soap nuts method and compare?
I put a handful of soap nuts directly into the washer (sheets and towels at high temp).
Ta da! Completely neutralized odor!  The towels I washed were the ones I had used to dry off that lovely dog you see in the background of the picture, so they definately smelled of wet dog going in.  A smell I find particularly hard to get rid of, even after a wash.
I may have completely converted to soap nuts!
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