The knotty shea tree grows in tropical areas, whether wild or cultivated, to a height of 10-15 m. Locally, it is an important source of fat. The main areas in which it is cultivated are the savannah regions of the Sudan and in the areas where the rivers Niger and the upper part of the Nile grow. In its native Central Africa, the tree represents an important source of fat, since The oil palms that are grown in the North and in the South do not prosper in these regions.
The ovary of the shea butter tree contains beans the size of a yellow-green apricot that contain a seed the size of a horse chestnut (seed). While birds, elephants and humans enjoy eating their beans, shea butter is obtained from seeds (which contain 34-57% oil) that are crushed or ground in a mechanical press. Previously, the fat was obtained by grinding the seeds, which were boiled in water. Then, the fats that floated to the surface were skimmed. Raw shea butter has an acrid and unpleasant odor and, therefore, is refined. The refined shea butter has a magnificent flavor. It is a solid, gray-greenish or whitish fat that contains approximately equal amounts of proportions rich in stearic and oleic acid, and has a weak and characteristic odor.
Shea butter is highly valued in its countries of origin as edible fat. The exported product is used mainly in the production of soap and candles. The cosmetic industry uses shea butter as synthetic fat for lotions and creams. In pharmacy, shea butter is used to treat dermatoses, eczema, burns and sunburn.