What is Argan Oil?

wiseGEEK Writing Contest

Argan Oil, a multi-purpose item widely unknown to westerners, is a rare commodity hailing from Morocco. It is made from the fruit of the Argan tree (argania spinosa), which is hearty and only flourishes in extreme climates, such as can be found in Morocco's southwestern regions. The difficulty in attaining access to the trees due to the small area of land that they thrive in and the lengthy process of producing the oil make it highly valued for its cosmetic and culinary uses.

Though advancements in technology have surely affected the market for Argan Oil in terms of trade and production, it is still most commonly made through traditional methods. The first step to producing the oil is to retrieve the fruit of the Argan tree. This fruit looks similar to large olives and contains a nut, in which there are generally one to three seeds with which the actual oil is produced. These nuts can be attained two different ways:

The first involves multitasking with animals. There is no major use for the flesh of the fruit of the Argan tree other than for the grazing of goats, which can actually climb the gnarled bark of the Argan tree, and other desert-farming animals such as camels. In the case of the goat, it retrieves the fruit from the tree itself, chews of the fleshy pulp, and spits out the undesirable nut, which is then recovered by the farmer. The fruit can also be fed to camels, whose digestive systems do not process the nuts, thus causing them to pass this remainder whole through their bowels, the result of which can be sorted through to find and use the nuts. The latter can also be the case with the goats, should they not be polite enough to spit out the nuts.

Another way of getting at the fruit is simply to shake the limbs of the Argan tree and wait for the fruit to fall, or to manually pick it. Then the body of the fruit must be peeled away by hand to get at the nut. Both of these processes take place in September, when the fruit is ripe.

Once the nut of the Argan fruit is reached, it is broken open to get at the kernels with which the final steps will be taken. Traditional methods require grinding the kernels to powder, and then squeezing the oil out of the resulting paste. A more modern method is that of using a press, such as a cotton or oil press. Different methods produce oils that are specifically used different ways. It has been said that producing only one liter of oil can take up to twenty hours.

The demand for Argan oil stems from its unique nutty flavor and aroma, as well as it's low fat content and non-greasy tendencies. It can be used in various types of cooking, such as a garnish, fruit topping, or salad dressing; for aromatherapy; and also for dermatological treatments for ailments such as acne. It can be difficult to find, particularly in areas where it is under-represented. It can mainly be found for personal consumption in high-end specialty stores for culinary arts and cosmetics.

submitted by e. reiff