Shea nuts are primarily grown in West and Central Africa in the semiarid Sahel, referred to as the "Shea Belt". Vitellaria paradoxa and Vitellaria nilotica are the mail varieties. Vitellaria paradoxa grows throughout the West African region and is exported in the largest volume. Vitellaria nilotica is grown primarily in northern Uganda and southern Sudan.
The Shea nuts, which are embedded in a soft fruit, fall to the ground during harvesting period (typically June through August). They are then buried in pits which causes the pulp to ferment and disintegrate and produces enough heat to prevent germination. The Shea nuts are dried for a few days and are later shelled and winnowed, usually by hand. The kernels are dried further to reduce moisture content from about 40 percent to about 7 percent.
Demand and Supply
Shea nuts supply far outstrips demand. Over 60,000 Mt. of dominant variety, Vitellaria paradoxa, is produces in West Africa. Most is used as a cooking oil or as a shea butter for the skin and hair locally.
The other variety Vitellaria nilotica, has superior quality which is preferred by the cosmetic firms. Unfortunately this variety is primarily grown and processed in northern Uganda and southern Sudan, both currently states of civil unrest, and so it is generally unavailable on the market.
A few companies based in Europe control the import market for shea nuts. Their main clients are chocolate manufacturers as the shea nut byproducts are among the principal ingredients in cocoa butter equivalent (CBEs). Many countries, including US, forbid the manufacture of CBEs, so main importers tend to be in Europe with minor amounts shipped to Japan. . Major European importing companies are primarily based in Denmark, Sweden and UK.
Shea butter is becoming increasingly popular as an ingredient in cosmetics and soaps, especially in France and the US. Chocolate and confectionery products account for 95 percent of shea butter demand, with only 5 percent currently used for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Individual companies specify their own quality standards for purchases of shea nuts. The following is a benchmark for the composition of the shea nut required for import:
Free Fatty Acids (FFA) = < - 6%
Moisture Content = < - 7%
Oil Content = ->45%
Latex = 4-10%
The oil content is the most crucial element of the shea nuts as that component is an important ingredient in the composition of butter that goes into CBEs and other by products
We also trades in agricultural commodities such as
shea nuts and soya beans also buy and import Rice, Sugar and Cooking oil.
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