Shea butter is obtained from the seeds of a tree which the natives often called ’the tree of health and youth’, which resembles our oak trees.
The fruit resembles a large berry with a thin skin and a mucilaginous pulp with a pleasant and sour taste. It is similar to our plums. The pulp makes up just over half of the fruit. It usually surrounds one or two seeds, which are protected by a hard, smooth, shiny, dark brown shell.
The seeds contain shea butter mixed with latex and resemble our edible chestnuts in size and appearance.
Shea butter is extracted at the place of origin using an artisanal process that involves selecting the seeds and crushing them. The result is a product that varies in colour from light green to yellow, with a pleasant smell and almost sweet taste, which can be used pure or as the basis for many organic cosmetic products.
In Africa, shea has always been used for food, cosmetics and medicine. People use it as a balm for massages against rheumatism, for soreness, for burns, for sunburn and for skin ulcers and irritations.
According to local tradition, this product seems to help increase local circulation, allowing re-oxygenation of the epidermal tissue and improving the elimination of metabolic waste products.
African people use every part of the plant: the skin and pulp of the fruit are cooked according to ancient recipes, while the fat contained in the seed, shea butter, is used as a condiment and as a cosmetic product for the skin and hair. The processing residues are used as cattle feed and the fat is used to make candles or detergents similar to our soap. Latex from the leaves, bark and pith of the trunk is used as glue and as a resin base for chewing gum. Finally, wood, which is very hard and heavy, is used for construction, cooking utensils and handicrafts.
As far as the cosmetic use of shea butter is concerned, the most important part of the product is the unsaponifiable part, i.e. a part that is not part of the fat and which, when brought into contact with soda, does not react to become soap as is usually the case with fats.
To recognise Shea Butter in cosmetic products, look for the name "Butyrospermum parkii butter" on the label.
Our shea butter comes from an NGO - a non-profit, non-governmental organisation - in Benin.
One of the few limitations of this product is that it is difficult to process, which is why the La Maison de l’Espérance institute founded by Salesian nuns softens it before delivering it to us.
The process of softening shea butter is similar to the process of whipping the white of an egg, whereby the ingredient is beaten vigorously with sticks until it almost foams.
Since one of the few limitations of shea butter is that it is difficult to work with, as it comes in a hard, buttery form that melts under massage (it has a melting temperature of around 37°C), the Salesian Sisters’ La Maison de l’Esperance Institute softens it.
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