Vitellaria also known as shea tree or shi tree is the magic plant which produces the wonderful shea fruit. Shea butter is extracted from the core of the fruit and turned into the oily substance we all know so well.
We have all heard the saying ”Anything worth having, is worth waiting for”. The same goes for shea butter and the tree itself. Shea tree only starts producing its first fruit when it is around 10 to 15 years of age. Quite a time to wait for some fruit, isnt it? It takes even longer for the tree to start producing its nuts to its full potential, it can take up to 30 years. After the tree starts sprouting the nuts, it will be anywhere between 4-6 months for the fruit to ripen and be ready for collection. A fully grown tree can produce anywhere between 15 to 45kg of nuts. It all depends on the trees age and fruitfulness.
Shea tree is a plant that widely grows across Africa from west to the east, it naturally flourishes across the countries dry Savannah. Various species of the tree can be found across 19 countries which is 1/3 of the continent. Quite a fun fact is that the production of shea butter can be traced as far back as the 14th century. Traces of the butters production have been found in a small medieval village in Saouga.
Shea trees have several species depending on their fatty acid % they will either produce a thicker more solid butter or a more liquid version. The two components that determine the consistency of the butter are stearic and oleic acids. The nuts are usually collected from a waste areas, so the consistency of the butter will be determined by the average percentage of acids in the fruit. Shea nuts collected from the Mossi Plateau region of Burkina Faso more often will be a lot more harder and solid because of the higher average of stearic acids, then shea butter collected from the other West Africa regions which are more richer in oleic acids.