I use to buy Shea butter in the states but I had no idea how or what it came from. I kind of imagined a big calabash like gord that when cracked open was filled with Shea butter…. it only needed to be scrapped out for packaging and use…..silly me! The Shea nut is in fact a small nut, about the size of a pecan.
The process of making Shea butter is quite fascinating. I got to see first hand how it’s done. The nuts are sorted, good from bad, then put through a grinder. After grinding they are passed through a cooking/boiling/filtration (not sure which to call it) by which the oil is slowly separated from the other matter. This is done by taking the ground nuts and heating them to begin extracting the oil. I do not know the exact amount of time but this process is done repeatedly. Someone sits and massages the oil out of the dark blackish brown matter then returns it to the big pot over the fire again, for continued processing. It is amazing that what begins as a dark chocolate looking matter becomes a soft cream colored butter.
There were maybe 10 women of various ages processing the Shea butter. Once they saw I wanted to know more they warmly invited me to come and see the bags of nuts…. The grinder…. And the final product, which I was also invited to try….. It felt heavily as I smoothed the pure Shea butter on my arms. After touching and using this fresh Shea butter I now know that what I was getting in the states was not pure. This literally was comparable to a stick of butter that has been left on the counter over night, melts on contact.
Due to such vast differences in the soil and climate here in Ghana, certain plants only thrive in their respective places in the country. Cocoa dominates in the south and here in the north Shea trees are bountiful. Tamale is actually named after the Shea tree. The Dagomba name for Shea is Tama and Ye means city. The original name was Tamaye, city of Shea but over time through accents and hearing and language challenges it turned into Tamale.
Did you know that you can cook with Shea butter? They use it here to cook black eyed peas and to fry kooshie, a puff made of beans.
Did you know that Shea trees yield a fruit? The Shea nut is surrounded by a yumma sweet fruit. You can eat everything, from the soft green cover right down to the seed.
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Until next time