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The traditional method of preparing unrefined shea butter consists of the following steps:
1) Separating/cracking: The outer pulp of the fruit is removed. When dry, the nut, which is the source of shea butter, must be separated from the outer shell. This is a social activity, traditionally done by Women Elders and young girls who sit on the ground and break the shells with small rocks.
2) Crushing: To make the shea nuts into butter, they must be crushed. Traditionally, this is done with mortars and pestles. It requires lifting the pestles and grinding the nuts into the mortars to crush the nuts so they can be roasted.
3) Roasting: The crushed nuts are then roasted in huge pots over open, wood fires. The pots must be stirred constantly with wooden paddles so the butter does not burn. The butter is heavy and stirring it is hot, smoky work, done under the sun. This is where the slight smoky smell of traditional shea butter originates.
4) Grinding: The roasted shea nuts are ground into a smoother paste, water is gradually added and the paste is mixed well by hand.
5) Separating the oils: The paste is kneaded by hand in large basins and water is gradually added to help separate out the butter oils. As they float to the top, the butter oils, which are in a curd state, are removed and excess water squeezed out. The butter oil curds are then melted in large open pots over slow fires. A period of slow boiling will remove any remaining water, by evaporation.
6) Collecting and shaping: The shea butter, which is creamy or golden yellow at this point, is ladled from the top of the pots and put in cool places to harden. Then it is formed into balls.