Ingredients and quality criteria for shea butter
Part 2 shea series

Pure, unrefined shea butter contains high levels of cosmetically valuable ingredients. It has a high content of unsaponifiables, especially phytosterols, triterpenes and tocopherols. The proportion in West African butter is between 6 and 11 %, in East African 2%. Shea butter also contains antioxidant catechins and gallic acid as well as skin-friendly fatty acids. 

In addition to linoleic and palmitic acid, the fatty acid spectrum of shea butter is characterized by stearic and oleic acids and their relationship to each other. These together make up about 90 % of all fatty acids. Depending on the region where the trees grow, the percentages of oleic and stearic acid in shea butter vary. This is the reason for different qualities with regard to application behaviour, consistency and melting point.

The East African shea butter Nilotica (Vitellaria paradoxa subspecies nilotica) tends to have a higher content of monounsaturated oleic acid (50 to 60%), less stearic acid (20 to 35%), but also less unsaponifiable (about 2%) and, in comparison to the West African shea butter, a several times lower content of tocopherols. The differences are due to the climate: The warmer, the more actively the plant produces cell-protecting and antioxidant tocopherols.

Frauen am Sheabutter herstellen in Ghana
traditional extraction process
Töpfe in der Sheabutter Produktion in Ghana
production site northern Ghana
Frauen tragen Säcke mit Sheanüssen
village life

Quality criteria

The traditional method of production often takes place in very remote areas and entails the risk of various contaminations. This can be related to the production process, the production material used, the water, pesticides on nut shells and the care taken to ensure that undesirable substances such as insects get into the material. Often the production is not sufficiently controlled and defects can occur. 

Our control begins even before production, with the collection of nuts in protected forest areas according to the ecocert standard. Our production is strongly controlled and documented so that we can guarantee a high quality of shea butter. This can be seen in the laboratory analyses. Low FFA (free fatty acids) values and peroxide numbers are the result. 

A good quality of shea butter can be recognised by its homogeneous consistency and beige colour, which can appear slightly yellowish. 

Another interesting note: The alternative to traditionally produced shea butter is shea butter pressed or refined in the West. However, these are no better in quality, as the nuts are usually less strictly selected, as the refining process either way removes the unwanted free fatty acids. For example, high FFA and peroxide values can occur with cold pressed butter in Europe, which is not desirable.

Lab tests

To guarantee the best quality of shea butter we test the butter in a lab for the following parameters:

  • Heavy metals – arsenic, antimony, lead, cadmium and mercury
  • Water activity (aw-value)
  • Acid value (SZ)
  • Peroxide number (POZ)
  • Fatty acid distribution
  • Microbiological examination

Evaluation of the results: The test parameters of the sample are not objectionable with regard to the tests performed. (2020) Our test reports are available for Wholesale Shea Butter Bulk customers or on request.

If you want to get more information around our tests you can read our blog article «why we test our shea butter in the lab»

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Source: Lexicon of vegetable fats and oils, 2nd edition 2013, Sabine Krist, University of Vienna, Institute for Clinical Pharmacy and Diagnostics

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