Shea nut trees grow 15 to 20 m high. They grow widely and naturally in West Africa (Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Benin, and Togo) in the semi-arid Sahel. They only begin to
bear fruit after about 20 years and do not reach maturity for 45 years. They may continue to produce nuts for up to 200 years after reaching maturity.
Inside the fruit is the nut that wraps a hard almond as well as a softer white almond. This one contains the fatty material (butter). 15 to 20 kg of fruit yields 3 to 4 kg of dry almonds, which eventually
yields 1,5 kg to 2 kg of butter.
Shea nut derived products have been used for years in Africa, as raw materials for many different applications, such as margarine, cosmetics, soap, detergents, candles, and so on.
- Food: African women like to use shea butter for cooking. It is usually incorporated in sauces or alone as a cooking oil.
- Cosmetics: shea butter is widely used in ointment form to repair skin dryness. It prevents skin chaps and cracks. Thanks to its UV-filtering properties, people use it as a sunscreen product.
It is also appreciated in hair care, for example to moisturise the scalp or as a hair mask. A lower quality of shea butter will be used for the preparation of soaps, often in combination with palm or coconut oil.
- Medicine: pregnant African women use it a lot in massage form, in order to prevent stretch marks and to keep firm muscles. Its healing properties make shea butter a very good agent to quicken
the repair of the umbilical cord.
In North America and Europe shea butter has found its primary market niche as a substitute for cocoa butter in the chocolate and confectionery industry (Cocoa Butter Equivalent).
Sophim has formed a long-term partnership with African associations and African villages, in order to establish a continuous and quality-orientated supply of shea butter from local
producers. This partnership is based on a FAIR TRADE agreement in order to help African women, who work in this activity. For European customers it is a guarantee of security of supply and stability of prices.