Four Types of African Shea Butter
There are four types of shea butter and unlimited shea butter uses.
|Women processing Shea nuts using traditional methods|
Of the estimated 600,000 tons of Shea nuts harvested in West Africa, about 350,000 tons are exported, mostly as raw nuts. Currently, 90% of Shea demand comes from the confectionery industry affording chocolate manufacturers an alternative to cocoa butter. Only 10% of Shea is currently used for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Shea butter is cream colored oil extracted from the nut of the African shea tree. Shea trees grow from Senegal to Uganda and have probably been used for thousands of years in food, skin balms, soaps and shampoos, traditional medicines and cooking and lamp oils. The use of Shea butter has been increasing steadily in recent years as consumers are demanding better quality natural, minimally processed ingredients in personal care items and food.
It takes approximately 20 years for a tree to bear fruit and produce nuts, maturing on average at 45 years. Most trees will continue to produce nuts for up to 200 years after reaching maturity. Eight African countries produce high quantities of Shea nuts; they are in order Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin, Togo and Guinea.
Until recently, as much as 90% of exported Shea product was raw nuts that were processed abroad. In 2010 that figure was 65% as processing operations in West Africa have increased in the last five years.
Most raw and unrefined Shea butter comes from producers in Africa who export the product for further refining.
Raw shea butter is shea butter which has not been filtered or molded into shapes and unrefined shea butter is filtered and sometimes molded. Both raw and unrefined shea butter has a distinctive odor, if you add a few drops of high-grade essential oil this will improve the scent.
Refined shea butter has undergone processing to remove its odor. Ultra-Refined Shea Butter has been significantly filtered and processed, which almost always loses the natural goodness of the shea nut.
The nuts of the shea tree can be collected and processed by crushing and grinding by hand or a machine to yield shea butter. Shea has long been recognized for its emollient and healing properties, ideal for soothing skin in the dry climate of the region. Reports of its use go back as far as the 14th century.