Making shea butter: from tree to cream pot

18/01/24
O'Naturalis : Blog article Making shea butter: from tree to cream pot

Shea butter, world-renowned for its nourishing and moisturizing properties, comes from the majestic shea tree.

Shea: a symbol of life in Africa

Shea tree, known by its scientific name Vitellaria paradoxa, and even better by its former name Butyrospermum Parkii. ,butyrospermum meaning “butter seeds” and the word parkii honoring the Scottish physician Mungo Park who is credited with the “discovery” of this tree, is indigenous to the African savannah regions located in a band stretching from West to East Africa, from Côte d’Ivoire to Sudan and from Uganda to Senegal.

This robust tree can live for up to two centuries, but only starts to produce fruit after around 15 to 20 years, reaching full production at around 30 to 50 years.

The value of shea goes far beyond its economic usefulness. It is often considered a sacred tree in many African cultures, due to its many benefits and its central role in community life. Trees are frequently found near homes and gathering places, symbolizing the protection and sustenance they provide to local communities.

Cultivation and harvesting: a natural, traditional process

Shea is not cultivated on a large scale, but grows wild and is an integral part of local ecosystems. The fruit, resembling small green nuts, is traditionally harvested by women from local communities.

Harvesting generally takes place between June and August, when the ripe fruit naturally falls from the tree and is then picked by hand.

From nuts to butter: ancestral know-how

Making shea butter is a process handed down from generation to generation, mainly among African women.

Once harvested, the fruit is pulped to extract the nuts, which are then washed and dried in the sun.

The dry nuts are crushed, roasted and ground into a thick paste. This paste is kneaded by hand or mechanically to extract the fatty oil, which is then boiled and purified to separate it from water and impurities.

Shea butter, a natural product with a crucial economic role

The end result is a rich, creamy, pale yellow butter, ready to be used in a multitude of beauty products (read our article “ The virtues of shea butter for healthy, natural beauty “). This artisanal process preserves the natural properties of shea butter, ensuring the superior quality of the final product.

The importance of shea goes beyond the simple production of butter. It plays a crucial role in the local economy, providing an essential source of income, particularly for African women. While respecting the environment, this activity also contributes to the economic emancipation of women and the sustainable development of rural communities.

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