How to Know Your Shea Butter!


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

Not all shea butter is created equal.  Read and learn more about color, smell, refined/unrefined, and some information that may surprise you. 


How much do you really know about your shea butter?


Here are some things you should know about your Shea Butter:

How should Shea Butter Smell


Well-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 it is in the process of going rancid.  

With handmade shea butter it is super critical that the boiling process continue until the moisture level is low enough that the shea won’t spoil.  Well made shea will last years, even in hot temperatures.  Poorly made shea butter will start to go off within months.

We just did a soaper’s show and, because it was the end of the shea season, our shea butter was a year old. Shea trees fruit in April/May and the seeds (nuts) from inside the fruit are what is made into shea butter. The shea we had was from fruits that had grown the year before.

People coming by our booth simply couldn’t believe the smell, that there was no sour, stale odor.  They were even more shocked when we told them it was a year old.  Many had not seen shea that didn’t have a bad smell before!

If your shea has a bad smell, it means it is starting to go rancid.  You should use it and get fresh products.  Shea butter 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 Colour Should Shea Butter Be?

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

The colours 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 the 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.

If you see shea butter with a greenish tinge it means that there was a foreign substance added during processing to try and increase the yield.  Some producers will use saltpetre to increase the amount of butter that can be extracted from Shea Nuts.



Well-made shea butter can range from off-white to buttery yellow.  If it has a greenish tinge then it meets saltpetre was used during processing to try and increase the yield from the shea nuts.


What is the Difference Between Refined and Unrefined Shea Butter

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

Refined shea butter is ivory white, hard, and has no odor.  Some like it because the properties of the shea, which have been shaped by the bleaching and refining process, are more consistent.  Others contend that while the properties may be more consistent it is not nearly as good for your skin and other applications.

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

We actually have several customers who have switched back to unrefined shea after realizing that they could get unrefined shea butter without the bad smell.


What is the Difference between Hand-Crafted Shea Butter and other Raw-Unrefined Shea Butter?

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



Did you know about 85% of ‘raw and unrefined’ shea butter is actually made in factories and chemically extracted with solvents?

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.

Related Topic: How to Know if Handmade Shea Butter is Best?

Compare this to hand-crafted shea, where the butter is extracted by hand, using traditional methods and techniques passed down through generations.  No chemicals, no harsh industrial processes. Just pure, natural shea butter.  The same kind that has been used for centuries.

The other benefit of 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 of 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.



All Baraka Shea Butter is 100% handmade by hardworking women with nothing added.  They use the same techniques and traditions that have been passed down through generations. 

To see how handcrafted shea butter is made check out How Hand Crafted Shea Butter is Made

Read 10 Reasons to Use Handmade Shea Butter if you want more detail

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