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Shea Butter's Zero Waste Process

As I watched the women make shea butter earlier this year, I wondered what the interesting fist-sized balls they were using for the fire were made of. I curiously followed the process from grinding all the way to the molten shea butter (all the while imagining the end result and the different kinds of whipped butter and body scrub concoctions I could make with this!) and still couldn’t figure out the origin of these balls. In the end, while wondering on the outskirts of the work site I came across a beautiful sight! Rows and rows of the curious looking balls in almost military formation!

Amidst the language barrier, I managed to get my question across to one of the women. Through elaborate hand waves, and expressive sounds from both myself and my teacher, I finally understood what these were! They were the by-product of the shea butter process, cleverly moulded into balls and then reused in lighting the ovens that would eventually be used in making future batches of shea butter.

You see, the process of making shea butter, as designed by their ancestors hundreds of years ago, is a largely zero waste process, reusing as much of the byproducts as could be incorporated in the process – making it one of the most cyclical processes I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing.

I couldn’t help but to hold one of them, allowing the pride of association wash over me while I gazed at it, in its simple beauty!



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