Not all Shea Butter is Created Equal

Not all Shea Butter is Created Equal

Did you know not all Shea Butter is Created Equal?

One of my primary ingredients in our handmade soap is Shea Butter. When I recently attended a soap maker conference I got a chance to learn about Baraka Shea Butter  and how their Shea Butter is produced using traditional methods in Ghana. Even more impressive I saw how the women and communities who make it are empowered.

I was so moved by their business practices, the women who benefit from our purchases and the quality of the Shea Butter, I have made the switch to Baraka. Their saying is "From Our Hands, to Your Hands"! Fun Fact Baraka means Thank You in Wali!

This is a guest post from the owner of Baraka Shea Butter discussing why not all shea butter is created equal. 

Know Your Shea 

Shea Butter is shea butter is shea butter, right?  WRONG!

Not all shea butter is created equal, nor is it all the same.  Let me share some information on color, smell, refined/unrefined and some information that may surprise you – about 85% of ‘raw and unrefined’ shea butter is actually made in factories and chemically extracted with solvents.

 Here are some things you should know about your shea butter.

How should it smell

Shea TreesWell-made shea butter shouldn’t stink!  It should have a faint smoky/shea smell that isn’t unpleasant at all.  When it smells sour or bad it is because it isn’t well made, mostly from the moisture content being too high, and is in the process of going rancid.  

If your shea has a bad smell it means it is starting to go rancid and you should use it and get fresh product.  Shea butter actually keeps most of its amazing properties, even when it is starting to go bad so most times it is still good to use.

But, remember, well-made shea butter will not have an unpleasant smell.  When it has an unpleasant smell it means either the nuts were not properly dried or the shea butter was not finished properly and too much moisture was left in it.

If you are buying your shea butter from a reputable supplier they should be able to provide you with a Certificate of Analysis that shows how much moisture is in the butter.  The International Standards Organization says that it should be between 0-2% moisture but in reality you want it under 1% to ensure long shelf life and lasting quality.

What's the Difference between Yellow Shea Butter and White Shea Butter

Many think that color is related to quality in shea butter.  It isn’t.  Unless you are getting a shea butter that is a consistent yellow color and then you are getting shea that has been dyed!  Yes, dyed.

The colors of pure, natural shea butter will vary from an off white to a buttery yellow.  This is natural.  Freshly made shea tends to be a strong buttery yellow and then will often (but not always) become whiter over time.

The natural colors of shea butter are affected by the mineral content of soil the trees grow in, the amount and time of rainfall in the previous year, and whether the fruit was early, late or in the middle of the season.

What's the difference in Refined vs unrefined

Refined shea butter is treated with hexane and bleach and all color and smell removed (many say most of the goodness is removed too but that is another topic).  The is done in refineries, mostly in Europe.

Refined shea butter is ivory white, hard and has no odor.

What is interesting is that often the smell of poorly made shea butter is what drives users to refined shea.  They wanted to get away from the smell so they started using refined.

Baraka actually has a number of customers who have switched back to unrefined shea after realizing that they could get unrefined shea butter without the bad smell.

Baraka Shea Butter is Hand-crafted, Raw and Unrefined

Handmade Shea ButterNot all raw and unrefined shea butter is the same.  Raw and unrefined simply means that the shea butter has not been refined.

What most people don’t realize is that 85% of the raw and unrefined shea butter on the market is actually made in industrial factories using solvents and chemicals to extract the shea butter from the shea nut (seed).


Compare this to hand-crafted where the butter is extracted from the seed by hand, using traditional methods and techniques passed down through generations.  No chemicals, no harsh industrial processes, just pure, natural shea butter.

The other benefit to hand-crafted shea butter is that the economic benefits from making it remain in the community and with the women.  When the bags of shea nuts (seeds) are hauled from the community to distant industrial factories they are also hauling away the economic benefits, ripping them from the women and families who traditionally depend on them. 

Hand-crafted shea butter is done at the community level and the women and community benefit from every stage in the process. And, we believe it gives you much better shea butter too.  Chemicals and industrial processes aren’t good for shea butter, or for the women and families that depend on it.

Coming Soon To Natural Soap By Zakia

Look out for some DIY Shea Butter from Baraka available in the shop very soon. A special thanks to Wayne for opening my eyes to what Real Shea Butter should be and how my products can have a greater impact than what I originally imagined. Click here to learn more about Baraka Shea Butter. 

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  • Zakia Ringgold
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