Four main things happen to shea butter after it has been extracted. Refining, Bleaching, Deodorization & Degumming.
Refining: Sodium Hydroxide is mixed with the shea butter. Sometimes Sodium Hydroxide and Sodium Carbonate are mixed and added to the shea butter. This removes the free fatty acids from the shea butter. The phospholipids, proteins, and minerals are removed by this process. Refining temperature is about 74 degrees.
Bleaching: In this process, important minerals are removed. The shea butter goes through an acid treated filter. Natural components and natural smells are removed. Bleaching temperature is about 110 degrees.
Deodorization: The natural smell and the natural minerals and vitamins of the shea butter are removed using steam and the exclusion of air during this process. Deodorization is at temperatures of 240-270 degrees. The shea butter which is now vitamin and mineral deficient as a result of this process is sometimes passed off as unrefined. Some justify this by saying that no external heat was applied to the shea butter.
Degumming: This removes protein compounds, complex carbohydrates if any, and the natural gums of the shea butter. Degumming also removes calcium, magnesium, iron and copper from the shea butter. This process is done at 60 degrees.
So understanding the difference between Unrefined Shea Butter and processed shea butter is very important for individuals interested in natural shea butter. Ask for samples especially if you are new to shea butter. As time goes on you will understand shea butter and will be able to tell the differences.
Shea Butter Today
Today, shea butter is acknowledged all over the world for its nourishing, enriching and toning properties for skin & hair. Like every good product, traditional African shea butter has been dissected into refined, processed, industrialized, extra refined, ultra refined and a muddle of other names.
The commercial method of extracting shea butter has also added to the perplexity of shea butter. In most circles, shea butter is used as an ingredient in soaps, shampoos, conditioners, hair relaxers, lotions, hand & body creams etc. There is nothing wrong with using shea butter as an ingredient. As long as it is unrefined shea butter and the portions in the product is generous. It is important to preserve the ancient methods of shea butter. Shea Butter is nature’s wonder.
The Shea Tree
Living up to two centuries, the Shea Tree bears fruit after 15 years and produces a full crop after 25 years. It grows mainly in West Africa and can reach a maximum height of 15 to 20 meters.
The Shea Tree cannot be cultivated. It blooms from June to July and bears dark green fruits which fall to the ground when ripe. Each fruit contains a nut with a hard white kernel which is the source of the Shea Butter. Before the Shea Nuts are collected to prepare shea butter, a prayer is said. This has been the practice for centuries in Ghana. The prayer is simply to thank mother nature for providing the shea tree. And also to show respect for collecting the shea tree’s fruit.