In Search of The Best Unrefined Shea Butter - Part 2
As I write this post, it is currently "shea nut harvesting' season in Ghana, and we are excited for the fresh shipment of raw (Grade A!) shea butter that is coming our way!
In my previous post, I shared about some of the important factors that determine the quality of Shea Butter you end up buying, and ultimately using on your skin or your baby's skin. There are many different grades of unrefined shea butter in the market place, and my curiosity to understand what makes them so different and how I can make sure we use Grade A shea butter in our O'live skincare products led me to Tamale, Northern Ghana. I will attempt to unpack some of what I know.
First off, I will start by acknowledging that all handmade unrefined shea butter is made by hardworking women, whose livelihood, quite literally, depends on the shea production (whether it's picking and trading the shea nuts or making the shea butter).
Quality of the Shea Nut. What I didn't realise before going to Ghana was that shea butter is not necessarily made by the same people who pick the shea nuts. Nuts are traded in the open market. These are almost two separate businesses so to speak. As such, folks who do make the shea butter will not always have control over where the shea nuts came from, how long they've been in the market etc. Shea butter made from fresh nuts will ultimately not be the same as shea butter made from stale nuts. Often, especially in informal spaces, both pickers and producers do not have the appropriate facilities to store the nuts so freshness is maintained. Nuts then go moldy, in the Ghana heat as it is stored in piles waiting to be produced. We have been so privileged to be able to work with a supplier that empowers a network of women nut pickers, trains them and in turn buys from them. This ensures that only healthy nuts are used in the production and every batch of our shea butter can be traced back to the nut and the field where it came from! How is that for quality control?!
Processing of the butter. Shea butter processing, although it looks easy, has a certain rhythm to it. For a good quality end product, the process needs followed well. The process (in a nutshell) involves sorting, washing, crushing, roasting and milling the nuts, then kneading the paste, scoping the separated fat, cooking, filtering, stiring and bagging it. It's a long process and short cuts can not be taken, as that surely shows up in the finished product and may lead to rancidity. Roasting the nuts has to be done just enough, kneading has to be done with upper-arm strength and amazing rhythm, and stirring the butter has to be done until cooled.
Quality of the Water. Using clean water in the production of shea butter is absolutely essential to producing quality shea butter. I will go as far as saying that using anything less than clean water undermines all the efforts pointed above. Unclean water carries microbes, which result in shea butter that goes rancid very quickly.
Storage of the finished butter. After the processing of the shea butter, it is critical that it's stored in perfect conditions before it is shipped to the buyer. Temperature, humidity and light controlled environments are ideal.
As with any commodity we use, the ultimate lifespan of the product starts the day it is processed. Take care to know where your shea butter comes from.
This is just a consolidated version of how I understand things. Please feel free to comment and share your views!