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Shea Butter: History, Culture, and Use. History and Legend. “ From the Meroe Kingdom and Ibn Batouta to Mungo Park, it seems that all of western Africa stood in the shade of the karité, or shea butter tree, for many centuries. ”. History and Legend.

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Shea Butter: History, Culture, and Use

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history and legend
History and Legend

“From the Meroe Kingdom and Ibn Batouta to Mungo Park, it seems that all of western Africa stood in the shade of the karité, or shea butter tree, for many centuries.”

history and legend3
History and Legend

From the time the baby is welcomed to the world with a vigorous rub-down with shea butter to the dead king’s bed which is specially made from the noble trunk of the shea tree, village life moves to the rhythm of this sacred tree, as do the lives of its women.

history and legend4
History and Legend

Indeed, from July to December, all of women’s activity revolves around collecting the nuts in the bush, selling them in the market and preparing the fruit from the tree to meet the family’s household and culinary needs throughout the year.

history and legend5
History and Legend

The natural antioxidant qualities of the shea nut allow this wild product to be stored.

the discovery of shea butter by mungo park
The Discovery of Shea Butter by Mungo Park

The scientific name Butyrospermum parkii was given to the shea tree in honour of the great Scottish explorer Mungo Park, who was the first European to travel up the Gambia River in the late 18th century.

the discovery of shea butter by mungo park7
The Discovery of Shea Butter by Mungo Park

The Negro slave-merchants, who besides slaves, bring to sell to the whites, and supply the inhabitants of the maritime districts with native iron, sweet-smelling gums and frankincense, and a commodity called shea-toulou which, literally translates to shea butter.

the discovery of shea butter by mungo park8
The Discovery of Shea Butter by Mungo Park

“The people were everywhere employed in collecting the fruit of shea trees, from which they prepare the vegetable butter.

These trees grow in great abundance all over this part of Bambara.

the discovery of shea butter by mungo park9
The Discovery of Shea Butter by Mungo Park

They are not planted by the natives, but are found growing naturally in the woods; and in clearing woodland for cultivation every tree is cut down but the shea.

shea tree11
Shea Tree
  • Family: Sapotaceae
  • Height: The tree can reach a height of 10 to 15 m.
shea tree12
Shea Tree
  • The shea tree has a very long lifespan, up to 200 years. It produces fruit after its fifteenth year, but doesn’t reach full production until it is 25 years old.
shea tree13
Shea Tree
  • The shea tree loses its leaves during the dry season and regains them during the rainy season.
  • Five months after flowering (June to July), the ripe fruit falls to the ground.
the shea fruit
The Shea Fruit
  • The fleshy fruits grow in bunches and are ovoid berries of a deep green or brown colour, shaped like avocado.
  • The sweet pulp is edible.
  • Inside the fruit is a nut surrounded by a thin shell containing a hard kernel and a whitish almond-like nut that contains fat equal to about 50% of its weight, called shea butter.
transformation of the nut into shea butter
Transformation of the Nut into Shea Butter

16 steps of hard work processing

step 1 collection of the fruit
Step 1Collection of the fruit
  • Shea fruits should becollected between May and September, according to agro-ecological areas.

2. Start collectionbefore the fruits begin to germinate.

3. Collect only fruits that have fallen down, because they are mature.

Handle the fruits carefully

step 2 removal of the pulp
Step 2: Removal of the pulp:

1. After collection, remove the pulp manually (maximum delay is 3 days after collection).

2. Washthe nuts.

step 3 cooking
Step 3: Cooking
  • Cookimmediately after washing in order to inactivate the lipases and micro-organisms.
  • The cooking time is two hours after water has reached boiling.
step 4 drying
Step 4: Drying
  • The boiled nuts quickly are spread to dry in the sunfor two to three days.
  • The moisture content of the dried nuts should not be over 7%.
step 5 packaging
Step 5: Packaging

The thoroughly dried nuts should be packaged in jute bags. The jute bags are porous, allowing air flow to reduce moisture / condensation and heat build-up.

step 6 storage
Step 6: Storage
  • Baskets are an alternative to jute bags.
  • If stored in bags or baskets, the product can keep its shelf-life for a year.
  • Storage should be done in dry, aerated rooms at ambient temperature.
  • Avoid putting the bags directly on the ground, use palettes or flat big stones.
step 7 dehulling removal of shell
Step 7:Dehulling (removal of shell)
  • Dehulling of the dried nuts to extract the kernels should be done just before processing.
  • Each nut is cracked by hand using a mortar and pestle. A dehuller machine can also be used.
  • Separate the pericarp and the endosperm of the kernels (by winnowing).
  • Sort out to remove the immature, germinated and spoiled kernels.
  • After this, spread to sun-dry kernels once more.
step 8 coarse grinding
1. The traditional method of crushing the shea nuts is with a mortar and pestle.

2. Course ground powder (ready for toasting) can be obtained this way with no problems

Step 8:Coarse Grinding
step 9 grilling of coarse powder
The coarsely crushed shea powder is grilled slightly to decrease their moisture content.

The length of toasting/grilling depends on the existing moisture content of the powder.

The existing moisture content of the powder is judged by the texture –if granules easily separate or not.

Step 9:Grilling of coarse powder
step 10 fine grinding
Use a mechanical grinder to obtain a fine, thick nut paste.

Generally, the finer the particles, the higher the extraction yield.

Step 10:Fine Grinding
step 11 kneading
Step 11:Kneading
  • The shea paste is mixed with portions of clean, potable water. This thick mixture is kneaded and then more water is added. Kneading initiates the separation of oil from the other components.
  • As more water is added, the mixture is churned (French ‘barratage’).
step 12 churning
Step 12:Churning
  • Portions of hot and cold water are alternatively added to the churned mixture. It is beaten vigorously until a white emulsion forms.
  • This emulsion is washed 7 times to remove the pieces of endosperm.
step 13 heating of oil and crystallization
Put a small quantity of water in cooking pan and then heat the emulsion. The end of the heating is determined when white foam forms on the surface of the liquid oil.

After cooling, the oil is filtered several times.

Step 13Heating of Oil and Crystallization
final product
Final Product
  • After heating and crystallization, the final product is a creamy ivory-colored butter.
step 14 conditioning and packaging
Step 14:Conditioning and packaging
  • To maintain physo-chemical qualities, shea butter should be stored and packaged in plastic or aluminum containers previously washed and dried.
  • The packaging should be a dark color and opaque.
step 15 labeling
Step 15:Labeling

Labeling and packaging should be attractive to consumers and should indicate:

  • composition/ingredients
  • production date
  • shelf-life
step 16 preservation
Step 16:Preservation
  • Shea butter perfectly conditioned and packaged has a self-life of at least one year. The storage conditions are:
  • Avoid exposure to air and moisture(moisture content of product should be < 1%).
  • Condition in an opaque plastic package to avoid exposure to light and oxidation.
  • Avoid packaging components containing iron.


  • One-half of the delicious and nutritious butter is eaten at home.
  • It is an important cooking fat and keeps well for months.

The butter or oil is used to treat:

  • skin and scalp problems;
  • stiff muscles and wounds and many, many other ailments;
  • It is also used to treat the sores and injuries of animals.

The nut meal is used to:

  • Waterproof buildings, mend cracks
  • Feed animals

The remaining black residue is used to:

  • Fill more cracks
  • As a fire starter
  • Shea Tree leaves are put in the doorway of a house where a baby is being born to protect the newborn child.
  • Shea Tree leaves are placed over the body of a dead person.
  • Shea Tree leaves contain foaming substance and are used for washing soap.
  • They are made into a tea for stomach aches, a vapour bath for headaches, and an eye bath.
  • Shea Tree roots are used as teeth-cleaning chewing sticks.
  • The roots are ground and used in a preparation to treat jaundice, diarrhea and stomach ache.
  • A liquid made by soaking Shea Tree bark in water is used as a cattle wormer and to treat leprosy, stomach upset, diarrhea and dysentery in humans.
  • Bark liquid can counteract the effects of eye damage caused by the spitting cobra.
  • Shea Tree nut husks are used for garden mulch, fertilizer, and fuel.
  • Shea Tree wood is heavy, strong and resistant to termites.

The inferior Shea Butter is used to:

  • Grease donkey carts
  • Waterproof doors and windows
  • Waterproof beehives
  • As fuel for lamps


(in addition)

Shea Nuts and Butter are used :

  • Chocolate Industry
  • Pharmacy
  • Cosmetics
properties of shea butter
Properties of Shea Butter
  • Healing
  • Body Ache
  • Massage
  • Moisturizer
  • Anti-aging
  • Protect against sun damage
  • Stretch-marks
  • Hair dryness and damage
african extracted shea butter
African ExtractedShea Butter


Pure, Natural, Organic

Let your skin drink in the benefit of this unscented pure moisturizer

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African ExtractedShea Butter

Use and Contribute to:

  • Feed some people
  • Educate children
  • Better the life of rural women in this part of the world
  • Protect the environment

Please visit my booth in the back of the room to sample or buy some african shea butter