The shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa) is utilized extensively in the semi-arid savannah parklands from Senegal in West Africa where the sub species paradoxa is mainly found, to Sudan/Uganda in the East of Africa where the sub species nilotica is found. It is an important multipurpose tree and serves as the principal source of income for the local population in the Sahel region. The shea tree is a member of the Sapotaceae, a latex producing tree with beneficial properties. However, the flow rate of the latex is slow and minimal. An ethylene stimulant is used to stimulate the latex flow in the natural rubber tree Hevea brasiliensis. In this study, ethylene stimulant was applied to the shea tree in an attempt to increase the flow rate and quality of shea latex was investigated. Results indicated that the ethylene stimulant positively influenced the flow rate of shea latex and the biochemical quality of the shea latex in terms of proximate composition, ionic composition (metallic and non-metallic) and phytochemical constitution. Comparatively, the ethylene stimulated shea latex exhibited both physical and chemical properties which makes it suitable for confectionery and the gum industry. Properties such as good smell, appearance (colour) and chewiness, as well as testing negative for flavonoids and saponins for phytochemical composition, similar to an already exploited gum base (Manilkara zapota L.) suggested that it may have a role to play as a gum in the confectionery industry. The relatively high stickiness and adhesiveness of shea latex makes it ideal as a bio-adhesive for industrial purposes.
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RUFORUM Working document series