So, you've made a lovely body butter with your favorite avocado oil and it sets beautifully. Life is a joy! Your skin is loving the creamy smoothness of your very own creation, and you are patting your back at how fabulous you are.
A few days pass.
Or maybe a week.
Suddenly – without warning – you open the jar to grab a dab and, shock! The contents has completely changed! Your creamy smooth, lovely body butter is now grainy and looks like this.
You assess the situation. You stare in disbelief. Then (if you're anything like me), the unpleasant utterations make their way across your lips.
Why? Why does this happen?
The reason is almost always shea butter. If not treated just so, shea will go grainy – even in an emulsion. I've seen it turn everything from a simple body butter to a complicated cream into a grainy, undesirable porridge.
There is a Reason
In this case, I was a bit dumbfounded, because I was quite sure there was no shea in my body butter.
In checking my notes, the culprit revealed itself.
It was disguised, but it was indeed shea butter.
Above: The Culprit! The 'aloe butter' in this body butter is predominately shea with a bit of oil and aloe powder mixed in.
Shea butter is a temperamental in much the same way chocolate is. Have you ever heard someone speak of tempering chocolate? To achieve the perfect texture, chocolate (and shea), need to be heated to a max temperature, then kept at a lower heat and stirred for a period to ensure that it solidfies as desired.
Why This Happens
If chocolate isn't tempered, it will take on a 'greyish' and dull appearance and won't have that lovely 'snap' when bitten into.
Shea risks going grainy.
Shea butter consists of approximately 5% palmitic acid and 40% stearic acid (and other acids). Each have a different melting and solidification point. If not heated and cooled correctly, the fatty acids will crystallize into lumps and the shea goes grainy.
What to do About itIf your product is an emulsion, I'm afraid it's destined for the bin, but if your product is 100% fat-based, then there is a relatively simple solution.
Remelt and stir.
At low heat.
The ideal procedure is to transfer your product to a glass container to remelt.
Here, however, there was such a small amount of body butter left that I placed the container directly into the microwave.
After 2 periods of 60 seconds at the lowest heat setting, the mixture was stirred and then allowed to set.
Some shea seems to set better at room temerature and some shea seems to set better if cooled quickly.
A Note About Cooling
The million dollar question: which shea does best with which method? I truly wish I could tell you, but I'm still working on that one.
There are as many different qualities of shea as there are chocolate. Even though I have ordered shea from the same reputable supplier for years, and it may still behave differently from batch to batch. As a rule of thumb though, the refined shea I use behaves best when allowed to set at room temperature.
Sometimes, working with natural ingredients can be more fun than others.
Here's the result of this remelt. Smooth, creamy and just like it is supposed to be!
More info about Shea (and Chocolate) and the Chemistry of Tempering and Rendering FatsBattling Shea Butter Graininess and Winning
Food Science - Why temper chocolate?
Heating and Holding Butters and Graininess - Susan Barclay Nichols
Shea and its different fatty acid profiles
Purification process of shea butter