Saturday, October 8, 2011

Question: Heating and holding butters and graininess?

A few questions have arisen about graininess in our butters and how they might relate to heating and holding. I've answered this question before, but let's get into it again!

In this post on heating and holding, Leman asks: When I make balms (non water) with shea butter it forms grainy bits after few days. Some people say when shea butter is melted it should be heated and held for 20mins at 70˚C temperature to prevent graininess and others say the faster you cool off the shea butter mixture by putting it into the freezer for few mins the less it will go grainy. And some say just to soften shea butter not melt. What's your experience with shea butter in anhydrous products?

In the same post, Kathy asks: If a butter, like shea or mango, is part of the oil phase, will heating it over 70 make the final product grainy? What does cause the grainy-ness?

Sometimes your mango or shea butters can get grainy (this can happen to cocoa butter, but not as often as the other butters). It isn't about to what temperature you heat your butters, it's about the fatty acid profile of the butter and how you cool it.

Let's look at the fatty acid profile of shea butter - 3 to 7% palmitic acid (C16), 35 to 45% stearic acid (C18), 40 to 55% oleic acid (C18:1), and 3 to 8% linoleic acid (C18:2). The palmitic and stearic acid have different melting and solidification points (the oleic and linoleic aren't solid fatty acids, so they aren't relevant for this situation). After melting, the palmitic and stearic acids will eventually turn solid again, but each does it at a different temperature. If they cool slowly, the fatty acids can crystallize into large clumps, which causes the graininess. If they cool quickly, they won't have time to crystallize and you'll have a smooth product.

If you are finding your mango or shea butter is always grainy no matter what you do, you can temper it the way you would temper chocolate. Melt your mango or shea butter completely (to a liquid), then pour into a mould or container of some kind and put it into the fridge or freezer to cool very quickly. Remove, store in a cool dark place, then use when you need it. This should eliminate the grains you're finding in your products. (The reasons you could be getting grains even when you've been cooling the product quickly could be due to the way you're storing it, the way your supplier is storing it, and possible melting and cooling while shipping from the supplier or from the manufacturer to the supplier.) This will increase the melting point of your mango or shea butter in future products, but it will eliminate the graininess so it's hooray time all around!

This is one of the reasons I suggest melting your butters slightly and to put your products into a fridge or freezer to cool: The less we melt the oils or the quicker we cool them, the less likely we are to see the grains!

AN IMPORTANT ASIDE: Lise and Robert - two very knowledgeable readers - have written the following in the comments (which is why it's a great idea to read them now and again!) 

Lise: As for shea butter (I use refined), I've found slow heating over very low heat keeps the butter 'grain-free'. I've discussed butters many times with my suppliers and have always gotten the same answer - don't cool in the refrigerator!

Robert: The advice which we received from (perhaps the world's largest supplier of Shea butter) is similar to that posted by Lise Anderson: Heat to 70C to melt butters and oils and cool in a temperature controlled environment between 18C to 20C. There was no mention of rapid cooling.

I've had good success with rapid cooling in the fridge and/or freezer for both shea and mango butter when I'm tempering them or when I'm making a lotion bar, butter, or other anhydrous product, but if the suppliers are saying different, then follow their lead! If they are suggesting cooling at room temperature, then cool at room temperature (which is generally 18˚C to 20˚C). I didn't find this worked for me - I still had grainy shea butter - but anecdotes don't make data, and "working for me" is my opinion, not data. I will still continue to do what I've been doing, but if you find that it isn't working for you to put your products in the fridge or freezer, then try room temperature! Please let me know the results! 

I'm not sure what this means for tempering your butters because the heating and cooling is an essential part of this process. I'm all ears! 

When it comes to lotions, if your shea butter is going to get grainy, it'll get grainy. You're more likely to get graininess from unrefined butters than refined or ultra refined butters. (I use white, ultra-refined from Soapcraft and I've never had a graininess issue.) If you are worried about graininess, temper your butter as noted above, then use it in your products. Or switch to a more refined version of the butter. Or buy your butter from another supplier.

If you want to see the original post on this topic, click here. For more frequently asked questions, look to your left to the section called frequently asked questions. I'm always adding to that list, so check it often! 

As an aside, people have asked me in the past about the swirl on top of my whipped butters. It's a normal whipped butter - like this recipe - that I put into a piping bag with an icing tip. The product at the top of this post was done with a 1M icing tip - my favourite - and the one just above was done with a tip with more spikes around the edges (can't remember the name, and can't find a picture! But it was one of hte smaller tips - the 1M is huge!)

Click here for a tutorial on how to use a 1M tip.

Join me for more formulating fun! 


Leman said...


Thank you ever so much for covering this!!

I read the original post as well and am a bit confused after reading the comments part!

So I am going to run through what I understood and you could just say correct or not as I don't want to take up much of your time on this Susan!

If I am making a balm containing say shea butter, cocoa butter, beeswax, almond oil, jojoba oil, rosehip oil, Vit E...
- I melt my beeswax completly until liquid.
- I melt my shea and cocoa butters slightly (when you say 'slightly melted' do you mean you could see a bit of oil around the butters or until they are all just about liquid?)
- Add my almond, jojoba, rosehip oils and gently warm. (at this point the slightly melted butters may all turn liquid)
- Remove from heat, add Vit E and stir well.
- Pour the mixture into containers and put it into a fridge or freezer to cool. Is this the correct stage I should put it into fridge??

If I am making wipped butters then I do as above but I whip it a bit, put it in the fridge or freezer for few minutes, then whip it again and repeat this as much as I like it wipped.

If I am making a lotion containing shea butter then I need to heat to 79˚C and hold it for 20 minutes.

If mango or shea butter is always grainy than temper it the way you described. To ensure all the fatty acids are melted, when tempering we heat and hold for 20 minutes at 79˚C , right?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Leman. If I were to make a balm, I'd put all the ingredients that can stand the heat - oils, butters, waxes, and so on - into a Pyrex jug and heat it until they were well melted. I'd let it cool down below 50˚C to add the essential/fragrance oil, then pour them into molds or containers or whatever and let them cool in the fridge or freezer (quicker they cool, the better!).

Click here the start of a series of posts on balms.

For a whipped butter, I would melt it until it was liquidy, then put it into the freezer and let it solidify quite a bit (I like to see a crust on the top that, when poked, looks like creamed honey underneath).

If you want to make a lotion with your butters, put them into the oil phase and heat and hold with the heated oil phase at 70˚C.

If you are having trouble with graininess, temper your butter. Heat it up until liquid - we don't really care about the temperature all that much, except it should be higher than the than the melting point of stearic acid at 69˚C (this is the highest melting point of all the fatty acids) - then pour into some kind of donation or mold, put it into the freezer, and wait until solid. Remove from the freezer and put in your workshop until you're ready to use it.

p said...

Hi Susan, I'm a bit confused about how to handle lotions or creams that contain butters.

I understand that fast cooling is the key to preventing graininess - so would you recommend putting a freshly bottled lotion that contains a butter into the fridge (or freezer?) to prevent the lotion from going grainy?

I've been wondering for awhile whether that sort of quick cooling would affect an emulsion.

Thanks as always!!

Lise M Andersen said...

Hi Susan,

I've found cooling butters in the refrigerator results in an undesirably hard butter, while letting it set at room temp always creates a good result for me. As for shea butter (I use refined), I've found slow heating over very low heat keeps the butter 'grain-free'. I've discussed butters many times with my suppliers and have always gotten the same answer - don't cool in the refrigerator! I am also told that, optimally, butters should be worked with in a climate controlled room. As I don't have a climate controlled lab, I have to pay attention to weather and humidity before doing any butter recipe- but when I do, I am able to get a relatively identical result every time - now. It has taken me a couple of years of experimentation to be able to get predictable results with butters. I live in a Nordic clime - which also is relevant to production - It's a bucket of worms working with butters!

Leman said...

Thank you sooo much once more! I am crystal clear now on this subject! I am off your back now.. You are marvellous!

P, I am quite new so haven't done may recipes but I haven't had graininess in a lotion containing shea butter and I never put it into fridge but maybe I was just lucky. It's the balms and whipped butters I was having problems with graininess.

Nedeia said...

oh, this is a dear post to me :)

I have battled with graininess so much! I ave tried to use the quick cooling method, but this did not work with my shea butters. I always "dissolve" the unrefined shea with a spatula in the melted oils, after cooling them at room temp. It can take me 30 minutes to "melt" all the shea. This way I have never had any graininess.

I will try to do the quick cooling with my next batch of shea butter. Who knows, maybe the next supplier will be a better one :)

Robert said...


This post came at the perfect time as we are just beginning to work on a project for a shea butter balm.

The advice which we received from (perhaps the world's largest supplier of Shea butter) is similar to that posted by Lise Anderson: Heat to 70C to melt butters and oils and cool in a temperature controled environment between 18C to 20C. There was no mention of rapid cooling.

We look forward to experimentation.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Thanks Lise and Robert for your comments!

I've had good success with rapid cooling in the fridge and/or freezer for both shea and mango butter, but if the suppliers are saying different, then follow their lead! If they are suggesting cooling at room temperature, then cool at room temperature. I didn't find this worked for me - I still had grainy shea butter - but anecdotes don't make data, and "working for me" is my opinion, not data.

I still think the easier thing is to go with ultra refined shea butter, but then again, I don't like the smell of the unrefined! :-)

Amanda said...

I am really battling with this right now. I use only refined shea and have been getting grain lately. I live in southern CA where it is mostly between 65F and 80F. I am trying right now to reduce the shea in my lip balm by half and quick cool. I made a batch of lipstick that I'm testing right now. one stick went in the fridge and one did not. So far it's been 5 days and my not quick cooled one is grainy and the other is still smooth.

I would be happy to temper my butters but I really want to understand what it does and why it helps graininess before I go to the trouble. If you know where I can find such an explanation I would really appreciate it.

Also for what it's worth both my lotions and body butters have never had grain. the only ingredient that isn't similiarier to my balms is beeswax….could the graininess have to do with how the she and wax cools together? Maybe using a different wax would help? what do you think

Brenda said...

Something Im pretty sure I learned from Susan in the past but haven't read here is putting my cool down phase in a pan of ice water while mixing. I use unrefined shea, mango, illipe and avocado butter in my creams. I always get a creamy texture with no graininess and never put in the fridge. By the way.. Susan you're a genius!

Jane Askin said...

Hi Susan,
I've been struggling with this forever and though it was by beeswax causing the problem! My questions is are the tempering, rapid cooling or other fixes permanent? I live in the Caribbean and it will undoubtedly melt again on someone's night stand, can the graininess occur then?

Tricia said...

May I second Jane Askin's question? I live in southern Appalachia, and am finding that a hand salve (with shea butter) I make is NOT grainy when I make it. (I do put it in the fridge to quickly cool it as soon as I've poured it into jars.) But is DOES get grainy in hot summer weather here. Would tempering the shea butter before using it in the salve solve this problem?

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Tricia. Yes, tempering should help, but in the end, not having it in heat is the best idea. I know that might not be possible, but if you can keep it somewhere cooler or even in the fridge during the summer, it will be better all around!

Kamaria Olubayo said...

Hi Susan,

I bought some coconut butter from New Directions and it's incredibly grainy. I spoke to them, and they said all of the batches are that way and the only partial solution is to mix it with some fractionated coconut oil. I tried a bunch of different mixes, and even tempered it, but the butter still feels terrible.

Do you know of any ways to use up a grainy butter? I was thinking an emulsified scrub, but that's about it. I just love the smell of this butter and would hate to waste it. :'(

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kamaria. Coconut butter? I haven't heard of that. Do you mean cocoa butter or coconut oil?
As an aside, I disagree with NDA. I haven't seen a butter that was grainy by default. That has to do with the storage and shipping of the product, and I encourage you consider using another supplier.

Kamaria Olubayo said...

Hi Susan,

Thank-you for your response. It is a coconut butter ( It is creamy and smells fantastic, so the permanent graininess is very disappointing. Reading the product description now, I should gotten the hint.

I have since tried the butter in bath melts and it worked just fine. The graininess was not apparent in the water.

Thanks for your advice.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Kamaria! I encourage you to try tempering your product because, if this butter is like the mango or shea butter I've seen that was grainy, the grains will come back over time.

Kamaria Olubayo said...

Thanks Susan. I have actually tried to temper it a few times, but the graininess does not disappear for a second. That is what is so distressing about this butter!

I believe that it works out in the bath melts (just for personal use) because they are already small, the butter makes up a small percentage and there is a lot of bath water (plus the emulsifier, so I suppose the oil is spread out).

Other than that, I cannot think of much more to do with 1kg of this stuff. Given your advice, I will not be fooled if I encounter this again... I will likely return the product right away.

Thanks for your help :)

Tricia said...

Following up my previous post...

Per Susan's suggestion about tempering shea butter before adding it to a salve, I did that, and added the tempered shea butter at cool-down to my hand salve, just before pouring into jars and quick-cooling them in the freezer.

Result: a silky smooth salve that's much more resistant to going grainy in hot weather. (This is a complicated, heavy-duty salve with a bunch of ingredients: calendula-infused olive oil and FCO, lots of lanolin [which makes it possible to add a wee bit of glycerin and allantoin], shea nilotica butter, lecithin [also added at cool-down], beeswax, cetyl alcohol, vitamin E, dimethicone.)

Keeping the finished product in fridge or cellar, or at least air-conditioning, might prevent any shift to graininess altogether. Since I sell at farm markets, I can't keep my jars of salve climate-controlled all the time, alas. However, tempering the shea butter before using it has made a big difference--after two big heat waves here, I'm seeing only a little bit of graininess.

Thanks again, Susan, for the wonderful wealth of info on your site.

Jan said...

Hi Susan - Years ago I was having a problem with my lip balms and found ButterEZ from Lotioncrafter. As they promised, adding just a little to my formula worked wonders. For the first time in a long time, I'm again having trouble with grainy lip balm (I think it's the Mango ... )so I just ordered ButterEZ again to see if it will help. Willing to try anything at this point.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Jan! I love the Captex SBE/ButterEZ in my anhdryous products. I hope it works for you!

As an aside, have you considered changing the butters? Some are less likely to go grainy than others.

Olivia said...

Hi Susan!

I really enjoyed this post! Is there any reason to "hold" butters at the high heat when tempering them? I have read several other posts that say you should, but is there any point to this if you're not making a water-containing product? Does it affect the graininess in any way?

Also, what is the point of tempering your butters and then putting them away in storage until you need to use them? Why temper them at that point in time? Can you not just temper them when you go to actually make the balm? It's seems like you end up tempering them twice if you follow the process that you described. What's the reasoning behind this? Also, if you temper the butter and then store like you said, then use it to make a balm and don't do the quick cool down when you make the balm, will the tempering you did earlier all be for nothing, or will it's affects carry over? I hope I worded that question in an understandable way.

Your blog is most fascinating. I toam currently reading Kevin Dunn's Scientific Soapmaking, and when I got to the part in this post where you started talking about fatty acids, "35 to 45% stearic acid (C18), 40 to 55% oleic acid (C18:1)," I thought, Oh! I understand this terminology! :D



Nat Garner said...

Thank you for this wonderful post!

I'm getting into larger productions of body butters and lotions and had a question:

Would I be able to temper my shea butter, cool into bars to use at a later time, and not have any issue remelting them? Some of the whipped recipes that involve harder butters like Coco butter require melting all the butters, so I was wondering if I could just pre-temper my batch of shea for easier storing and handling (I'll be working out of my basement and was going to either store them in a container or would freezing be better? Can I also pre-temper my mango and coco butter?).

I experienced grainy-ness for the first time making a little batch with 3oz of shea. Apparently that's what I get for not realizing the box was so close to the vent although I am suspecting it might have been the coconut oil.

My biggest problem is that it seems no matter how small I cut my shea, not all of it gets whipped, but I imagine that's more of a technique thing.

I appreciate anyone's advice on this. Thank you!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Olivia! Yes, there is a reason: We want all the fatty acids to melt. For instance, stearic acid doesn't melt until it reaches 69˚C, so we want to make sure we reach that temperature and hold for a little while to make sure it's all completely melted.

As for tempering before using, this is what I do. If I want to make something in the workshop today, this means I have to get in there early, temper the shea butter, let it cool completely, then do that all over again. Takes way too long! If I temper it in advance, I save time! Also, if I've tempered my butter, I don't need to heat and hold when I make my whipped butter or balm. I just heat it to melted, mix mix mix, and i'm done!

Hi Nat! Yes, the whole point of tempering the butter is to make it easier to use when you want to make something. You don't need to temper cocoa butter - I've rarely heard of grains in it - and usually not with mango butter. (Your mileage will vary...) Grains tend to happen with less refined versions of shea butter. You can freeze them or leave them at room temperature. Up to you.

When you whip it, are you melting it first? If not, take a look at my whipped butter tutorial to see how I do it!

SHS said...

I was watching YouTube videos today where someone was making a deep conditioner for her hair. The way it looked at the end looked like body butter.

She made it with mostly shea butter and mixed with some cocconut oil, argan oil, vitamin e and whipped with a mixer. Never heated it at all. I was somewhat fascinated but don't know how this would affect anything. At the end she stated you could use this recipe for body butter but add arrowroot powder for dryness. I have never seen anyone use shea butter without heating. Any thoughts on can you do this and would it become grainy? Thank you!!!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi SHS. Sorry to say, but this isn't a conditioner if it doesn't contain a positively charged or cationic ingredient like BTMS-50 or cetrimonium bromide. It sounds like she made a nice anhydrous or non-water containing butter that would moisturize your hair if you used it before washing. (I don't call non-water containing products body butter. I save that for water containing, thicker lotion type products. But there's no hard and fast rule as to what we can call a body butter.)

You don't need to heat shea butter or any other butter if it'll whip without it, but most butters require it. I get an ultra refined shea butter that whips beautifully without heating. The graininess of shea butter comes from the heating and cooling process, so if you buy a shea that isn't grainy, you can try to whip it without heating if you wish. It might be easier to whip if it's heated, but it isn't necessary.

Hales Scarbrough said...

Hi Susan! You're site is interesting and informative! Thanks for all the information! So I have a question that I can't seem to find a solid answer to. I purchased some unrefined shea butter already infused with vitamin E and essential oils. It is so grainy and a pain to use so I've been researching about tempering it and whipping it. I don't want to add any base oils to it if possible. So here's my question, after heating it, should I begin whipping right away or freeze it and then after it solidifies again, whip it? Any advice would be very appreciated.

Thanks for your time,

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Haley! I think you need to temper it. You can find the instructions on how to do that in the FAQ under the heading of butter being grainy. (Sorry, can't link on my phone!) Here's the problem, though. Those essential oils are volatile and will not withstand heating this up to over 70˚C as they are volatile. (You have to get it over 70˚C because that's when stearic acid melts. You have to melt it so all the fatty acids are liquid!) So your choices are to endure the graininess and enjoy the EOs, or temper it and lose them. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news!

Hales Scarbrough said...

Hi Susan,

Thanks for the fast response! I thought that might be the case. Do you think it would be weird to whip it with a base oil without tempering, to create a whipped grainy butter? Just for an easier application. The texture now is just terrible, like foamy, moldable play sand. If not I may just temper it and cut my losses on the wonderful smell.

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi Hales. You can whip it cold without heating, if you wish, and you'll have a grainy butter. I don't know if I'd use it on my skin, but we all have different things we like! I'm sorry the butter is so grainy. As an aside, the more refined the butter, the less grainy it will be!

jonny said...

So what fatty acid profile should we look for to get butters that wont go grainy in lip balms? i know shea and mango are bad and will eventually go grainy after awhile (especially after a long heat wave). ive never had a problem with cocoa butter, tho i want to add some more butters. i see that shea is high stearic and low palmitic....which gives graininess, and cocoa butter has those two acids much close together (almost equal), so does that mean i should look for butters with similar levels of stearic and palmitic acids? or just look for low stearic? there are a lot of exotic butters i would like to try but it would be nice to weed out the ones that are more likely to go grainy.

T. Lewis Ash said...

Hi, I dont quite understand the logic of the tempering procedure for the shea butter. If the problem with grains is due to the heating and subsequent cooling process, then what difference does it make what you have done to the butter beforehand?

How does heating it up and cooling it down once, potentially many days or months before you intend to use it, help with the heating and cooling process when you do eventually get round to using it?

In other words, getting rid of any grainyness using a tempering process might reduce or remove grains whilst the butter is in "post-tempered" condition, but when you come to use it for say, making a body butter (adding to wax, EOs, etc) then you have to heat and cool it again during the body butter creation process, which could (or could not) introduce grainyness again.

Or is the idea that once its been tempered and had the grainyness removed, those grains will never come back, no matter how you use it subsequently?

I'm probably missing something obvious here... sorry!

Susan Barclay-Nichols said...

Hi T Lewis Ash! As I mention in the post, there are different fatty acids in shea butter that can crystallize if they aren't cooled down quickly. Tempering them makes sure they are in a nice formation that won't form crystals in future products. When we add them to something like a lotion, they are being added without any crystals. Crystals begat more crystals, so starting crystal free is important.

In addition, the butter now has a higher melting point. If the melting point of the fatty acid is now higher than the temperature at which we melt it, it won't get grains. For instance, stearic acid has a melting point of 69˚C, but after tempering it's higher. (I wouldn't heat a whipped butter (body butter without water) to that point anyway, but you get the idea.)

You can use it in ways that could cause it to get grains again, but it's less likely to have grains if you have temperered it first.

I can't recommend enough reading the link I posted in the post above about tempering chocolate as it answers all the questions you've posed.

Hope this helps!

T. Lewis Ash said...

Hi Susan, and thanks for the helpful response. The fog is beginning to lift, but I still have a couple of questions:

- I understand the logic (and, I think, the chemistry) behind the different fatty acids having different melting points, and this can cause crystals to appear if the butter is cooled too slowly. But I still dont follow how removing the crystals beforehand (by tempering the butter) would stop crystals forming again during any subsequent cooling process.

- I do see the logic in having less crystals to begin with means less crystals at the end point, simply due to weight of numbers! But this is a seperate issue to the problem of more crystals forming during the cool down process. Some crystals are better than many crystals, certainly. But still not great. So its the cool-down process bit that I need to understand and rectify.

- I dont follow the melting point narrative. You say that if the melting point of the fatty acid is higher than the temperature at which we melt it, it wont get grains. But surely the temperature at which you melt something = melting point (by definition). How can the butter be melted at a temperature lower than its melting point?

I will certainly try the tempering process on my next batch of shea butter when it arrives from the supplier, as clearly it will help to have a start point of butter with zero grainyness. I'm just not sure that I will be able to eliminate crystals forming when I heat it up at a later date to mix into body balm.

I'll let you know the results!

Thanks again, and sorry i'm being such a dipstick!