Castor oil with dry and green beans over white background, one example of specialty oils and fats for niche processors

Driven by increasing demand for high-quality, natural ingredients in food products, cosmetics, fuels, and other applications, the market for specialty oils and fats continues to grow. Industry reports estimate that this sector will expand from $12.6 billion in 2020 to nearly $20 billion by 2026.

Specialty oilseed processing isn’t typically a large-scale operation—especially compared to high-capacity operations that handle massive volumes of soy or sunflower. Conversely, specialty oilseeds like tung nuts, shea nuts, castor beans, cocoa beans, and coffee beans can be challenging to process in large quantities, given their limited crop production and difficult seed structures.

To capitalize on these specialty oils and fats, niche processors need proven equipment that can efficiently press valuable oil from these unconventional crops. Here’s what you need to know about these notoriously tough nuts, and why the Anderson Super Duo™ Expeller® is ideal for squeezing the most profits from these tricky-to-process crops.

Tung Oil

Cultivation: Tung oil has been used for centuries, dating back as early as 500 BC, when it was used to waterproof ships in China’s Song Dynasty. This widely used finishing oil is harvested from the nut of the tung tree (Vernicia fordii, formerly classified as Aleurites fordii). Native to China, tung tree plantations covered more than 10,000 acres of the U.S. Gulf Coast by the 1920s as demand spread.

Fruit: After appearing as small olive green fruits on 35-foot tall trees, tung nuts mature into hard, brown, woody nuts that drop from the limbs in fall. About two inches in diameter, these whole fruits contain between 17-20% oil inside the kernel.

Processing Challenges: When the fruits mature and fall from the tree, they may contain as much as 65% moisture. However, for the most efficient pressing, material should only contain 3-6% moisture. Preparing tung nut for pressing requires a lengthy natural air or a machine-enabled process of reducing moisture to workable levels.

Additionally, the seed requires specific storage requirements with maximum shell content, then reduced shell content for pressing, and additional steps throughout processing to monitor moisture levels.

Applications: Tung oil is predominantly used for finishing and protecting wood, because it hardens when exposed to air—leaving a hard, lustrous, water-resistant coating. For this reason, tung oil is used in the production of lacquers, varnishes, resins, paints, and polishing compounds. As all parts of the tung tree are extremely toxic, the oil has no edible uses. After the oil is pressed, the nitrogen-rich tung nut cake that remains is ground and sold as fertilizer.

Market Price: $5,000/ton

Read more: The Challenge of Small-Scale Oilseed Processing: Paying Off Your Investment

Shea Nut Oil

Cultivation: Shea nut oil and shea butter are increasingly popular ingredients in a variety of cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and edible applications around the world. These valuable specialty fats are harvested from the nut kernels of the shea tree (Vitellaria paradoxa), which primarily grows in the savannas of sub-Saharan West Africa—particularly in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Ghana, the largest shea exporters.

Fruit: Shea fruits are shaped like large plums with soft, smooth, green skin. Inside the pulpy fruit, an egg-shaped nut contains the oil-rich kernel that yields the fatty shea butter.

Processing Challenges: To produce 1 tonne of shea butter requires 3 tons of nuts and many arduous processing steps. The fruit undergoes depulping, boiling, drying, deshelling, winnowing, and sorting just to separate the kernel from the rest of the nut. Once the fat is extracted from the kernel, then heat is applied to isolate the carrier oil from the shea butter using a process called fractionation.

Applications: Because of its high nutritive value and low cholesterol levels, shea butter is used extensively in the food industry as an alternative cooking fat. It also has antimicrobial and emollient properties that make it popular in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.

Shea nut oil, by comparison, contains higher proportions of unsaturated fatty acids than shea butter—giving it a smoother consistency at room temperature. The oil contains omega 9 oleic acids, omega 6 linoleic acids, and vitamin E, which all display antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties to moisturize, restore, and protect hair and skin. This makes shea nut oil an excellent emollient often used in lotions, shampoos, conditioners, soaps, lip balms, cosmetics, ointments, and skincare

Market Size: The global shea butter market surpassed $1.7 billion in 2020 and is estimated to exceed $3 billion by 2027, according to Global Market Insights.

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Castor Oil

Cultivation: Castor bean (Ricinus communis) grows over 40 feet tall throughout tropical and sub-tropical regions including Jamaica and even the southwestern U.S, where it grows like a weed along riverbeds and roadsides.

Fruit: The tall, bushy castor bean shrub produces seeds averaging 8-15mm long, 6-9mm wide, and 4-8mm thick. Approximately half the weight of the seed is oil.

Processing Challenges: The leaves, stems, and seeds of the castor plant contain the toxin ricin, one of the deadliest natural poisons—estimated 6,000 times more potent than cyanide. However, since ricin is water-soluble, it is not released in the oil and can be detoxified from the meal with a few steps during processing.

Applications: Used in ancient times as lamp fuel, castor oil has found a variety of industrial uses today including coatings, paints, varnishes, motor oils, lubricants, soap, plastic, and perfume. As the oil does not contain toxic ricin, it can be consumed and has been used medicinally to remedy everything from constipation to heartburn due to its cathartic and purgative properties. Pure food-grade castor oil is used as an additive in candy and flavorings, and also as a mold inhibitor.

The meal cake, which does contain ricin, can be used as a high-nitrogen fertilizer or detoxicated for use as livestock feed. The oil is also a valuable ingredient in feedstocks—commanding a significantly higher price than other oilseeds like soybean, sunflower, and canola.

Market Price: $2,000/ton

Market Size: The castor bean market is expected to reach $2.3 billion by 2024.

Cocoa Bean

Cultivation: The cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao L.) is a tropical plant cultivated for its beans, which yield cocoa butter and powder. Indigenous to Latin America, cocoa is produced mainly in Africa, South America, Central America, and South Asia.

Fruit: Flowers form along the trunk and branches of the 5-foot-tall cocoa tree, producing fruit pods that contain white beans. The shell accounts for 70% of the weight of the pod, while the bean contains approximately 50-57% oil.

Processing Challenges: Cocoa processing begins with fermentation of the pods to develop the distinctive chocolatey flavor and aroma, changing the color of the beans from white to brown. Next, dried material is winnowed to separate the nib from the inedible shell, then roasted and ground into paste. Pressing this paste will separate the liquid cocoa butter from the solid cake, which is then ground into cocoa powder.
Applications: While cocoa butter and cocoa powder are widely used throughout the food and cosmetics industries to lend chocolatey flavors and aromas, even the inedible byproducts of cocoa bean processing have found practical uses. For example, the shells can be used as fertilizer, animal feed, or fuel. The cocoa meal, although unsuitable for human consumption, is a valuable source of theobromine, which is used to make soft drinks and pharmaceuticals.

Market Price: Between 1,100 – 2,200 USD per metric tonne.

Coffee Bean

Cultivation: According to legend, an ancient Ethiopian goatherder discovered coffee beans centuries ago when he realized that his goats became so energetic after eating certain berries that they couldn’t sleep at night. Since then, this popular beverage has seen increasing demand worldwide—making coffee the most-sought global commodity, second only to crude oil, according to the National Coffee Association. Today, the most popular species of coffee plants include Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta.

Fruit: Coffee trees produce fruits, called coffee cherries, that ripen to a deep red color. The cherries, which are selectively harvested by hand, usually contains two beans composed of approximately 50% carbohydrates, 10-15% lipids, 8-12% proteins, and 1-2.5% caffeine, among other compounds.

Processing Challenges: Pressing coffee beans can be challenging due to the relative hardness, low moisture content, and low oil content of the seeds. Additionally, pressed coffee oil is sensitive to oxidation and degradation from heat or metal contamination, so processing machines must be properly constructed and precisely maintained.  

Applications: Unlike other vegetable oils, coffee oil is not used as a substitute for cooking oil. Instead, its unique esters and essential oils give it value as a concentrated source of the aroma associated with roasting and brewing coffee. Since certain aromatics are lost during the process of making instant soluble coffee powders, pressed coffee oil can be added back in, restoring the distinctive fragrance that coffee drinkers expect.

Processing Specialty Oils and Fats

To tap into the high price points and expanding market opportunities for specialty oils and fats, processors must be equipped for the challenges associated with pressing these materials. Stubborn, hard-to-process seeds like these require an efficient yet powerful machine that doesn’t necessitate costly upstream equipment. The Anderson Duo™ Series Expeller® is an ideal solution, with its durable design and flexible functionality for specialty oilseed processing.  

Engineered for maximum torque, the Super Duo generates energy-efficient mechanical pressure to eliminate the need for expensive pre-treating. Its unique dual-press design allows the most efficient use of horsepower to achieve the lowest possible residual oils in a single pass. This saves considerable time, labor, and cost compared to running multiple presses.

Proven for niche applications including tung oil, shea nut oil, castor oil, cocoa bean processing, and coffee oil, the Super Duo is designed to efficiently press a range of difficult specialty seeds. With models from the 1930s still in operation today, the Super Duo™ Series Expeller® presses are built to last, withstanding all the challenges of pressing tough material.

With decades of experience processing oilseeds, the experts at Anderson International implement the best systems for the most challenging seeds and niche specialty oils and fats. Through proven equipment operation and maintenance training, ongoing support, and other specialized services, Anderson empowers processors to profit from these niche market opportunities.

Contact Anderson International to learn more about processing specialty oils and fats with the Super Duo.