In Africa the shea nut (actually the pit of the shea fruit) is known as “women’s gold”.
When crushed and processed, the nuts of the shea tree yield vegetable fat known as shea oil and shea butter. The shea tree grows throughout the semi-arid region of Central West Africa; one of the largest concentrations is in Burkina Faso.
For centuries Africans have eaten the shea fruit, both in its raw and cooked forms. At some point in the long history of the shea tree, people realized that the pit of the shea fruit, known as the shea nut, could be ground, producing a high fat paste, which we now call shea oil and shea butter.
The shea oil and butter are used as food ingredients, as the basis for cleansers and moisturizers, and as a medicine.
Over time, Europeans exploring the African continent “discovered” the shea oil and butter, and the material soon entered international trade routes. The Europeans used the shea oil and butter in the manufacture of soaps, moisturizers and foods. In particular, shea oil and butter became common ingredients for chocolate production, as well as baked goods. To this day, when you visit Europe and/or eat an imported chocolate or baked good from Europe, the likelihood that shea oil and shea butter are ingredients is almost guaranteed.
In the United States, over the last ten years or so, shea oil and butter have become a common and well advertised addition to soaps, body cleansers and moisturizers.
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