Why East African Shea Butter Is So Expensive?
Do you know what is shea butter made from and how to process it? One way to make shea butter involves pounding and grinding dry shea nuts by hand. Another way requires two people to push a lever as a cold press machine turns shea nut oil into a cream, creamy, pale yellow butter. Regardless of the way it’s done, producing shea butter is tedious work. And depending on how it’s made, it can cost over $50 a kilo. But this isn’t just any shea butter. This is East African shea butter, the most expensive version of the commonly known product. So what makes East African shea butter different? And why is it so expensive?
[what is shea butter made from?
What Is Shea Butter Made From?
When someone hears shea butter, it’s likely to think of the West African variety. But in East Africa, a different kind of shea nut grows a subspecies called nylotica, the West African paradox, a tree is farmed, so it grows more abundantly. But nylotica isn’t typically planted. It grows in the wild. In East African countries like Uganda and Sudan, east African shea butter can cost more than double the West African alternatives. That’s because it’s easier to spread and absorbs quickly into the skin.
“This Nylotica makes more desirable for cosmetics companies, which use it for butters, oils, and soaps. And according to Lucy, this is one of the reasons demand for East African shea butter has grown both locally and abroad. In Uganda, Nylotica producers are trying to meet the growing demand. [what is shea butter made from?]
In Uganda, shea produces harvesters are primarily organized by women’s groups. They start their day early so they can pick the best fruits before other groups come. Achilles and the other harvesters pick the fruits off the ground once they’ve already fallen.
Then they remove and eat the fruit to reveal the shea nut. They eat it because they won’t need it to make the butter and it’s delicious. Quality control starts here with only the best nuts. Moving on to processing. These are grade A nuts which are whole, undamaged and untouched by insects.
The nuts are then dried in the sun for a few days to reduce moisture. Next, they’re carefully cracked and the kernels are dried again for two weeks.
It’s usually done one of two ways by hand or by machine, both requiring heavy manual labor. Making shea butter by hand is an intensive process. After the nuts dry the second time, producers heat ash over a fire for 30 minutes. Then they roast the shea nuts in the ashes for another 45 minutes, stirring constantly. This helps prevent mold and deactivate free fatty acids, or FFAs, which are harmful to the body. But they have to be careful. Too much heat could lead to a dark oil with high, rather than deactivated FFA levels.
Then the women spread the nuts on the ground to cool off. Producers grind the nuts three times. They take turns pounding, then muddle the mixture further between rocks, and finally refine the mixture in a mill. This creates a paste, which they pour into hot water. [what is shea butter made from?]
The oil is removed and packaged for sale locally, where kilo costs over $5. It’s mainly used for cooking, but locals also use it on their skin. And while it’s still pricier than West African shea butter, this heat processed butter is a more affordable alternative to cold pressed nylotica.
One kilo of cold pressed East African shea butter can reach $12 in Uganda, and when exported, it’s over four times that price. That’s because cold pressed shea butter is more refined. It’s the cleanest way to extract the oil which preserves the nuts properties. After harvesting, drying and grinding the shea nuts, producers place them in cloth bags and load them them into a cold press machine. They’ve had this machine since 1997. [what is shea butter made from?]
To use it, two people need to push each side of the lever in a circle, pressing and releasing the oil from the fat in the shea nuts. When left to rest, the oil hardens into shea butter from nut to butter. The whole process can take three weeks. Today producers prefer the cold press method because can make bigger batches of high quality shea butter. It can also enhance some of the butter’s most desired properties.
Studies of Nylotica have found that it has significantly higher oleic acid content than west African shea butter. It also has lower steric acid content, which contributes to the softness of the butter. This is the west African shea butter with a high melting point. And when it solely defies, it’s really hard. Harder textures are more difficult to integrate into cosmetics. But Nylotica has other special properties. The demand at the moment is growing because of these contents the Olayne vitamin E. And then it has antioxidants that make it easy, especially for cosmetics. It has to have a healing factor within it. This growing demand is being met with a limited supply. The supply is a little lower because the number of producers is still a bit low. The shade tree fruits only once a year, and producers are still figuring out how to bolt their harvests. And while some efforts are underway to farm more shade trees, the nuts are primarily harvested in the wild, limiting producers further. Then there’s deforestation. According to the Ugandan national forest authority, the country has lost 63% of its tree cover in the past 25 years. Locals use the wood for charcoal, firewood, and timber. But Nylotica producers hope that as demand continues to grow and locals learn more about Nylotica’s value, they’ll work to preserve the trees and, in turn, scale up production of east African shea butter. [what is shea butter made from?]
They believe if the marketing strategies are improved, They will have more sales, more producers, and more buyers of which the buyers are already out there.