Shea Butter - Facts


Shea Butter is obtained from the seed of the Karite Tree (Butyrospermum Parkii) common to West Africa. From these seeds a soft, pliant "butter" is expeller pressed without the use of solvents, making it suitable for use in soaps, cosmetics, toiletries and OTC Pharmaceuticals. The Natural (Unrefined) grade of Shea Butter is filtered to remove only particulate matter. Shea Butter is well known to assist cutaneous dryness (i.e. dermatitis and dermatoses, eczema, solar erythema and burns). Shea Butter melts at skin temperatures, making it ideal for lip and body balms as well as bar soaps, lotions and skin creams

For millennia in Africa, shea butter has been exploited as a food, for skin pomade, medicinal uses, etc. Since the 19th century, Africans have traded the tree crop and used shea as a source of stearin (vegetable fat), particularly for the European chocolate industry, and more recently as a highly valued and beneficial component of personal care products. Total exports from Africa are estimated at 150,000 t kernel, similar to the amount locally used, with up to 10% of the total exports consumed in cosmetics. Recently, consumer demand for traceability and certification in terms of fair-trade, quality assurance and organic farming methods has increased.
The main importance of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is due to the oil or fat that can be extracted from the dried kernels (often known in western countries as shea butter or beurre de karité) which is traditionally utilised in large quantities for cooking, as a moisturising cream, for illumination, for soap making, as a herbal medicine, for fire-lighting and for waterproofing houses. In areas where there have been few other sources of edible oil, the magnitude of use of this oleaginous product is comparable to olive oil in the Mediterranean areas or to palm oil in the wetter regions of West Africa, and travellers have documented the widespread use of shea and trade in the region for many centuries, e.g., Ibn- Batutta in 1354, and Mungo Park in 17976.

Shea butter has been traditionally extracted by women from the dried kernels of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) for many millennia. This species grows extensively in the agroforestry parklands of semi-arid Africa in a 6,000 km x 500+ km zone from Senegal to Uganda, where it is protected and managed. Total production potential reaches over 2.5 million metric tonnes (MT1) kernel.

People living in the semi-arid zone of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), who until recently,have had few native sources of edible oil or fat, have traditionally used shea butter in large quantities. It is estimate that at least 150,000 t kernel is consumed annually for frying, adding to sauces, as a skin pomade, for medicinal applications, to make soap, for lanterns, and for cultural purposes at ceremonies, like births, weddings and funerals.

The demand for vegetable fat in the western marketplace grows, and shea butter is now commonly used in the production of cocoa butter equivalents or improvers (up to 5% content by weight is allowed under European Union (EU) regulations on chocolate), other confectionaries and margarines. Exports from Africa now total an estimated 150,000 t of dry shea kernel with a current market value of approximately US$30 million with prices around US$200 t f.o.b. West African port.

Producers use this for the preparation of ca. 18,000 t of stearin (the solid 'fat' fraction) with an estimated value of US$36 million. No one knows what volume is used in the United States (US) for edible products, since the US does not permit noncocoa vegetable in products labelled as chocolate.

Shea butter has important therapeutic properties, particularly for the skin
- Ultra-violet (UV) protection, moisturizing, regenerative and anti-wrinkle properties, as well as in personal care products, like pomades, soaps, and pharmaceuticals.

This market uses as much as 5-10% of the total African exports, which equates to an estimated 2,500 and 8,000 t shea butter used worldwide. A significant portion (500+ MT) is now used in the US market. Since we know that Africa exported less than 200 t of traditionally processed shea butter in 1994, the growth rate of this market shows growth of over 25% per annum.

Certification of shea kernel and butter has become increasingly important for a number of reasons. Beginning January 1, 2005 the EU will start to demand that all agricultural products, including shea nuts, are traceable from source (Reg. 178, Jan. 2002).

A number of cosmetic companies are asking for organically certified shea butter for the formulation of organically.

Source: Technical Report: Prepared by Dr. Peter Lovett, Shea Butter Consultant for WATH.

Shea Butter, Akoma Exporters of Natural Ingredients from Ghana

Akoma Cooperative Multipurpose Society 2010