Taitung to tout soapberry as natural cleaning agent


TAITUNG, Taiwan — A government-run agricultural research center in the eastern county of Taitung has decided to promote the planting and use of Chinese soapberries, a common cleaning agent in pre-industrial times, researchers said yesterday.

Officials at the Taitung District Agricultural Research and Extension Station, an affiliate of the Council of Agriculture (COA), explained that before soaps and other artificial cleaning agents were mass-produced, people in rural areas in Taiwan tended to make soap themselves from the fruit of the Chinese soapberry tree, or sapindus mukorossii gaerm.

Recent research indicates, however, that the fruit’s shell, which contains the natural cleaning agent saponin, also has anti-viral and antibiotic properties, leading the station to encourage the wider planting of species as a new cash crop and promote its use as an ingredient in lotions, soaps, cosmetics, and biomedical products.

Staffers said the station will hold a public presentation on Oct. 25 to further explain the use of Chinese soapberry and present the applications developed at the station.

Many advocates of natural living in the West are already touting the soapberry as a natural replacement for chemical detergents, especially since it can be grown in sufficient quantities to satisfy strong demand.