Shea Butter

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Shea butter is a slightly yellowish or ivory-colored fat extracted from the nut of the African shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa). Shea butter is a triglyceride (fat) derived mainly from stearic acid and oleic acid. It is widely used in cosmetics as a moisturizer, salve or lotion. Shea butter is edible and is used in food preparation in Africa and also as a prophylactic. Occasionally the chocolate industry uses shea butter mixed with other oils, as a substitute for cocoa butter, although the taste is different.

The English word "shea" comes from s'í, the tree's name in the Bamana language of Mali. The French name karité comes from ghariti, its equivalent in the Wolof language of Senegal.

The traditional method of preparing unrefined shea butter consists of the following steps:

1) Separating/cracking: The outer pulp of the fruit is removed. When dry, the nut, which is the source of shea butter, must be separated from the outer shell. This is a social activity, traditionally done by Women Elders and young girls who sit on the ground and break the shells with small rocks.

2)Crushing: To make the shea nuts into butter, they must be crushed. Traditionally, this is done with mortars and pestles. It requires lifting the pestles and grinding the nuts into the mortars to crush the nuts so they can be roasted.

3) Roasting: The crushed nuts are then roasted in huge pots over open, wood fires. The pots must be stirred constantly with wooden paddles so the butter does not burn. The butter is heavy and stirring it is hot, smoky work, done under the sun. This is where the slight, smoky smell of 4)

4) Grinding: The roasted shea nuts are ground into a smoother paste, water is gradually added and the paste is mixed well by hand.

5) Separating the oils: The paste is kneaded by hand in large basins and water is gradually added to help separate out the butter oils. As they float to the top, the butter oils, which are in a curd state, are removed and excess water squeezed out. The butter oil curds are then melted in large open pots over slow fires. A period of slow boiling will remove any remaining water, by evaporation.

6) Collecting and shaping: The shea butter, which is creamy or golden yellow at this point, is ladled from the top of the pots and put in cool places to harden. Then it is formed into balls.

Industrially, a mechanical sheller such as the Universal Nut Sheller may be used, although controversy over its usability with shea nuts is reported in that article. The refined butter is extracted by clay filtering.

Shea Butter is not yet an ingredient in any DermOrganic product. But several DermOrganic products using Shea Butter are planned for future launch. Like Argan Oil, we are extremely concerned with fair trade and the environmental impact on the local producers. We source our Shea Butter and our Argan Oil from environmentally conscious companies, through local co-operatives, that returns a portion of their profits to the local communities. Our Shea Butter supplier has built scores of water wells and a primary education school in central Africa, with more good works planned for the future.