Argan oil, in Arabic, زيت أركان is a vegetable oil produced from the fruits of the argan tree that are found exclusively in Morocco. Its benefits are numerous; it is rich in vitamin A, vitamin E, antioxidants and essential fatty acids. Let us dive into more detail to look at which regions in Morocco produce argan oil? Why is it so expensive? And what are the criteria for having pure argan oil?
Which country produce argan oil ?
The argan tree grows only in the semi-desert regions of Morocco, from Safi in the north to the steppe borders of the Sahara in the south, in the High Atlas. The majority of argan trees are located in the Souss-Massa region, which has the city of Agadir as its capital. Argan plantations are mainly grouped together in a huge forest called the Arganeraei. This forest has about 20 million argan trees spread over 830,000 hectares. This region is mainly populated by Berber tribes, descendants of the Almohads who were the masters in the Middle Ages of an empire including the Maghreb and all of Muslim Spain.
What are the initiatives of Morocco to promote argan oil ?
Since the 1990s, Morocco has understood the great potential of argan oil. In this sense, Morocco has stepped up actions to improve the valuation of argan oil and make it an important lever for economic development in the Souss-Massa region. Today, it represents an essential economic resource for the inhabitants of this region.
In addition, the arganeraei was classified as a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1999. It is a biosphere reserve delimited by the Temfit river and the Souss river which flows into the Atlantic at Agadir. The argan tree is so resistant that it grows up to an altitude of 1500m.
Furthermore, in 2009, at the request of Morocco, argan oil was registered by the European Union as an agricultural product protected by a geographical indication. The practices and know-how associated with it are also registered in the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Unesco.
Since 2011, the International Scientific Congress on the Argan tree has been held every two years in the city of Agadir. It is a meeting and exchange between members of the scientific community and a place of communication and promotion of research work carried out on the arganeraei and the argan tree. The Congress is organized by the National Agency for the Development of Oasian Zones and Argan (ANDZOA) in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture, the High Commission for Water and Forests and the National Institute of Agronomic Research.
Why argan oil is so expensive ?
Argan oil is one of the rarest and most expensive oils in the world. Organic and pure argan oil is very hard to obtain and production is labor intensive and time-consuming. This explains why it is expensive. The following steps explain how this pure gold of nature is obtained.
- The pickup : The first step is to collect the fruits of the argan tree directly from the trees, by threshing with a pole and then harvesting in a net. The fruits are then dried in the sun to facilitate the next step. For a quality result, it is important to select nuts in perfect condition.
- Pulping : It is then a question of opening the fruits of the argan tree scrupulously and delicately in order to harvest the kernels without damaging them. To do this manually, we use 2 stones that will hit the hull to open it.
Good to know - goat poop: another not recommended way is to collect the almonds from the droppings of goats that have previously eaten the pulp of argan nuts. This leads to low quality argan oil recognized for its strong unpleasant ‘goaty’ smell.
- Crushing and extraction : Once pulped, the kernels are in turn crushed with a hammer and pestle. This step is extremely difficult because the kernels are strong unlike the almonds on the inside, very fragile. Once the famous almonds are harvested, they are crushed using a hand mill to form a viscous paste. This dough will be kneaded and kneaded for long hours. Needless to say, this is a long and painful moment, possibly the most tiresome in making argan oil. This step explains the most why pure argan oil is expensive.
Good to know - roasted or unroasted ? The argan almonds are roasted, that is, heated by fire in order to extract edible argan oil. To obtain cosmetic argan oil, almonds are never roasted. Instead, they are only cold-pressed to extract pure and organic argan oil.
Settling and filtering: Once the dough is obtained, it is left to stand. This is when oil begins to seep and drain from the mixture. We will then store it in large containers and decant for several days to separate the pure oil from the plant residues. The oil is then filtered several times to purify it and keep a clear liquid.
What you need to do to get pure and organic argan oil
Not all Argan Oil on the market is real and pure as many so called producer may diluted it, just to make it cheaper. At Alixir, we recommend the following easy steps to assess any product:
- Buy from a seller you trust : Argan Oil can be subject to considerable scams: using cheap natural oil instead of argan oil, extracting argan oil from almonds founds in goat poop etc. Buy from a brand you trust.
- Read the labels : Many international brands are using some marketing techniques at the very limit of ethics. One commonly used is to mark on the product 'Natural Argan Oil' or 'Organic Argan oil'. You think it is 100% pure argan oil until you read the label and realize it is a mix of Argan Oil (usually in small proportion) and other natural oils. Remember, extracting argan oil is time-consuming and this should be reflected on the price. Always read the labels and be very suspicious when it comes to cheap prices.
- Pay attention to the color and smell : The color of cosmetic argan oil is light yellow. The smell of cold-pressed organic argan oil is similar to that of hazelnuts or to that of roasted almonds.