Babassu nuts were first brought to the world’s attention in 1914, when there was a shortage of coal, due to WWI. All eyes went to Brazil as these nuts were used whole, as fuel, in the boilers of Brazilian steamships. Additionally, the rubber workers of the Amazon valley have used these nuts as fuel, for the smoking of rubber for many years. Of course, the Brazilian natives have used the babassu nut since their earliest recollections, for many things.
Babassu oil is cold-pressed from the kernels of the Babassu nut, which is the hard-shelled nut of the babassu palm tree. This palm tree grows in the Amazon valley of Brazil (South America). It's botanical name is Orbignya oleifera. It is a tall palm, with an erect trunk, growing up to 20 m tall, and it can be 30-40 cm in width. It has a crown of erect, spreading leaves, which have long, narrow lobes, that make the leaf look somewhat like a branch. It bears flowers that are unisexual, and the fruits, the Babassu nuts, look like small coconuts, about 6 cm long, and pointed. They can be yielded in large amounts, making this an easily sustainable crop.
As the nuts ripen, they fall to the ground, where the women, called babassu breakers, pick them up and break them open. The kernels are then sent to the processing plants where the oil is extracted. The oil itself is somewhat transparent, being light yellow to white in color. It presents as a solid, at room temperature, and has a medium viscosity. Due to the fact that this oil is cold pressed from the kernel, it contains about 70% lipids (fats), and is ultra-refined without the use of chemicals. Its chemical and physical properties are very similar to coconut oil, and it is used in much the same way. In fact, it is considered to be a cost effective substitute for Coconut oil when making cosmetics such as soaps, creams, lotions, balms, massage oil, lipsticks, and [any] other anhydrous formulations. Aside from cosmetics, this oil is routinely used in food processing, beverages, fuel, lubricants, medicine, and cleaners.
Babassu oil is composed mainly of lauric, myristic and oleic acids. Since it has a high portion of lauric and myristic acids, which have melting points [relatively] close to our body temperature, when it is applied to the skin it draws the heat from the skin to initiate its melting. This heat transfer actually produces a nice cooling effect on the skin. It can be used to provide a protective barrier against the climate and pollution. Babassu oil forms a soothing, protective coat when applied to the skin, providing a nice, soft, velvety feeling. It is a superior emollient, and is beneficial for all skin types, working equally well on dry and oily complexions. It is quickly absorbed by the skin, conditioning and moisturizing, without leaving a greasy residue. It has several benefits, but is best known to heal dry, itchy, and/or eczema afflicted skin, as well as dry, itchy scalps (when used in shampoos).
For the soap makers out there, this oil makes a great addition to your soap. According to most information sites, there is no maximum usage recommendation, but I did see a max of 6% on one vendors web site. All agree though, it creates a nice hard bar, with fluffy, stable lather, again, having properties that are similar to coconut oil. It should be stored in a cool area, and out of direct sunlight. Depending upon who you listen to, it should remain good for anywhere from 1 to 2 years.
*As per usual, see the "References" tab for the bibliography for this, or any other post.
Next oils post we will look at Boabab and Borage oils!