Raw material – Butter tree and shea nuts.
Belonging to the Sapotaceae family (to which ARGAN and SAPOTE belong), with the botanical name of Butyrospermum Parkii, this plant grows spontaneously in the savannah of Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Shea tree is called sacred tree, tree of life, tree of butter, (common names Karitè or Shea are only two among the many different ways this fruit is called) and has a very long life, until 200 years, but a very slow growth: it starts giving fruit at 15 years of age, has its full productivity only at 25 years of age and reaches the maximum production between 50 and 100 years (as human beings). The average production is 18-22 kg of fresh fruit per tree, from which we get 3 to 4 kg of nuts.
Shea tree is the main source of life for African populations. From nuts we can get a precious butter used for food or cosmetics purposes. The berries are similar to those of Argan, green and with a meaty husk. The fruit in a shell is separated from the husk and, once dried, the nut that is inside can be removed.
African women are the guardians of the sacred shea tree, have the power to alleviate the ghosts of the “magic” tree with their dances and songs. For this reason, the tree must never be cut or damaged. Unfortunately, in some African countries, an intensive cultivation of Palm tree has been intensified and many shea trees have been destroyed, damaging either the biodiversity, a GLOBAL public good, or life inside the villages of these populations, based on the growth of this tree.
Women are busy picking and preparing shea from June to December, an activity of great value that contributes to their wellbeing of the whole year, necessary to take care of the family’s needs, also in terms of food fats intake. Women pick up, press, cook, mix and work these shea “ball” in order to sell them on the markets and earn the necessary amount of money to buy food, fabrics, spices.
Shea tree features and the precautions to be used while picking the fruit have discouraged any further idea of plantation, also because the germination capacity of seeds is not good and fruit ripen in five months; also fires and insects attacks, a considerable obstacle, are the reason why it has not been invested in this production. All this makes shea butter even more precious.
Shea Butter – Production
The picking takes place between mid June and mid September, during the rainy season, when fruit is ripe and falls naturally on the ground. It is very important to pick only the fallen fruit and not the fruit still on the tree. Fruit on the tree has not yet reached its full level of ripeness, and therefore contain less oil, from which we can obtain butter. Several precautions must be taken during the picking: fruit stay in good conditions if not left for too long on the ground under the trees otherwise germination will start and this reduces the quantity of oil inside the seeds and increases their acidity. As it happens here in Italy when picking olives, the quality of oil depends on the methods and timing of picking of the raw material.
In addition, we need to handle fruit with care as, if crushed, it easily mildews. When the picking has ended, the preparation must be carried out immediately as the dry period following the picking process would damage the seeds.
Either the fruit in a shell (removed from the husk) or the seed must be dried in the sun to decrease the seeds humidity and from the 40% to the7%. Only with the introduction of new mechanical extraction technologies such as the grinding of dried seeds and the cold pressing we could obtain a purer and less oxidized butter.
The extraction process from the seeds and of the butter production is quite difficult and is carried out only by women, working on their own or in a cooperative. Only recently men started managing small centres where they grind and press seeds, in order to help women in this process.
Sometimes it takes even two weeks to obtain butter. In fact, handcraft production, if not carried out properly, tends to make butter rancid as the nuts and the same butter come often into contact with water and it is frequently exposed to sudden changes in temperature also when boiling at high temperatures. The raw butter obtained was usually filtered through cotton cloths but this did not allow the separation from water in a way that ensures oil stability (melted butter). For this reason a filtration on filter press has become necessary in order to ensure the complete absence of water from butter.
Several experienced women gathering in cooperatives have adopted new systems to improve the quality of butter and, instead of selling it locally, became organized to export it to other countries.
Once prepared, shea butter is imported in Europe in raw state (Ivory White colour for Paradoxa type and Ivory to Yellow colour for Nilotica type, this last is softer as less rich in stearic acid).
As described above, the quality of raw materials determines the quality of the finished product and its price. Therefore, depending on the acidity of raw butter, we can determine the following production steps taken to make the product edible or available for various use, such as high quality cosmetics preparation. The refining step must not be considered at all as a process that destroys or diminishes the quality of butter. On the contrary, thanks to refining, it is possible to recover large quantities of butter that is re-valued and regenerated, obtaining first quality raw material at a lower price, in comparison with handcraft products that are surely more expensive. This is true not only as far as butter is concerned, but also for many other products that may be used again, thanks to their revaluation.
Therefore, raw shea butter is refined through a physical, not chemical, process (in the case of organic butter) to eliminate smell and colour. Physical refining requests that butter is first washed in citric acid to eliminate impurities and, subsequently, requests a distillation of fatty acids in a current of steam and a filtering process on natural earth or filter press with cardboard and natural cotton. These steps eliminate the negative features of raw butter and ensure stability to oxidation in time. As previously said, shea butter used for the refining process, does not have the same qualities of a “virgin” shea butter, it is a raw butter with an acidity higher than the 5%.
Refined shea butter is requested by most of the industrial clients as it is suitable to be used in several cosmetics and food formulations. Many private or final users, bloggers (you tube) or homemade cosmetics formulators prefer having, instead, natural butter non refined, but we need to make sure that a raw butter, containing impurities and water, is not purchased. African women call this tree “tree of youth” as it has exceptional cosmetic virtues.
Shea butter and its features
Shea butter has been distributed and produced for many years by big food companies, in order to use it as a substitute for margarine and for cocoa butter. By fractioning fatty acids we obtain cocoa surrogates. The 95% of production is, in fact, dedicated to the production of chocolate or to the European and Japanese confectionery industry.
As in Africa, shea butter is not only used for food purposes, though.
Thanks to its buttery consistence and to its crystallization, this is a very stable product to oxidation. Natural shea butter is composed by a high percentage of glycerides as oleic, stearic, linoleic and palmitic acid, by A vitamin (the non refined one), B, E F. The unsaponifiable fraction contains high quantities of esters, cinnamic acid, triterpenes and sterols. The most peculiar Triterpenic alcohol of shea butter is BUTYROSPERMOL, but among the other important and popular components we find Beta-Amyrin and Karitene. These active principles, besides the natural tocopherols (E vitamin) that we find in butter, are natural anti-oxidant and have a protective and regenerating action for scalp. In fact, a high concentration of triterpenic alcohols helps increasing local capillary circulation allowing a tissue reoxygenation and facilitating the elimination of metabolic residues. If used regularly it nourishes your skin in depth, preventing hair loss and regenerating the skin.
Its richness in saturated fatty acids together with unsaturated carbides makes it a necessary complement for U.V. screens, where it intensifies the sun block factor.
Due to its wide use in cosmetics, shea butter has been object of several dermatological tests and scientific studies which testify its undisputed cosmetic effectiveness. Here below some of the exceptional results on the advantages of this active ingredient:
- heals scars,
- tones up your skin,
- protects from sun-rashes and treats them,
- it is excellent for dry skin, dermatosis, skin burns, skin roughness, ulcers, irritations and chapped skin.
The first ones who tested the effectiveness of the product have been the native populations of Africa, as the shea tree, called tree of life, was used as a medicinal balm when treating skin, rheumatisms, stiffness, skin burns, ulcers, wounds with excellent results. Women have always given massages to their children with shea butter to protect their delicate skin.
Thanks to the scientific studies applied to the product, pure and not altered by cosmetics formulations, it has been established that the active principles are substantially linked to the unsaponifiable fraction contained there in a high percentage. These active components of butter perform a regeneration of elastic fibres and collagen, helping our organism to produce hyaluronic acid. That’s why they are used as a remedy against stretch marks.
As for shea butter, also for other vegetable oils, the combination of fatty acids, of the unsaponifiable fraction, of the essential oils naturally present (inside non deodorised oils) make these ingredients the best partner for our skin and our organism.
Our organic shea butter
Having listed above all the virtues and features of shea butter we can only add the available qualities produced by us:
– CRUDE Organic Shea Butter non refined
– REFINED Organic Shea Butter
- Palmitic acid 3-8 %
- Stearic acid 35-45 %
- Palmitoleic acid max 0.5
- MONOUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS 40-50 %
- Oleic acid 40-50 %
- POLYUNSATURATED FATTY ACIDS 4-10 %
- Linoleic acid 4-10 %
- Alpha linolenic acid max 0.5 %
- Eicosenoic acid max 1.5
- The percentage of the sterolic fraction varies depending on the type of raw materials and on the origin.