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Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) and Coffee (Coffea arabica) for Winter Skin

Posted on February 14, 2022 0

Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) and Coffee (Coffea arabica) for Winter Skin

By Susan M. Parker


An oil and a butter for winter skin: Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) and coffee (Coffea arabica).

With the onset of winter, the assault of dry air, cold temperatures, wind, and chapping can be a challenge for the skin. Extreme dryness hurts! The skin pulls tightly and can burn and flake. A fatty, occlusive layer will help to keep the skin protected and prevent loss of moisture from the cells.

Over the thousands of years of civilization, humans have used all kinds of animal and plant fats to protect the skin and nourish their bodies. Bear fat, seal blubber, tallow and lard, coconut (Cocos nucifera) oil, olive (Olea europaea) oil, and sesame (Sesamum indicum) oil; all have the same ancient uses and applications, and their use depends on geography and climate.

Solid or liquid, oils provide the lipid protection that the skin needs. To complement other articles within this issue of the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal, I am going to discuss one butter, a cousin of cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter, and an oil from an unusual source.

Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) Butter

Theobroma grandiflorum, common name cupuaçu, is similarly aromatic to its botanical cousin, cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter but with differences that make it an especially wonderful skincare butter.

Theobroma cacao produces chocolate and cocoa butter, both well known as culinary and cosmetic ingredients. Less well known is cupuaçu, (Theobroma grandiflorum). Pronounced as cu-pu-a’-soo, it is another native of Brazil, and commonly known as Brazilian cocoa. Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) has a number of local names and spellings; cupuaçu, cupuassu, cupuazú, cupu assu, and copoasu.

Both cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter belong to the Theobroma genus of the botanical family, Malvacaeae, that includes baobab (Adansonia digitata) oil, and hibiscus (Hibiscus sabdariffa) oil. Of the two butters, you could call them botanical cousins.

Both butters are highly aromatic with cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter well known in the West. The scent of cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) is reminiscent of cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter but with a wilder, less familiar, and tamed aroma. Aromas can be hard to describe, but let’s say cocoa (Theobroma cacao) scented with a floral, grassy, and ever so slightly fermented odor.

Theobroma, means quite literally, nectar of the gods; Theo’broma. Theo’ for god and ‘broma for ambrosia, from the Greek ambrotos, meaning ‘not mortal.’ Other worldly and immortal are two words that can easily be applied to the scent of both cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao) butter.

Theobroma grandiflorum is a tropical rainforest tree related to the familiar cacao (Theobroma cacao). Native to the arboreal forests of South America, it is a pre-Colombian crop plant and is still found growing wild in parts of the Brazilian Amazon.


Cupuaçu in Skincare

A popular food and skincare fat in its native South America, cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) is gaining notice and popularity in beauty and skincare circles worldwide. The soft feel of cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter hints at the butter’s exceptional ability to moisturize and hydrate the skin.

A striking property of cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter is its ability to absorb water. By adding water while stirring, cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter can take up over four times its weight of moisture before separation occurs. Compared to other butters like shea (Vitellaria paradoxa) and even lanolin, it surpasses their moisture absorbing abilities.

The affinity of cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter and water makes it a vegan alternative to lanolin, a fat from sheep’s wool that can cause sensitization and allergic reactions in many individuals. Making moisture available to the skin is an important and valuable property of cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter especially for mature or very dry skin.

The unsaponifiable fraction of cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter contains sterols, with β-sitosterol being the dominant form. Plant sterols help to calm inflammation in the skin that helps to maintain the health of the collagen in the dermal layer of skin. Tocopherol vitamin E helps to prevent oxidative damage to the cellular structure of the skin.

Coffee Seed (Coffea arabica) Oil

The great awakener for many of us, coffee’s caffeine content helps to wake and stimulate nervous systems of people across the globe each day.

The same bean, a seed, is also a source of lipid oils. Green un-roasted beans make one oil while the roasted beans produce a similar but slightly different oil.

Coffee (Coffea spp.) bean oil comes from three main varieties of coffee: Arabica (Coffea arabica), Robusta (Coffea canephora), and Excelsa or Liberia (Coffea excelsa or Coffea liberica), with Arabica being the most common with the highest amount of oil at 15%, and Robusta second with 10% of oil found in the bean.

Green and Roasted Coffee Oils

Lipid oil producers press coffee (Coffea spp.) oil from both the green beans and the roasted beans destined for your morning cup of coffee. As you can imagine, they are quite different in looks, especially regarding color and scent, but not so much in fatty acid structure.

Beans heated at high temperatures produce oil that is not significantly changed from the oil pressed from green beans. Heat does not induce any major changes in the fatty acid composition of the oils pressed from roasted coffee beans, compared with oil pressed from green coffee beans. Good to know.

Coffee Oil for Skincare

For skincare, coffee bean or seed oil is an exceptional choice for treating skin with disrupted barrier conditions. These are the difficult skin conditions with names like eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, and other related challenges.

A deficiency of linoleic acid (omega 6) is often a marker for challenged skin as it is a major fatty acid for the health of the outer layers of skin.

Skin plagued with barrier disruption issues seem not to tolerate oils high in oleic acid (the very common monounsaturated 18 carbon chain) but respond to saturated fatty acids and polyunsaturated linoleic acid.

The issue is that all oils have oleic acid as it is one of the most common fatty acids occurring in fats and oils of plant and animals, and in our own body. Minimizing the presence of oleic acid to treat barrier disrupted skin takes knowledge of the available oils and the fatty acid composition.

Artful formulation combining fatty acids from a variety of oils to make a low oleic acid formula that is beneficial for challenged skin is possible. But there is a simpler solution: coffee seed (Coffea arabica) oil.

Coffee seed (Coffea arabica) oil is the only oil I have seen with the configuration of dominant linoleic acid with secondarily palmitic acid and a minimum (under ten percent) amount of oleic acid. This fatty acid configuration makes coffee seed (Coffea arabica) oil a prime candidate to treat skin that is barrier function compromised.

Healing Fraction

Most studies focus on the compounds in coffee (Coffea spp.) that help the overall health of the body, compounds like cafestol and kahweol, natural diterpenes that impact cholesterol levels, or polyphenolic chlorogenic acid, that have beneficial effects on the body.

With our focus on the external use of oils, we can look at the anti-inflammatory phytosterols of the oil that include beta sitosterol, stigmasterol, and campesterol, each supporting the health of the skin layers with the ability to regenerate and repair skin tissues.

Phytosterols help to calm inflammation, treating and preventing the development of inflammatory skin disorders like eczema and psoriasis. Emollient properties help to maintain moisture in the skin and repair damage from dry cracked skin.

Squalene, and small amounts of caffeine in coffee (Coffea spp.) oil also help to protect against damage from the sun and sunburn.

Studies of the unsaponifiable fractions in coffee seed (Coffea arabica) oil found significant improvements in elastin production and even greater improvement in collagen production in the skin compared to those not included in the study, the control group.

Chlorogenic acids, a predominant class of phenolic acids found abundantly in coffee and tea, as well as in fruits and vegetables, help reduce redness from an excess ultraviolet exposure.

Easy Recipe Using Cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) and Coffee Seed (Coffea arabica)


Simple combinations of cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter and coffee seed (Coffea arabica) oil make a wonderful duo that should significantly help protect the skin against weather extremes and skin challenges. Or as single lipids, use each on its own. I use equal amounts by weight of each oil/butter with no other ingredients for a simple blend, but you can add scent or color as desired.


Shown in the photo is a combination of equal proportions of both oils.



1-oz. cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum) butter

1-oz. coffee seed (Coffea arabica) oil


To Make: Gently melt the ingredients together on the stovetop using the double boiler method. Pour into glass jars, cap, and put in the refrigerator to cool quickly.

To Use: Apply a dime-sized amount to hands and gently massage onto skin as needed.




Oregon State University website, Skin Health, accessed from: https://lpi.oregonstate.edu/mic/health-disease/skin-health#challenges


Gorecki, Maciej and Ewelina Hallman, 2020, The Antioxidant Content of Coffee and Its In Vitro Activity as an Effect of Its Production Method and Roasting and Brewing Time, accessed from PDF at: http://wzcz.sggw.pl/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/2.-Górecki-i-Hallmann-2020.pdf


About Susan M. Parker:

Susan M. Parker is author of Power of the Seed: Your Guide to Oils for Health and Beauty, (Process Media,2014) one of the first books to focus exclusively on the lipid or carrier oils, rather than simply as dilutants for aromatherapy or their use in the massage and beauty industry.


Inspired by an herbal apprenticeship in the early1990’s, Susan established SOLUM&HERBE in 1996, an herbal apothecary focusing on skin care and topical treatments. Making herbal extracts, including oil infusions from her gardens, awakened a desire to know more about the infusing of oils.

Unable to find a comprehensive guide to better understand these carrier oils, she decided to learn about them independently.


With an art background, but little chemistry, Susan worked with a chemist friend to understand the basic chemistry of lipid oils. To help ground the learning process she began writing up her notes and self-published a small booklet on the subject in 2001.


Drawing on her art degrees from the 1970’s, she cut and pasted the booklet together, and made 100 copies available to the local herbal community in Northern California. In 2015, Power of the Seed, a much expanded and further researched book, was published by Process Media, Port Townsend, WA.


A student of natural health, gardener, herbalist, flower essence devotee, mother and now grandmother, Susan studied herbalism with Pam Montgomery and David Hoffman in the 1990’s. After 22 years of creating and producing a range of products, SOLUM&HERBE ended production in 2018. Susan continues to research and teach about the lipid oils on-line. You can learn more about Susan at: https://susanmparker.com/


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