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hOW sHEA bUTTER iS mADE

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hOW sHEA bUTTER iS mADE

Shea butter, often hailed as 'women's gold' in West Africa due to its economic importance for women and girls, is a natural treasure with a fascinating production process. It is derived from the nuts of the shea tree, a species that starts bearing fruit around 20 years of age and can continue for up to 200 years.

Here's a glimpse into the traditional method of making shea butter, a process steeped in heritage and skill:

  1. Collection and Steaming: The process begins with collecting shea fruits. Once the sweet-tasting fruits are eaten, the shea nuts inside are revealed. These nuts are then steamed to shrink the kernel without damaging it, making it easier to remove the shell.

  2. Drying and Crushing: After the shells are cracked open by hand, the kernels are washed and sun-dried to reduce moisture. These dried kernels are then crushed using a wooden mortar, a process that is as labor-intensive as it is traditional.

  3. Roasting and Kneading: The crushed kernels are roasted, turning into a dark chocolate-colored paste. This paste is then whipped and kneaded, which can take up to three hours. The kneading changes the color of the paste, a key step in the transformation.

  4. Purification: The shea paste is purified by repeated washing with distilled water. This step is crucial in ensuring the purity and quality of the shea butter.

  5. Separation and Heating: The purified paste is then heated, allowing the fats to rise to the top while the oil settles at the bottom. These shea fats are collected and further heated to evaporate any remaining moisture.

  6. Cooling and Crystallization: The clear oil is filtered and left to cool in basins. During the cooling process, the oil is carefully stirred to initiate crystallization, forming the shea butter. This step is critical and requires considerable expertise.

  7. Final Crystallization and Packaging: The partially crystallized butter is poured into containers, where it continues to crystallize fully. From nut selection to this final step, the process takes about 10 to 14 hours.

The production of shea butter is not just a process but an art, deeply rooted in the culture and practices of West Africa. This nutrient-rich butter is a testament to the skill and dedication of the women who produce it, providing them with economic opportunities while preserving their environment.

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  • Danielle Lasit