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Why haven't I heard of sheabutter before now?

The Karite tree (Shea tree) grows only in Africa. This unique tree grows uncultivated in 19 contiguous nations. This region is referred to by some as the Shea Belt and spans some 3,000 miles from Senegal in the west into the foothills of the Ethiopian highlands in the east. This area lies between the Sahara desert to the north and the African rain forest to the south.

The Shea Belt includes some 19 sovereign nations: Benin, Ghana, Chad, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Guinea Bissau, Cote D'Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Togo, Uganda, Zaire and Guinea. (source: United Nations FOA)

Many attempts by Europeans trying to cultivate the Karite tree have failed. They found the trees would not produce the fruit from which the seed is extracted to produce Shea Butter. It takes anywhere from 20 to 50 years for the tree to bear fruit and even then about 1 in 3 trees will bear fruit during any given summer.

Since the trees cannot be commercially grown and controlled by multi-national corporations the marketing of Shea Butter has been practically non-existent. The African nations don't have the wherewithal to market the product on a large scale and the production of Shea Butter has remained mostly a cottage industry. Even though about 1 million tons of Shea nuts are harvested annually, it is estimated that the annual harvest is only about a third of the nuts produced each year. About 95% of the nuts are exported annually for the manufacture of chocolate as a cocoa butter substitute, a stabilizing ingredient.

Shea Butter is one of Africa's best kept secrets and treasures.

on Monday June 27 by Super User
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