Shea Butter

I thought I would change the pace a little bit. We received photos on how shea butter is made and found it very interesting that I decided to add it to the newsletter this month. I am a firm believer that it is not only important to know what you put into and on your body, but also the production of the products. We use shea butter in some of our products. I hope you enjoy the photos.

Warning: This Newsletter contains graphic photographs of actual

shea nuts being transformed…..

Shea Butter has become a hot ingredient in cosmetic formulations.

There are many ways to process oil seed products, and many variations on the handmade process shown below.

However, here is the basic method.

In Ghana the kernels were dried and baked, which improved yield and shelf life.

This was less common in Guinea.

We are working right now for the Organic Certification of the shea crop in several villages in Northern Ghana.

This is wildcrafted shea butter made by expert craftswomen from the village of Nasia, Ghana.

Water, women and shea nuts are the only ingredients.

This is how they make artisanal, handmade shea butter:

Raw shea nuts (kind of like mini avocados) are harvested off the ground, put into water and de-husked. The fleshy pulp is eaten, and the nuts are boiled for 30 minutes, then sun dried 4-5 days. This is what they look like at this point:

raw shea nuts

The shells are cracked….

cracking shea nuts

and winnowed….in Ghana a cloth was often used, in Guinea, a basket tray

 basket of shea nuts

Here are the dried kernels or almonds. Ghana has a tradition of baking the dried almonds. We saw less knowledge of baking the almonds in Guinea.

This extra step kills the natural enzymes in the nut which break down the oils and shorten shelf life. The baked nuts will have a higher oil yield as well.

baked shea nuts Here the almonds are being cracked with a little water and further dried on a piece of plastic.

We would like to see this step done more efficiently using raised drying racks and then baking. In this demonstration, 1/3 of the nuts remained uncracked.

cracking shea nuts after baking

Three stages of shea production: Almonds waiting to be cracked (note the grass mixed in), the “coffee” or ground, dried almonds, and the finished product cooling solid.

 three stages of shea nut production

 After cracking and drying, the “coffee”, as we called the twice ground kernels are then pounded to release the oil.

 relasing shea oil after grounding

 Water is added and the product is kneaded to the “chocolate” stage

 chocolate stage shea butter

 More kneading……

 more kneading shea butter

and more kneading….small amounts of water are added along the way. The quality of hand kneaded shea butter cannot be matched by mechanical means.

  hand kneading shea butter

When ready (30 to 90 minutes of kneading later), water is added and a vigorous back and forth hand motion releases the grey oil to the surface.

 30 minutes later of shea butter

The oil is carefully scooped off….

 oil is scooped of shea butter

and washed several times.

 washing shea butter

It now looks like clay, and is drained and put into a pot.

 drained shea butter

 There it is cooked for about 15 minutes.

 cooking shea butter The impurities are scorched off (see edges of the pot), and the warm oil is decanted to a clean bowl and cooled. We would like to see the oil filtered through a clean cloth at this stage.

 impurities removed from shea butter

Cooling shea butter….

 cooling shea butter

And some finished product!

finished product of shea butter

In Northern Ghana this is how shea is sold:

 how shea butter sold in Africa

 In Upper Guinea large balls of shea are wrapped in Kapok leaves and tied.

shea butter wrapped in Kapok leaves

Here is a well made drying rack from the Western Region of Ghana

drying rack for shea butter

And an excellent example of a multi use earth oven….

earth oven used for shea butter

I would personally like to thank Larry Pleasant with Vermont Soapworks for allowing us to show you how Shea Butter is made. Please visit his website at

2 thoughts on “Shea Butter”

  1. The healing qualities of Shea butter are due to the presence of several fatty acids and plant sterols, namely oleic, stearic, palmitic and linolenic acids. These oil-soluble components are nonsaponifiable, meaning they do not undergo saponification, or convert to soap, when introduced to an alkali. Shea butter possesses a significantly greater nonsaponifiable fraction than most other nut oils and fats, which lends the substance greater healing potential for the skin.'”.^

    Take care

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