SHEA BUTTER – the wonder product


 Shea butter is an off-white or ivory-coloured FAT extracted from the nut of the African Shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa).

Shea butter is a triglyceride (fat) derived mainly from Stearic acid and Oleic acid.

It is used a lot in the production of Cosmetics, either as a moisturizer or lotion.

Shea butter is also edible and it is used in food preparation in the African countries that have comparative advantage in its growth.

In the Chocolate industry, Shea butter is mixed with other oils as a substitute for Cocoa butter. This may affect the taste of the chocolate.


The major Shea nut–producing countries in Africa are Nigeria, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Togo.

shea butter nuts


Shea butter is produced by African women and some men as well.

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) estimates that an average of three million African women work directly or indirectly with Shea butter.


In an attempt to stem the over reliance on Crude Oil export earnings and thus diversify the country’s external revenue base, the Federal Government can reduce losses of about $2.166 billion (about N340.6 billion) annually through smuggling of Shea butter across Nigeria’s borders.

Nigeria, exports about 50,000 tons of Shea butter annually and this is believed to account for almost 60 per cent of the world’s supply of Shea butter.

The Shea butter industry is huge and some organisations are already taking steps to develop better processing methods and also develop the capacity for large-scale production in Nigeria. This is in view of the fact that a large market exists for the product. The smuggling of the product should be stopped if government is to realize the benefits of economic diversification.


  • Separating/cracking: The outer pulp of the fruit is removed. When dry, the nut, which is the source of shea butter, must be separated from the outer shell. This is a social activity, traditionally done by women elders and girls who sit on the ground and break the shells with small rocks.
  • Crushing: To make the shea nuts into butter, they must be crushed. Traditionally, this is done with mortars and pestles. It requires lifting the pestles and grinding the nuts into the mortars to crush the nuts so they can be roasted.
  • Roasting: The crushed nuts are roasted in huge pots over open wood fires. The pots must be stirred constantly with wooden paddles so the butter does not burn. The butter is heavy and stirring it is hot, smoky work, done under the sun. This is where the slight smoky smell of traditional shea butter originates.
  • Grinding: The roasted shea nuts are ground into a smoother paste; water is gradually added and the paste is mixed well by hand.
  • Separating the oils: The paste is kneaded by hand in large basins and water is gradually added to help separate out the butter oils. As they float to the top, the butter oils, which are in a curd state, are removed and excess water squeezed out. The butter oil curds are then melted in large open pots over slow fires. A period of slow boiling will evaporate any remaining water.
  • Collecting and shaping: The shea butter, which is creamy or golden yellow at this point, is ladled from the top of the pots and put in cool places to harden. Then it is formed into balls.

Industrially, a mechanical sheller such as the Universal nut sheller may be used. The refined butter may be extracted with chemicals such as Hexane or by Clay filtering.


Author Bio


Mrs. Yemisi Akibu ( nee Awokoya) is the Chief Executive Officer of Belvyna Global, an agricultural consultancy service firm based in Lagos, Nigeria She is a former Team Member of the Agricultural Department of Union Bank of Nigeria Plc, one of Nigeria's first generation banks. She holds a B.Sc degree in Agricultural Economics from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria and a Masters degree in National Development and Project Planning from the University of Bradford, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom. She is passionate about the role agriculture plays in the social, economic, political development of a nation. She holds the view that one of the pillars of stability of a nation food security and this can only be achieved through the holistic development of the agricultural sector. She can be contacted via: or Remember, The Farmer Is King Enjoy my blog

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