Shea butter or ‘nkuto’ as it’s commonly known in Ghana, is a fatty natural herbal extract that has been produced by women in the north of Ghana for centuries, and in most cases providing them with their main source of income. Recently it has become an increasingly popular ingredient used in various skin and haircare products worldwide, boosting local economic opportunities for women in Ghana, especially in the northern region, which is one of Ghana’s most economically disadvantaged regions.
With the increased demand for shea butter by the international market, Ghana has become one of the largest exporters of shea butter! However, like many other businesses, the shea butter business is not fair and square, which means that the local women working really hard to produce shea butter often don’t get to benefit from their valuable (and really expensive!) produce. This is obviously a problem and in fact a threat to how quality shea butter is produced the traditional way as people migrate to other regions seeking “better economic opportunities”. To help women profit from their work, several associations have been formed such as the Tungteiya Shea Butter Association, which works in partnership with The Body Shop. By joining an association women are often empowered through the provision of interest-free loans, training, storage facilities and quality control services to ultimately offer higher quality products at slightly higher prices.
Shea butter in most cases is manually processed from shea nuts found within the fruits of the shea tree (Karite tree). The shea tree can bear fruits for up to 200 years, making it a very sustainable natural resource! The processing involved in obtaining smooth unrefined shea butter as we know it, is a skill that has been passed down to women and girls in Ghana for generations. The entire process is fairly labour intensive, requiring excellent attention to detail and as such is completed in several stages. Once the women have collected the shea nuts from their farms, the nuts are boiled to help break their outer shells to release the seeds that are used to make the butter, before being dried in the sun. After the the nuts have been pounded and crushed into small pieces, they are carefully separated from the broken shells and roasted, before added to water and continuously mixed into a paste. Once the fat has been separated the paste, it’s whipped into a smooth butter. To see the entire process, check out YouTube for some great videos!
So, what is the hype all about? As already noted, the benefits of shea butter are not a recent discovery as women in Ghana have been using shea butter for multiple purposes, such as protecting the skin from the sun and during the dry season for many many years! Shea butter has been shown to heal burns, sores, scars and stretch marks to mention a few. In addition, the use of shea butter as a daily skin moisturiser has several benefits resulting in smoother and softer skin due to its inherent protective properties and its abilities to stimulates cell renewal and repair rough and damaged skin. Did you know that shea butter can even be used to relieve pain and inflammation in some case? How can a single product provide such a wide range of benefits? It almost sounds too good to be true! But I promise you it works! How? Well, shea butter is naturally enriched with several different ingredients such as essential fatty acids, vitamin A, E, D and F and cinnamic acid, which protects the skin from UV rays.
Shea butter is not only applied topically but is also consumed by many. In some parts of Ghana shea butter is often used as a cooking ingredient in the preparation of certain dishes. Shea butter is also increasingly being used in the West and can be found as an ingredient in chocolate and margarine.
Have you ever used shea butter? How do/did you use it?
By Nora Mistersky (Ms_Nora_M)