Shea Butter – Benefits, Nutrition, and Healthy Recipes

Mehak Shah

June 15, 2022

Shea butter comes from the nut of the African shea tree, also known as the Karite tree (French for “tree of life”), which originates in the savannah regions of West and Central Africa. Shea trees, also known as Karite trees, are not farmed. They only grow wild, reaching a height of twenty metres and taking more than fifteen years to yield their first edible nuts.

They have a 300-year lifespan. Shea butter is from two oily kernels found in the shea tree seed. After being separated from the seed, the kernel is pounded into a powder and boiled in water. The butter hardens as it rises to the surface of the water.

Shea butter has a long time use as a cosmetic component. It’s an excellent product for smoothing, calming, and conditioning your skin because of its high content of vitamins and fatty acids and easy-to-spread consistency.

In addition, it is edible. Therefore, shea butter has been used as a component in multiple food preparation in Africa for generations. There are several advantages to utilising shea products, which vary depending on the type of shea butter in the product.

Nutritional Facts on Shea Butter

Shea butter’s nutritional information is limited because it consists primarily of organic acids, including oleic acid, stearic acid, linoleic acid, palmitic acid, and arachidic acid. However, these fatty acids provide various health benefits, such as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. 

The nutritional profile of this butter may alter depending on the level of processing and the inclusion of any extra aromatic or chemical components for cosmetic products. 

According to the USDA, 100g of shea butter contains the following nutrients:

  • Energy: 884 Kcal
  • Protein: 0g
  • Fat (total lipid): 100g
  • Fibre: 0g
  • Carbohydrate: 0g
  • Fatty acid, total saturated: 46.6g
  • Fatty acid, total monounsaturated: 44g
  • Fatty acid, total polyunsaturated: 5.2g


In one of the studies, shea butter’s protein composition isn’t well understood.

There was no evidence of IgE binding to shea nuts or butter. The high-fat content of the shea nut may restrict protein extraction; hence it has no available protein.


Fat provides all of the calories in shea butter. Research shows stearic, linoleic, and palmitic fatty acids and other fatty components in the oil. If you eat just one serving, there are 14 grams of total fat. One tablespoon is considered a serving.


Shea butter supporters claim that it is high in vitamin E for moisturising and hydrating cream for the skin. But it contains no vitamins or minerals, according to the USDA in terms of food preparation.


Shea nut butter’s estimated glycemic load and glycemic index are zero, indicating that it contains no carbs, sugars, starch, or fibre.

Varieties of Shea Butter

Shea butter comes in four varieties: raw, unrefined, refined, and ultra-refined shea butter. Shea nuts get processed in the same way for all types. However, additional processing, such as filtration, removing pollutants and odours, changing colour, and modifying the composition, makes a difference.

Raw Shea Butter

There are five processes to make raw shea butter:

  • Removing the outer shell and drying nuts
  • Chopping up the nuts
  • Grinding and roasting
  • Water-boiling the shea flesh
  • During the boiling process, collect the butter from the water’s surface.

Raw butter includes specific contaminants and has a distinct smoky aroma from roasting due to the lack of extra processing. In addition, raw butter is usually a rich yellow or greenish if the walnuts are not fully mature when processed.

Unrefined Shea Butter

Raw shea butter and unrefined shea butter are pretty comparable. However, there is a distinction in filtering these two varieties of butter: unrefined shea butter can be filtered as long as the filtering methods do not degrade its quality. Chemicals and preservatives are not allowed in unrefined shea butter. Unrefined shea butter is beige and smells nutty after the filtering process.

Refined and Ultra Refined Shea Butter

Refined shea butter undergoes complete filtration and odour removal. As a result, it has fewer nutrients than raw and unprocessed shea butter and contains fragrances and preservatives.

Shea butter that has been ultra-refined has gone through at least two filtering systems, modifying its composition. As a result, it loses nutrients during the refining process. The consistency can range from firm to liquid, and the colour of ultra-refined butter is exceedingly white. You can find this type of shea butter in mass-produced cosmetics.

Shea goods that are refined and ultra-refined are more visually appealing, easier to use, and feel more luxurious. Unfortunately, the moisturising and healing capabilities get diminished throughout the refinement process.

African Shea Butter

Shea butter from Africa has been present for generations in its natural state. This is not only an excellent natural moisturiser, but it’s also edible and has impressive therapeutic capabilities for a variety of skin problems.

Shea butter has been used throughout Africa for centuries for hairdressing, skin protection, candle making, and food preparation as a cooking oil. It is commonly present in cosmetics as a moisturiser, salve, or lotion.

Application of Shea Butter

Shea butter is used in making chocolates as a cocoa butter equivalent and improver (after mixing with other oils), although its flavour is different. Shea butter is easily absorbed into the skin since it melts at body temperature. In addition, it has good water-binding capabilities and functions as a refatting agent (a refatting agent replenishes your skin). The hydrating and soothing characteristics of shea butter help treat various skin conditions. Interestingly, it also has anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties to some extent.

It has become a popular ingredient in cosmetics and personal care products due to its high content of unsaturated fatty acids. Shea butter has grown in popularity in Western industrialised countries due to its widespread use in skin and hair care products such as moisturisers, shampoos, conditioners, lip gloss, lipsticks, creams, and emulsions. In addition, it is a natural sunscreen that can protect the skin from harmful UV rays of the sun to a limited extent because of cinnamic acid’s presence. Therefore, shea butter is in sun protection products (lotions and creams) alongside other powerful sun protection agents.

Shelf Life of Shea Butter

Shea butter has a shelf life of roughly 24 months (2 years) from the date of manufacturing and packaging. The shelf life depends on storage and temperature. Also, there are no chemicals added to unrefined shea butter, so expect some variation in your butter from time to time. A study shows that natural antioxidants in shea butter offer excellent stability and shelf-life.

First and foremost, if your shea butter smells rancid, it is no longer suitable. You might mistake its nutty, smoky aroma if unfamiliar with unrefined, raw shea butter for rancidity. A rancid odour makes you gag and reminds you of rancid olive oil or rotten food. Toss your shea butter if it smells terrible. 

Here are some suggestions for extending the shelf life of shea butter:

  • Protect your shea butter from UV radiation and acquire UV jars to store it. UV jars prevent sunlight from entering the jar and oxidising the shea butter. Shea butter’s vitamins and fatty acids will be gone forever if oxidised. Thus investing in a UV container is the best option.
  • Keep your shea butter in a cold place at all times. For example, you can place it in the refrigerator to prevent it from melting. Excessive heat is also one of the numerous reasons shea butter spoils more quickly.
  • To prevent it from expiring, do not touch it with dirty hands. Always wash your hands before touching it to ensure that shea butter is free of bacteria and germs. It is especially vital if you plan to cook or bake with shea butter. Bacteria can grow in shea butter and cause it to spoil quickly.
  • Air contamination can cause your shea butter to oxidise, robbing it of its nutrients. If you want shea butter to last as long as possible, store it in an airtight container. The less it comes into contact with the air, the longer it can last.

Potential Benefits of Shea Butter

When used topically, shea butter has various health benefits, including hydrating the skin, reducing inflammation, avoiding premature ageing, safeguarding cardiovascular health, and whitening the skin.

Skin Health

The fatty acids, including linoleic, oleic, stearic, and palmitic acids in this butter, are well-known for penetrating the skin and delivering nutrients and antioxidants deep within, keeping the skin nourished and healthy.

Hair Care

Shea butter applied to the scalp and hair can aid in hair development, hair loss prevention, and irritation reduction. This simple treatment could help you get rid of dandruff. However, it will not block your pores.

Linoleic acid and oleic acid are abundant in shea butter. These two acids counteract each other. That means shea butter is easy to absorb and won’t leave your hair looking oily after application. It kills germs. 

According to a study, oral doses of shea bark extract may have antibacterial effects. Although additional research is needed, this could still indicate that humans could benefit from antibacterial properties. As a result, some researchers believe that topical treatment will reduce the amount of acne-causing bacteria on the hair scalp. 

Benefits in Eczema, Dermatitis, and Psoriasis

Shea butter aids in reducing irritation and soothing the skin due to its anti-inflammatory nature. Therefore, inflammatory skin disorders including eczema and psoriasis might benefit from this treatment. Shea also absorbs quickly, which could give relief from the burning sensation. According to research, it may be as effective as pharmaceutical lotions in treating eczema. 

Reduces Heart Disease and Stroke Risk

Shea butter contains monounsaturated fat, which gives some health benefits if consumed. For example, monounsaturated fatty acids can help lower your risk of heart disease and stroke by lowering LDL cholesterol, commonly known as “bad” cholesterol. According to a study, monounsaturated fats can also aid in developing and maintaining cells in the body.

Research shows that shea butter as a raw material for margarine instead of trans fat is healthier for cardiovascular health due to its high stearic acid concentration and melting point. Furthermore, eliminating the hydrogenation process, which is otherwise required to “harden” vegetable oils, will lower the cost of producing shea butter-based margarine. However, keep in mind that shea butter has as much saturated fat as it does monounsaturated fat. Because it might contribute to higher amounts of harmful cholesterol in your blood, eat shea butter in moderation. 

Relieves Sunburn and Skin Burns

Shea butter soothes superficial (first-degree) skin burns, such as sunburns. Anti-inflammatory components in shea butter help to lessen redness and swelling. Its fatty acid components help soothe the skin by keeping it moisturised while it heals. 

Helps With Congestion

Shea butter helps relieve nasal congestion. When used in nasal drops, it helps to reduce nasal inflammation. It also aids in the reduction of mucosal damage, which is responsible for nasal congestion.

Healthy and Delicious Recipes Using Shea Butter

Shea Butter Cookies 

  • Serving – 2 
  • Preparation time – 30 minutes
  • Cooking time – 15 minutes


  • Shea Butter: 200gm
  • Soft Flour: 250 g (1 cup)
  • Sugar: 125 g (½ cup)
  • Vanilla Essence: 1 tbsp

Method of Preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 170°C.
  • Add shea butter, sugar, and vanilla essence to a mixing bowl and mix in.
  • Add flour and mix to form a crumbly texture, then gently press it into a dough.
  • Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined surface, and use your fingers to press the dough down gently.
  • Place another baking paper on the dough and carefully use the rolling pin to roll it down to an inch thick.
  • Place them on a baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 170°C for 10-12 minutes.
  • Shea butter cookies are ready to serve.

Unleavened Bread

  • Serving – 4 -5 
  • Preparation time – 40 minutes
  • Cooking time – 40 minutes


  • Plain flour: 8 cups
  • Condensed milk: 8 tsp
  • Sugar: ½ cup
  • Salt: ½ tsp
  • Butter (melted): 1 cup

Method of Preparation

  • Preheat the oven to 150C.
  • In a mixing bowl, put the flour, pour in the melted butter and add sugar, fresh milk, salt and condensed milk.
  • Whisk all the mixtures together to combine and form a soft dough.
  • Divide the dough into four on a baking board.
  • Use a rolling pin to roll out each dough flatly.
  • Cut according to desired sizes.
  • Sprinkle a little flour on a baking pan before placing the cut dough into the pan.
  • Place in the oven and bake until the unleavened bread turns slightly brown.
  • Bring out from the oven and allow to cool down before serving.

Unless you do a lot of African cuisine-based cooking, you won’t find many recipes that call for shea butter. However, some chefs use shea butter instead of other fats and oils in the kitchen.

Shea butter, for example, can be used in stir fry recipes. It can also be used in smoothies in the same manner as coconut oil to give them a creamy feel. Shea butter is also vegan because it comes from seeds rather than dairy. So you can use it in recipes that call for butter, such as baked products and grain dishes.

Potential Allergy Towards Shea Butter

While it is impossible to state that no one will be allergic to shea nut butter, it appears that persons with other nut allergies might be at increased risk from shea nuts. However, those with a confirmed tree nut allergy should carry epinephrine at all times.

Pure shea butter itself is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. However, you might be allergic to the fragrance, preservative, or colouring agent in shea butter products. In addition, tree nut allergy is very prevalent and can be pretty severe. Still, a nut allergy to shea is rare. 


Shea butter is made by gathering the nuts of an African tree. It is high in critical nutrients to help you glow from the inside out and improve your natural complexion. It has a variety of applications, including cooking and skincare, but one of the most popular is for hair. Shea butter is available in various grades with varying looks and smells. The choice between refined and unrefined shea butter is primarily a matter of taste. 

Be mindful that while refined shea butter is hydrating, it lacks the skin-calming properties of unrefined shea butter. Nevertheless, it is usually regarded as a safe and effective moisturiser with numerous additional advantages, including reducing skin inflammation and the appearance of ageing.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q. What does shea butter do to your skin?

A. Shea butter is an excellent cosmetic product for softening skin because of its high fatty acid and vitamin content. It is anti-inflammatory and healing and can help condition, tone, and soothe your skin, especially on your face.

Q. Can I put shea butter on my face?

A. Shea butter is also known as “Mother Nature’s Conditioner” for its outstanding softening and moisturising capabilities. Therefore, you can use it as a face mask or cream. In addition, its unique nutrition concentration benefits the skin.

Q. Can shea butter harm you?

A. It is suitable for all types of skin. In truth, there is no medical evidence of a shea butter allergy. Shea butter is free of chemical irritants that dry the skin and do not clog pores. It’s suitable for almost all skin types.

Q. Does shea butter grow hair?

A. Shea butter has a variety of nutrients that can be used to condition and smooth your hair. Ingredients like Oleic Acid, Stearic Acid, and Linoleic Acid are among them. These elements will nourish your scalp and follicles, nourishing and stimulating them, but they are unlikely to help you develop new hair; instead, they will help you preserve what you already have.

Q. Can shea butter remove pimples?

A. Shea butter cleanses and moisturises your skin while removing excess oils while not drying it out. As a result, it makes it an effective treatment for current pimples. It also has anti-inflammatory effects that assist in curing your skin and is high in collagen, which helps to diminish fine lines and wrinkles.

Q. Can shea butter remove dark spots?

A. Hyperpigmentation, age spots, and liver spots are all terms for dark spots on your skin. Shea butter for skin discolouration can help remove dark spots and prevent them from appearing in the first place. It’s a natural alternative to medications like hydroquinone, an exfoliant that speeds up cell turnover and reveals younger-looking skin.

Q. Is shea butter good for lips?

A. Shea butter is well-known for its ability to hydrate even the most dehydrated skin deeply. As an emollient, shea butter moisturiser your lips in the near term while also softening them over time. Shea butter may be what you need to create a smooth, velvety lip if you have trouble applying lip colour to peeling lips..

Q. Which is better: shea or cocoa butter?

A. Shea butter is made from the nuts of shea trees, while cocoa butter comes from cocoa beans. Because shea butter is lightweight, it may be better for acne-prone skin. On the other hand, cocoa butter is best for massages because of its relaxing scent. In addition, it can improve stretch marks and other skin imperfections. Finally, while both types of butter can be beneficial, it’s best to experiment with them to see which one works best.

Q. How do you know if shea butter is real?

A. All shea butter varieties are not created equal. The colour should be off white ivory or yellowish. Due to the country of origin, the colours vary. When you apply shea butter to the skin, it should be very creamy and absorb rapidly. If the butter isn’t pure, it feels oily and spreads instead of soaking into your skin.

Q. Does shea butter expire?

A. Yes, it is possible. Shea butter expiries though it is beneficial to all body parts, although it does have a limit. Even though it has a long shelf life, everything has an expiration date at some point. Shea butter has an average shelf life of around 24 months (2 years) after production and packing. However, it is an estimated shelf life, influenced by storage and temperature. 

About the Author

Mehak holds masters in foods and nutrition from Amity university, Noida. She has a keen interest in public health and nutrition and has been in charge of various projects with milestone NGO. She has worked with people over the globe to bring out the changes in their lives and has always been working towards lifestyle modifications via good dietary practices. According to her a healthy lifestyle is not about the destination but all about the journey.

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