The traditional method of preparing unrefined shea butter is an extensive process, and is done by hand. First, the shea nuts are collected from the tree and left to dry. Once dry, the nut, which is the source of the butter must be separated from the outer shell. The nuts are then crushed with mortars and pestles, and roasted in giant pots over open wood fires. The nuts must be stirred continually so that the paste does not burn. The paste is then ground even more, and water is gradually added to cause separation of the butter oils. As the butter oils float to the top, they are removed and the water is wrung out. The oils are then slow boiled to remove any remaining water. The creamy, golden yellow shea butter is then scooped from the top of the pots and left to harden. A lot of hard work goes into the production of this popular butter!
Shea butter is a popular ingredient in soaps due to it’s soft, luxurious texture. When making soap, lye is added to plant oils or animal fats, and the lye reacts with these oils and creates soap molecules. When all of the lye has reacted with the oils, the amount of unsaponified oils still left in the soap is called the superfat percentage. Since shea butter saponifies less than other oils, it leaves the soap with a wonderfully soft, moisturizing feeling.
Shea butter is rich in vitamin A and vitamin E, and when applied directly on the skin, can soothe inflammation, eczema, itchiness, stretch marks, diaper rash, and more. The Journal of Oleo Science even reported that shea butter has anti-tumor promoting compounds called cinnamate esters, which are also found in cinnamon.
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