What is natural, raw, hand-made shea butter? How is it Made?
Shea Butter has recently been ‘discovered’ by the West but it has been a staple of traditional life in West African for millennia.
For millennia, hand-made, traditional, raw shea butter has been used to keep skin healthy and happy, protecting it against the ravages of life on the edge of the Sahara. Traditional knowledge on how to use shea butter for cooking, for lanterns, for babies and in so many other ways has been passed down through many generations.
Now Shea Butter is being used regularly by industry, home-crafters and the DIY community in the West to make all sorts of natural and organic skin-care and cosmetics products. Here are some recipes and kits you can use to make your own products if you want to try it.
While many in the West are becoming familiar with the benefits of Shea Butter, few know the steps in the process that take it from fruits hanging from the tree in the shea forest through to the amazing shea butter we all know and love.
How to make Shea Butter
Step 1 : Shea Trees
Shea trees grow wild, sparsely spaced in the Savanna parklands of the sub-Saharan region.
Step 2: Shea Fruit
By late January the blossoms start and if the season is good by mid-May the Shea Forest is full of ripe fruits and the delicious smell of sun-warmed shea fruit.
While everyone loves shea fruit, and children everywhere are picking and selling the fruits to earn a bit of money, over 90% of the fruits simply ripen and fall to the forest floor, a feast for animals and insects and food for the soil.
Inside every fruit is a husk and inside the husk the seed (commonly called Shea Nut) that contains the oils that transform into shea butter.
Step 3: Picking & Preparing
As the fruits begin to fall women and families in remote villages start to collect it so they can get at the amazing seeds (Shea Nuts) inside. Check out these videos to see more.
They are gathered in basins and brought back to the village to be made ready to make shea butter. Husks that still have fruit on them are left for the chickens to pick the fruit off before being processed (just another step in the circular economy of the hand-crafted shea butter sector)
The women have been trained traditionally to ensure that lots of seeds are left behind for natural regeneration and the sustainability of the shea forest.
The husks are then boiled for about 30 minutes to sterilize them and remove any remaining fruit flesh. The nutrient rich water from the boiling is used in farming and gardening
The husks are then dried in the hot sun so they can be cracked and the shea nut inside removed.
Once removed from the husks the shea nuts are dried until they are dry enough that they will keep and not spoil.
Then they are either carried to the market to sell to traders or, for those fortunate enough to have buyers coming to their villages, bagged and stored waiting for buyers to arrive.
Few make shea butter from the nuts they gather simply because there isn’t a market to sell it in their remote villages.
Step 4: First Grind
The first step in transforming the shea nuts into shea butter is known as first-grind.
For high-quality, hand-made shea butter it starts by thoroughly washing the shea nuts to ensure that only clean nuts are used.
The freshly washed nuts are set to dry in the sun and then carefully inspected and any that are not AAA quality are rejected.
The selected nuts are taken to Baraka’s organic grinding mill where the first grind crushes them into small chunks suitable for roasting.
Step 5: Roasting
The crushed nuts are carefully roasted to just the right temperature so the oils are ready to be released, but not overheated to damage the amazing healing and restorative properties of traditional, hand-made shea butter.
After roasting they are left to cool and then taken for the second grind.
Step 6: Second Grind
The Second Grind is an amazing process. The dry, mealy chunks of roasted shea nut are ground and come out as a viscous paste, with the oils ready to be released.
Step 7: Whipping & Churning
The viscous paste that comes out of the second grind is turned back to the magic of the women and the traditional methods that have been passed down through countless generations.
They start by slowly kneading water into the mixture to enable the magic of whipping to release and coagulate the oils.
After kneading in the water the entire mixture is vigorously whipped by hand so the oils coagulate and separate out from the nut solids and water.
Step 8: Final Touches
The coagulated oils are scooped from the basins and into a pot where they will be vigorously boiled to fully separate the oils, release the final nut solids and eliminate any impurities.
The water that remains in the basin is full of nut solids. Baraka’s circular economy approach captures this waste, turning it into fuel used in the processing itself.
The oils are heated over a fire (fueled by the ‘waste’ from the shea nut). As the oils are being prepared they will occasionally add more water which immediately serves to bring impurities to the surface where they are skimmed off.
While all steps in the process from the shea forest to shea butter are critical, the one that is the main cause of ‘stinky shea’ is that the women are rushed and do not get the water fully removed before allowing the shea to cool.
When the shea oils are ready they are scooped from the pot and put into basins where they are covered and allowed to cool and solidify.
The residue that remains in the pot is rich in shea oils but full of shea nut solids as well. This is not wasted but used to make a form of traditional local black soap used for washing and bathing.Step 9: Packing for Shipping
The cooled and solidified shea butter is carefully inspected and hand-packed into cartons and bags, ready to be sent to Baraka’s customers worldwide.
Every carton is sealed with a final handprint as it makes it’s way on the next step of the journey from our hands to yours.
From here Baraka’s customers, whether businesses who make products from shea butter for resale, of home-crafters and DIY’ers turn this traditional, hand-crafted shea butter into amazing products used by millions to keep their skin and hair healthy, happy and nourished.
If you want to see more about the impact your purchases of Baraka Shea Butter and the products our customers make from it have on the women, children and families involved check out the Your Impact YouTube Channeland read our latest YourImpact Report.