PROTA homepage Prota 14: Vegetable oils/Oléagineux
Record display

Pentadesma butyracea Sabine

Trans. Hort. Soc. London 5: 457 (1824).
Clusiaceae (Guttiferae)
Chromosome number
2n = 56
Vernacular names
Kanya, butter tree, tallow tree (En). Lami, arbre à beurre, arbre à suif, arbre à chandelle (Fr). Pau ová, mata passo, mamão (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Pentadesma butyracea occurs naturally from Guinea Bissau to Cameroon and westernmost DR Congo. It occurs in the Seychelles as an escape from an early introduction.
A vegetable fat named ‘kanya butter’ or ‘vegetable tallow’ is extracted from the seed. Kanya butter is used as a cooking fat and has been marketed as margarine. It is used as a substitute for shea butter from Vitellaria paradoxa C.F.Gaertn. when the latter is rare or cannot be used traditionally, e.g. during treatment of leprosy or epilepsy. Peul women, who are not permitted to use shea butter when they have given birth, may also use kanya butter as a substitute. Fresh seeds are used as a substitute for kola nuts from Cola spp.
Kanya butter is a suitable base for topical medicines. Its application relieves chest-pain, cough in children, strain and abscesses. It is used as a cosmetic for hair and skin. Mixed with other oils it is a base material for soap making, and suitable for illumination.
The presscake is unsuitable for livestock because it is rich in antinutritional compounds. In certain regions, the oily presscake is applied externally to animals (e.g. sheep) to treat galls and is also used to plaster walls of houses (e.g. Tata Somba houses in north-western Benin).
The sweet, yellow pulp of ripe fruits is edible, but unripe fruits are bitter. The leaves serve as a galactagogue vegetable. They are believed to make the milk easily digestible and help in teething. An infusion of ground roots is used to wash children during weaning, while infusions of the bark are put in a bath to relieve fever. A decoction from the roots is used as vermifuge in Liberia. The latex from the bark is applied to the skin against skin parasites. The wood is used as general purpose timber and as fuel. In Guinea it is used to make masts and oars for small boats. It is also suitable for heavy construction, heavy flooring, railway sleepers, ship and boat building, vehicle bodies, boxes and crates, veneer and plywood, interior trim, furniture and cabinet work, joinery and turnery, sporting goods, implements and toys. Roots and possibly young twigs are used as a toothbrush. The seeds are used as bait for porcupines and palm rats.
The kernel of the seed contains per 100 g dry matter 50 g fat and 1.5–1.8 g unsaponifiable matter. It also contains an odourless and tasteless resin, that is yellowish in colour and toxic. The fatty acid composition of kanya butter is palmitic acid 3–8%, stearic acid 41–46%, palmitoleic acid 0.2%, oleic acid 48–51%, linoleic acid 0–2%. Kanya butter is similar to shea butter in several characteristics, including slip point, saponification number, solidification point and fatty acid composition.
The heartwood of Pentadesma butyracea is yellowish or pinkish brown, distinctly demarcated from the whitish to pale pink sapwood, which is fairly wide. The grain is straight to slightly wavy, texture coarse. The wood is heavy, with a density of 850–1000 kg/m³ at 12% moisture content, hard and strong. It air dries slowly with little splitting, but cupping may occur. The rates of shrinkage are moderately high, from green to oven dry 4.5–4.7% radial and 8.0–8.7% tangential. At 12% moisture content, the modulus of rupture is 140–270 N/mm2, modulus of elasticity 6900–19,300 N/mm2, compression parallel to grain 56–101 N/mm2, cleavage 17–19 N/mm, Janka side hardness 8000 N, Chalais-Meudon side hardness 5.0–12.6.
The wood saws satisfactorily, but may cause gumming of saw blades and overheating. It planes, polishes and moulds well and bores satisfactorily, although heating may occur; the wood holds nails well, but splitting on nailing is rather common. It is not durable, being susceptible to attack by pinhole borers and marine borers, but fairly resistant to termites. The heartwood is very resistant to impregnation with preservatives, the sapwood moderately permeable.
Adulterations and substitutes
Shea butter from Vitellaria paradoxa is often preferred to kanya butter and has similar properties and uses. However, kanya butter is sometimes preferred to shea butter because of its better odour.
Evergreen, medium-sized to fairly large tree up to 35 m tall; bole cylindrical, up to 100–150 cm in diameter, sometimes with small buttresses or stilt roots; bark rough and scaly, inner bark red-brown to brown, finely fissured, exuding bright yellow sap; twigs angular or ribbed, dark brown to black. Leaves opposite, in dense terminal clusters, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole up to 2.5 cm long, stout; blade obovate to oblong-oblanceolate, 9–25 cm × 3.5–7 cm, base cuneate, apex shortly acuminate, leathery, glabrous, shiny dark green above, pinnately veined with numerous, parallel lateral veins, ending in marginal vein, with glandular canals parallel to veins. Inflorescence a terminal thyrse, 1–7-flowered. Flowers bisexual, regular, 5-merous, yellowish or greenish white; pedicel 1–4 cm long, often curved; sepals free, ovate, up to 5 cm long, very unequal, leathery; petals free, oblong to ovate, up to 6 cm long, keeled; stamens numerous, in 5 bundles opposite the petals, 4–6.5 cm long, fused at base; disk glands 5, alternating with petals, up to 0.5 cm high; ovary superior, ovoid-ellipsoid, 1–2 cm long, 5-celled, style elongate, ending in 5 linear spreading lobes up to 0.5 cm long. Fruit an ellipsoid to ovoid berry, 9–15 cm × 6.5–12.5 cm, base with persistent calyx, stamens and disk glands, apex pointed, wall coarse, brown, leathery, 5–15-seeded. Seeds pyramidal, with flattened sides or irregular, 3–4 cm × 2.5–3 cm, dark brown. Seedling with hypogeal germination; epicotyl reddish, 10–30 cm long; first leaves opposite, 7–16 cm × 2.5–4.5 cm.
Other botanical information
Pentadesma comprises about 5 species, all in tropical Africa. Although all Pentadesma species yield edible fat, there is only information on the use of Pentadesma butyracea.
Growth and development
Trees first flower when about 8 m tall. Flowering occurs during a large part of the year, but mainly during the main rainy season. In Gabon trees flower from March to September. The flowers produce large amounts of nectar, which is eaten by monkeys; they are probably important pollinators. In Gabon fruits are produced mainly from October to December, and in Benin from March to June. They are eaten by elephants and monkeys, which disperse the seeds.
Pentadesma butyracea occurs in tropical rainforest on moist or swampy ground, mostly on river banks. It does not occur where mean annual rainfall is less than 1000 mm. It prefers deep soils. In Ghana it is strongly associated with leached soils. In Benin it occurs naturally in riparian forest.
Propagation and planting
Pentadesma butyracea is propagated by seed. Freshly harvested, mature and healthy seeds germinate well, but seeds are very sensitive to desiccation and fermentation. When stored in a dry place at 25–36°C they lose their viability quickly; at 10–15°C they keep their viability longer, but it is difficult to break dormancy. The best results are obtained when seeds are stored in jute bags and are watered regularly. Under natural conditions trees may also regenerate by root suckers.
In Benin fruits are usually gathered in April–June, mostly by women. After collection, they are put together under a tree and covered to accelerate fermentation of the fruit pulp and to facilitate seed extraction. It has been estimated that a woman may collect 15–40 kg of seeds per season.
In Côte d’Ivoire a mature tree is estimated to produce about 500 fruits, weighing about 600 g and containing about 120 g seed, or a total of about 60 kg seed per year.
Handling after harvest
In rural areas, fruits are processed by water extraction, usually the job of women. Gathered fruits are put together under a tree and covered. After 10 days the fruit pulp has decayed and the seeds can be extracted easily. Seeds are boiled and then dried in the sun or a kiln to prevent further rotting. Dry seeds are pounded until they are clean and are turned over daily to prevent mouldiness. To extract the oil, seeds are crushed and ground into a paste. The paste is boiled in water and the oil is skimmed off. The oil yield rarely exceeds 35% of the seed dry weight.
Genetic resources
Pentadesma butyracea is widespread, regenerates well and does not seem to be in danger of genetic erosion.
Pentadesma butyracea is a multipurpose tree that is important for income generation of rural households. Harvesting its fruits and extraction of the butter are profitable activities. The best opportunities for marketing may be for cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as an alternative for shea butter. Its domestication as a reforestation or agroforestry species deserves attention.
Major references
• Adomako, D., 1977. Fatty acid composition and characteristics of Pentadesma butyracea fat extracted from Ghana seeds. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 28: 384–386.
• Aubréville, A., 1959. La flore forestière de la Côte d’Ivoire. Deuxième édition révisée. Tome deuxième. Publication No 15. Centre Technique Forestier Tropical, Nogent-sur-Marne, France. 341 pp.
• Houngbédji, A., 1997. Etude phytotechnique, écologique et des technologies endogènes de transformations du Pentadesma butyracea, espèce des galeries forestières de la région de Bassila. Mémoire du DEAT, LTMA, Sékou, Bénin. 59 pp.
• Natta, A.N., Sinadouwirou, Th.A., Sinsin, B. & van der Maesen, L.J.G., 2003. Spatial distribution and ecological factors determining the occurrence of Pentadesma butyracea Sabine (Clusiaceae) in Bénin. In: Natta, A.N. Ecological assessment of riparian forests in Benin: Phytodiversity, phytosociology and spatial distribution of tree species. PhD thesis, Wageningen University. Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 73–80.
• Ouattara, N., 1999. Evolution du taux de germination de semences oléagineuses en fonction du mode et de la durée de conservation. Cas de Pentadesma butyracea Sabine (Lami). In: Ouedraogo, A.S. & Boffa, J.M. (Editors). Vers une approche régionale des ressources génétiques forestières en Afrique sub-saharienne. Actes du 1er atelier régional sur la conservation et l’utilisation durable des ressources génétiques forestières en Afrique de l’Ouest, Afrique Centrale et Madagascar, 16–27 mars 1998, IPGRI, Rome, Italy. pp. 170–174.
• Schreckenberg, K., 1996. Forests, fields and markets: A study of indigenous tree products in the woody savannas of the Bassilia region, Benin. PhD thesis. School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, United Kingdom. 326 pp.
• Sinadouwirou, Th., 2000. Produit forestier non ligneux et développement durable : Structure des peuplements naturels et importance socio-économique du Pentadesma butyracea dans la région de Bassila au Bénin. Mémoire de Master, CRESA Forêt-Bois, Cameroun. 68 pp.
• Sinsin, B. & Sinadouwirou, Th., 2003. Valorisation socio-économique et pérennité du Pentadesma butyracea Sabine en galeries forestières au Bénin. Cahiers Agriculture 12(2): 75–79.
• van Meer, P.P.C., 1965. Primitiae africanae VI. A revision of the genus Pentadesma Sab. (Guttiferae). Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de l’Etat (Bruxelles) 35(4): 411–433.
Other references
• Athar, M. & Nasir, S.M., 2005. Taxonomic perspectives of plant species yielding vegetable oils used in cosmetics and skin care products. African Journal of Biotechnology 4: 36–44.
• Avocèvou C., 2005. Pour une exploitation durable des produits forestiers non ligneux : effet du ramassage des fruits de Pentadesma butyracea sur sa régénération naturelle et analyse financière de la commercialisation de ses amandes et de son beurre dans l’arrondissement de Pénessoulou au Bénin. Mémoire de Diplôme d’Etudes Approfondies. Université d’Abomey-Calavi, Bénin. 88 pp.
• Bamps, P., 1966. Notes sur les Guttiferae d’Afrique tropicale. Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de l’Etat (Bruxelles) 36(4): 425–459.
• Bolza, E. & Keating, W.G., 1972. African timbers: the properties, uses and characteristics of 700 species. Division of Building Research, CSIRO, Melbourne, Australia. 710 pp.
• Falconer, J. & Arnold, J.E.M., 1996. Forest, trees and household food security. FAO, Rome, Italy. 30 pp.
• Keay, R.W.J., 1954. Guttiferae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 290–295.
• Kershaw, S.J., 1982. Occurrence of aflatoxins in oilseeds providing cocoa-butter substitutes. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 43(5): 1210–1212.
• Kryn, J.M. & Fobes, E.W., 1959. The woods of Liberia. Report 2159. USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory, Madison, Wisconsin, United States. 147 pp.
• Spirlet, M., 1959. Guttiferae Congoleanae novae. Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de l’Etat (Bruxelles) 29(4) : 311–358.
• Takahashi, A., 1978. Compilation of data on the mechanical properties of foreign woods (part 3) Africa. Shimane University, Matsue, Japan, 248 pp.
• Tuani, G.K., Cobbinah, J.R. & Agbodazé, P.K., 1994. Bioactivity of and phytochemical studies on extractives from some Ghanaian plants. Journal of Forestry (Accra, Ghana) 1: 44–48.
• Voorhoeve, A.G., 1979. Liberian high forest trees. A systematic botanical study of the 75 most important or frequent high forest trees, with reference to numerous related species. Agricultural Research Reports 652, 2nd Impression. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 416 pp.
• White, L. & Abernethy, K., 1997. A guide to the vegetation of the Lopé Reserve. ECOFAC, Gabon. 224 pp.
• Wilks, C. & Issembé, Y., 2000. Les arbres de la Guinée Equatoriale: Guide pratique d’identification: région continentale. Projet CUREF, Bata, Guinée Equatoriale. 546 pp.
Sources of illustration
• Keay, R.W.J., 1954. Guttiferae. In: Keay, R.W.J. (Editor). Flora of West Tropical Africa. Volume 1, part 1. 2nd Edition. Crown Agents for Oversea Governments and Administrations, London, United Kingdom. pp. 290–295.
• van Meer, P.P.C., 1965. Primitiae africanae VI. A revision of the genus Pentadesma Sab. (Guttiferae). Bulletin du Jardin Botanique de l’Etat (Bruxelles) 35(4): 411–433.
• Wilks, C. & Issembé, Y., 2000. Les arbres de la Guinée Equatoriale: Guide pratique d’identification: région continentale. Projet CUREF, Bata, Guinée Equatoriale. 546 pp.
B. Sinsin
Faculté des Sciences Agronomiques, Université d'Abomey-Calavi, 01 B.P. 526, Cotonou, Bénin
C. Avocèvou
LEA - Laboratoire d'Ecologie Appliquée, ISBA, Champ de Foire, 03, B.P. 1974, Cotonou, Bénin

H.A.M. van der Vossen
Steenuil 18, 1606 CA Venhuizen, Netherlands
G.S. Mkamilo
Naliendele Agricultural Research Institute, P.O. Box 509, Mtwara, Tanzania
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Photo editor
A. de Ruijter
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article:
Sinsin, B. & Avocévou, C., 2007. Pentadesma butyracea Sabine In: van der Vossen, H.A.M. & Mkamilo, G.S. (Editors). PROTA 14: Vegetable oils/Oléagineux. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map wild

1, base of bole; 2, flowering branch; 3, fruit; 4, seed.
Redrawn and adapted by Achmad Satiri Nurhaman

bole and crown

close up of flowers

fruit and seeds

fruit in longitudinal section