Many societies have discovered and embraced the value of shea nut butter, and its many beauty and health benefits. Although mainly used as a cooking oil in Africa, demand for shea nut butter in the domestic cosmetic industry has exploded. Jedwards carries a variety of Shea products, including Organic and Fair Trade Certified options.
Traditional harvesting practices:
- Collection: Harvesting and production of this amazing resource is no easy task. Through intensive labor, the shea fruit is collected from the tree and the outer fruit pulp is separated from the nut in preparation for processing.
- Processing: The shea nuts are crushed. The crushed nuts are then boiled or “roasted” in water, over an open fire, where it typically can gain its characteristic “smoky” odor. After roasting, the nuts are ground further into a paste and are kneaded by hand.
- Separation: After much kneading in large pots of water, oil is released and floats at the top of the pot. The oil is skimmed and left to cool resulting in two products; shea butter and shea oil. The whole process produces a much higher percentage of butter in comparison to oil.
The Finished Product
Shea butter, in its many finished forms, can range in color. The color spectrum usually ranges from yellow to white. It can have either a characteristic earthy aroma in its raw unrefined form or be virtually odorless after refining.
Chemical & Physical Traits:
Shea butter is a triglyceride fat composed primarily of stearic and oleic acid. The high stearic acid content gives the shea butter its solid consistency, while the percentage of oleic acid affects how soft or hard the butter is. The olein content (also known as oleic acid) within the native fruit can vary widely between growing ranges, as well as locally between regions. The olein content affects the melting point of the shea butter: the higher the olein content, the lower the melting point. “Soft” shea which is often referred to as “Shea Oil” is a liquid at approximately 77 degrees and “hard” or high temperature shea has a melting point between 98.6 degrees and 113 degrees. Both these products are in high demand in the cosmetics industry.
Jedwards also offers Shea Olein which has all the same properties as shea butter, but has a lower melting point and is used in formulations where a liquid is required such as in liquid soaps, lotions, bath oil rubs, gels, and creams. This is also known as fractionated shea butter.
Refined vs. Unrefined (Virgin) Shea Butter:
From an extraction and processing standpoint, there is a great difference between refined and unrefined (virgin) shea butter. Refined shea butter goes through an “RBD” process where the raw butter is refined, bleached (using bleaching earth), and deodorized. This process creates a more neutral product with reduced natural odor and color, making it easier for formulators to add additional colors and fragrances.
Unrefined (Virgin) Shea Butter is minimally treated and not exposed to high heat. An additional filtration step creates a butter with a smoother and more consistent texture. The final product maintains a characteristic nutty aroma and non-white color.