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Kpangnan - African Butter Tree (Pentadesma butyracea)

Kpangnan, pronounced "pa-nya," has been sold in the USA as "golden shea butter" or "yellow shea butter," in fact it is from a completely separate species of tree.

Kpangnan is the butter from the Butter Tree (Pentadesma butyracea), a tree which grows in the gallery rainforests and riverbank forests along the west coast of Africa from Sierra Leone to Cameroon. Local names for this butter include Kpangnan (or painya) as well as kanya (Benin), kanga or lamy butter (Sierra Leone), Akpoto (Togo) among others. Kpangnan is traded locally across West Africa, and especially in central Togo and Benin. It has also been traded internationally, but under a false name. P. butyracea butter has and is being sold in the United States as "yellow shea butter" or "golden shea butter." In actuality, shea butter and P. butyracea butter are from two distinct species of trees.

These trees are not even in the same genus and grow in entirely different habitats. As a result, their ecologies are quite different. The African butter tree grows in the dense, wet forests along river banks and low areas (called gallery forests), while shea trees grow in the open savanna. The African butter tree prefers the shaded, wet conditions. Shea trees on the other hand thrive in the full sunlight and are drought tolerant.

An interesting aspect of the African butter tree is that is it pollinated by bats, specifically the African long-tongued fruit bat (Megaloglossus woermanni). The shea flowers are not as large as those of the African butter tree and are insect pollinated. While the kernels of the two species are somewhat similar in appearance, the fruits are quite distinct from each other.

The butters of the African butter tree and the shea tree are also quite different. Although their fatty acid profiles are quite similar, their non-fatty constituents differ. For instance, while unrefined shea butter has an unsaponifiable content of 5% or more, Kpangnan has only 0.8% unsaponifiable matter. The saponification (SAP) values of shea butter and Kpangnan are also quite different. The SAP of unrefined shea butter is between 128 and 134, while that of Kpangnan is 191. A unique characteristic of Kpangnan is the unexpected high fraction of stigmasterol (about 45% of the sterol fraction). Stigmasterol is an unsaturated plant sterol usually found in occurring in plant fats like calabar bean, soybean oil, rape seed and cocoa butter.

Stigmasterol is used as a starting material in the manufacture of synthetic progesterone, but has other interesting properties as well. Some research shows stigmasterol can lower the risk of certain cancers, including ovarian cancer. Certain extracts of stigmasterol have also been found to be affective topical anti-inflammatory agents. Other differences between shea butter and Kpangnan are color, texture, and odor. High quality, unrefined shea butter is a beige color with light green or yellow tint. Kpangnan is a bright, clear yellow. Shea butter is creamier than Kpangnan, although both butters have a smooth feel.

Like shea butter, Kpangnan has been used in central Togo for generations. Kpangnan is used for skin moisturizing and treatments, a food oil, and for traditional soaps. Kpangnan is of particular interest for sustainable development programs because the tree grows in potentially endangered habitat. Adding value to this indigenous resource will encourage conservation of the gallery forest habitat and protect it from deforestation. Agbanga Karite is working with local gatherers in central Togo to protect both shea trees and the African butter tree. We feel it is a great honor to be able to bring you another wonderful indigenous product from our communities.

Copyright © 2003-2011 Agbanga Karite/Alaffia ~ all rights reserved. | Updated Wednesday, January 17, 2018

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