Posted by: cgross1 | January 21, 2011

Shea Butter Production

Hey everyone!

This post is going to be somewhat longer than usual, but hopefully it will be more educational than previous posts. During this past month, I have learned a lot about shea butter production, and so I thought it would be interesting to pass on the steps it takes to make high quality shea butter. I have started a new gallery page with images of the different steps in the production process. Check them out!

*EDIT* The Internet is behaving badly this weekend. The images will come at a later time when the Internet works. Check back for the new gallery!!

Step 1: Harvesters gather the shea fruit (which I haven’t seen yet, as they aren’t in season, but will be this summer). They can use the fruit part to make breads/foods or to dry. I hear the fruit is quite good. The harvesters extract the pits from the fruit – this is where the oils come from.

Step 2: Once the pit has been extracted from the fruit, there is a smaller pit inside of the larger pit (both of which can be seen in the photo gallery). The smaller pit is extracted from the larger pit. This small pit contains the oils for the shea fruit. This is how they arrive at my association for production.

Step 3: The inner pits are washed in hot water to clear away dirt and remaining skins from the outer pit. The women in my association wash the pits by hand in large buckets.

Step 4: The pits are put out into the sun to dry (see photo gallery). Any bad or small pits, or anything like rocks and twigs are picked out by hand by the women. Also, any pits that were not extracted properly or were missed by mistake are extracted at this point.

Step 5: The pits are put through a grinder to make smaller pieces. This makes extracting the oils easier.

Step 6: The smaller pieces are roasted until they change color from brown to very dark brown/black-ish. This helps to bring out the oils. The roasting is kind of like chili roasting in New Mexico. It is done via hand-crank within a semi-enclosed circular machine.

Step 7: The now roasted small pieces are put through a machine that turns them into a brown paste (photo gallery). It smells really good – almost like chocolate!!

Step 8: It starts getting a little tricky here. Cold and hot water are added in turns to bring the oils together, turning the shea from a paste into a more mashed-potato consistency. The paste is beaten by hand by the women as they add the water. After they finish beating the paste to get out any inconsistencies, they rinse the paste as the consistency changes to be much thicker – sort of like clay or play-dough. The butter turns from dark brown to a gray color at this point.

Step 9: The washed substance is melted down into oil and boiled (see photo gallery). Most of the dirt and extra material falls to the bottom of the pot and is filtered out at this point.

Step 10: The oil sits overnight (I haven’t figured out why yet – I think to let it cool to a manageable temperature). Then the oil is filtered again and left to set (see photo gallery). It turns white at this point.

And voila! Very pure and created by sweat and hard work shea butter! Good not only for the skin, but it is also a healthy alternative to some cooking oils. People here consume it as an alternative to palm oil.

Fun Fact:
When the shea butter is being rinsed, my association keeps the dirty water in huge cement containers. After a few days, they drain the water off and scoop up all of the shea waste from the bottom. They then dry it and use it for fuel, burning it instead of wood (deforestation is a huge problem here). Because there is still a little oil left in the material, it works just like coal or wood – it saves the environment and saves them money from having to buy wood!

So there you have it – an inside view of the shea butter-making process! Hopefully I can get some photos of the shea fruit this summer, although you can always google image the fruit if you are really curious!

Until next time.




  1. Thanks Christie,
    Now I will have a new appreciation for the products that boast of having real Shea Butter in them. It all sounds so interesting and the pictures look “warm” as I sit in my cold office. Sounds like I also don’t have to say stay busy, you are, so stay safe and we enjoy the posts. Janet

    • Thanks a bunch Janet! Enjoy the cold weather – it’s only going to get hotter here, and although I have never liked the cold, I think I am going to be best friends with it when I get back!

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