Battling Shea Butter Graininess - and Winning

Shea butter graininess has been a subject on this blog several times. I work with shea in several products, but have always found it a temperamental ingredient to work with. It needs constant babysitting and monitoring if there is to be any chance of a grain-free texture.

In short, working with shea butter is a bit of a battle. Unless of course, you happen to know a few shea-graininess-battling tricks.

Enter Jonna.

I'm tempted to tell you that's her in the pic above.

In actual fact – it is.

But only in my mind.

Here's Jonna.

Jonna has special knowledge. She knows how to tame shea into submission and banish graininess.

She gave me a fascinating account of her family traditions and even shared how she has won the war against shea graininess.

Not only did she share her family history and secrets with me, she has permitted me to share them with you!

Can you see why I chose the picture above now? Jonna is my shea butter heroine.

Let's meet this lovely, talented, and generous lady.

Savonnier Roots

In the early 1800's, Jonna's great, great grandmother lived in England and worked as a Savonnier for a famous company. (Savonnier is French and means soap-maker or maker-of-soap). Jonna tells me the famous company still exists, but 'now makes everything using synthetic chemicals'.

Jonnas Great Great Grandmother was a savonnier in England.   
Jonnas savonnier grandmother used a method called 'rendering' to get the impurities out of the fats. Her recipes and techniques have been passed to Jonna.

Rendering happens by using low, long heat.

Jonna explains what it does:
"Rendering gets the granular particles out of the product – you would not believe the amount of black particles that settle to the bottom!

Rendering the butter also makes it stable. I have some rendered butter that has been sitting in a jar for several years (for testing). It is still fine. There is no rancidity, no reoccurrence of grains, no spotting, no shrinkage, and no cultures."

Raw Shea

Jonna works exclusively with raw white shea butter. She explains: "it actually looks greenish when you get it. It is very grainy and has black particles from where they heat the pod to split it open. No two batches look alike, but interestingly enough, when rendered, always becomes the same yellowish color."

Jonnas Rendering Method

Melt raw shea butter in a sterilized pot directly on a stove. 
Bring the heat to just above 115° F (46° C), but no higher than 125° F (51.6° C), then lower the temperature to 110° F (43.3° C) and hold for approximately 25 minutes. 

When cooled some, add 0.5% Tocopherol (vitamin e) to retard rancidity. 

The final step is to skim off the top (Jonna recommends using a suction baster) and filtering it. Jonna recommends using a strainer covered with 400 thread count refined silk.

She also recommends storing the rendered butter in a non-plastic container.

Jonnas Tips 

On Mixing Shea with Other ingredients:

"Palm or coconut oil can break down the molecular chains in the other ingredients, and you can end up with a grainy result.

If you are using e-wax or stearic acid, you should also heat those ingredients longer than they say because the stearic acid will reform the original molecular strands and cause spotting."

If you don't add Preservative: 

"If you are making lip balm and don't add preservative, then don't expect a shelf life past 6 months. You can also expect to see spots and molecular breakdown in the product."

Consider the Climate

"Whether you are in dry or humid climate makes difference when working with shea. In a humid climate, I recommend adding a touch of vegetable glycerin to the formula. It will make a consistency difference in the delivery system of the product.

In a dry hot climate, add a bit of rendered palm oil to help keep it solid."

About Preservatives

To preserve her shea, Jonna uses either caprylic acid or citric acid.  She cautions: "be aware that citric acid needs to be completely dissolved – otherwise the butter will become grainy".

Thank you Jonna for this treasure trove of information!


Anonymous said…
What great information! Thank you for sharing this. It explains a lot of troubling results with some formulas.
Blessings. JNC
LisaLise said…
Hey there JNC- I was so pleased when Jonna agreed to let me publish this. I think it will help a lot of people! :)
Naturalelle said…
I like to leave my shea butter in a room where its at room temperature so that its easier for me to whip it to a buttery consistency and then I add my oils. This was a great read and very informative too.
LisaLise said…
Hi Naturalelle - Thanks for your kind words! Great tip about whipping shea when it is at room temperature. Remember to store it cool though. :)
Rebekah Osorio said…
So happy to find this! Thank you! And thank you Jonna!
Unknown said…
Hi Lisa :) Thanks so much for this post!

Do you think I can strain with a coffee filter?
LisaLise said…
Hi Unknown — I would be hesitant about using a coffee filter for this and probably stick with the recommended silk. On the other hand, one never knows unless one tries— maybe a small test batch would be worth trying?
Wanda said…
Hi Lisa,
Thank you very much for this valuable knowledge! Caprylic Acid is recommended to preserve a balm. I only find this synthetic and/or as a palm derivative... Do you think I could also use MCT oil C8? And how much would be needed? Best regards, Wanda
LisaLise said…
HI Wanda- If the balm is anhydrous (no water content), there is no need of a preservative. Or are you making a cleansing balm where it risks getting some content of water in it during use?
Wanda said…
Well no, I mean the way Jonna preserves her raw shea butter after she rendered it. She explains her uses of caprylic acid or citric acid. I'm wondering how caprylic acid is capable of preserving, and if so, which kind of caprylic acid would be appropriate.
LisaLise said…
HI Wanda - apologies! I had forgotten that Jonna used these ingredients to preserve her shea butter. To be perfectly honest, I am not sure that anything more than an antioxidant is necessary to extend shelf life, but it has been so long, I may have meant to write 'preserve her shea butter products' -- it's been a while (this post is from 2014) so I am simply unsure of how to answer you. Perhaps Jonna will see this and post a comment to clarify.
Wanda said…
No problem! Thanks for your explanation!