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Why Does This Vitamin Taste & Smell Like Detergent?

by Mark Cammack    December 7, 2019

Two bottles of Niacinamide. On the left is the Nature's Way product, and to the right is Jarrow's.

Two bottles of the B Vitamin Niacinamide: Left: An odd smelling and tasting bottle of vitamins from Nature's Way. Right: A comparable product from Jarrow that is fine.

Normally vitamins taste like vitamins. I have been using nutritional supplements ever since youthhood. The good, bad, effective, and useless become apparent with experience. Never before have I had a supplement that reeked of scented detergent.

The item came from the Nature's Way line of products. It was sealed and intact. Upon opening the bottle of Niacinamide, a form of the B vitamin niacin, a smell similar to a stinky chemical cleaner wafted out. A capsule was opened and a bit of the powder sampled. It had an odd detergent-like flavor. Something unsuitable seemed to be mixed with the vitamin. I contacted the company.

Nature's Way stated that the plastic bottle was made with an odor producing Post-Consumer Recycled Resin or PCR Resin. They claimed the chemical smell was harmless, the vitamins had been tested for purity, and the supplement is completely safe. The strange chemical taste was not addressed. It is not possible to have both an adulterated and pure product. If other chemicals are present the product is contaminated. They did close with "due to all the feedback and consumer concerns our Packaging Department is currently working on a solution to alleviate these issues." Why did they not do adequate testing to prevent this before it reached the consumer? Are you skeptical too?

The symbol for HDPE number two plastic

The bottom of the bottle has a triangular stamp revealing HDPE #2 or High Density Polyethylene. This plastic polymer is commonly used for milk jugs, food product containers, as well as chemical cleaners, shampoos, and laundry detergent bottles. None of my HDPE milk jugs or other vitamin containers from various companies have a noticeable odor. There is only the normal scent and taste of the product. HDPE #2 plastic can be newly made from fresh materials with low risk of contamination, or made from waste materials.

PCR Resin HDPE comes from consumer waste materials. That plastic vitamin bottle of today may have been a heavily scented chemical cleaner or laundry bottle yesterday. Used plastic waste can be collected, sorted, and remade into pellets that are turned into our vitamin and food containers. Keeping the plastic pure is unlikely as impurities creep in. If mistakes are made while sorting used waste materials and some of the wrong type gets in the mix, this only adds to the dilemma. There are chemical and physical changes to the plastic as well. With oxidation, heat, and processing, we do not have a used product that is the same as a new one.

I compared Nature's Way and Jarrow's Niacinamide. Both are in HDPE #2 plastic bottles and contain capsules with vitamin powder. The Jarrow offering is perfectly normal without any unusual taste or smell. It does not have a PCR notice.

There are a few questions that come to mind when such an oddity occurs:

A photo of two notices. On the left it says Bottles Made From 97% Post Consumer Recycled Plastic. To the right is Quality Global Sourcing - Bottled & Tested in the USA

The Nature's Way bottle has two notices on the back label. One says "Bottles Made From 97% Post Consumer Recycled Plastic." The container was made from waste plastic. The other states "Quality Global Sourcing - Bottled & Tested in the USA." We must read carefully as it does not state the vitamins and bottle are USA made. The niacin and perhaps container was from a foreign source but was assembled in the United States. We are also not told what type of tests were done in the USA, by whom, or under what conditions. We do not know to what degree they are relying on initial tests or reports performed by someone in another country. This is why transparency and a public release of all tests are important. Some companies already do this.

It is easy to have a supplement or its container pass testing. Suppose we take a dozen samples. Some fail the tests. Only the ones that passed are recorded. This is a false quality report. We may also have quality fade, where a product is gradually made with cheaper materials or methods. These questionable tactics have been reported to occur with products manufactured in China, where a large number of supplements are sourced or made. Distributors in the USA and other countries that do not make or source their own supplements rely on others. Any product is only as good as the ethics and competency of all persons involved.

To avoid supplement bottles coming from waste products, either find glass containers or stay away from labels that reveal Post-Consumer Recycled Plastic. Hopefully the container is properly marked. If you see flecks of different colors in the plastic, it is probably recycled. If it is one color, the bottle could still have been bleached or colored to make it look new. The recycled bottles are often slightly softer than new ones as they have been weakened with heat during processing. If it or what is inside has an odd stench, watch out.

The more complex the system, the more likely something will break. Each time additional companies, hands, and locations become involved, the harder it is to maintain quality control. What added chemicals would you like with your vitamins today?

Works Consulted

Gabriel, Lester H. Chapter 1: History & Physical Chemistry of HDPE. Irving, Texas: Plastics Pipe Institute.

Gerthsen, Tarsilla. Chemie für den Maschinenbau 2: Organische Chemie für Kraft und Schmierstoffe Polymerchemie für Polymerwerkstoffe. Karlsruhe, Deutschland: Universitätsverlag Karlsruhe. 2008.

INSEAD. Poorly Made In China: a reality check. Fontainebleau, Paris, France: Institut Européen d'Administration des Affaires. 2019.

Lardinois, Inge, & van der Klundert, Arnold. Plastic Waste: Options for small-scale resource recovery. Amsterdam: TOOL Publications: 1995.

McNally, Tom, editor. Polymer modified bitumen: Properties and characterisation. Cambridge, UK: Woodhead Publishing. 2011.

Wakeman, Reginal L. The Chemistry of Commercial Plastics. New York: Reinhold Publishing Corporation. 1947.


Photos are © Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.


© Copyright 2019 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.