What is Argan Oil?!

Okie so you’ve browsed the Interwebs, and you’ve found that argan oil is one of Morocco’s claims to fame. But what is it exactly, and why is it so revered?

Production

Argan oil is harvested from the argan fruit, which grows on argan trees. The UNESCO-protected trees are native to South-Western Morocco, the main production region.

The oil is mostly produced by Berber women, who use traditional, labour-intensive harvesting methods. I was happy to learn that most of these women work for cooperatives and are paid a living wage. 💪😍

To harvest the oil traditionally, the argan fruit is broken open to reveal a nut (similar to a walnut). The shell of this nut is broken and discarded, revealing the argan kernel.

Argan Nut
The argan nut, which contains the kernel used to produce argan oil.

If the oil is for culinary purposes, the kernels are now roasted; if the oil is for cosmetic purposes, the kernels skip roasting.

Argan Kernels
Argan kernels: non-roasted (L), and roasted (R).

Whether the kernals were roasted or not, the finishing steps of the production process are the same: the kernals are now cold-pressed, yielding a paste which solidifies into a dough.

 

Some hot water is added and this heavy mass is pressed by hand, squeezing out the oil. Bottle it up, and there you have it! Liquid gold.

Argan Oil
Cosmetic argan oil. Note the light yellow colour. Culinary oil can range from a beautiful amber to dark brown, thanks to the roasting process.

Uses

Argan oil is packed with vitamin E, fatty acids, and a whole bunch of good stuff I can’t pronounce. The Western world knows it as a cosmetic product, as it has been deemed the Holy Grail by many celebrity makeup artists, Youtubers, and bloggers. It has a very faint smell, which is difficult to describe (the best I can do is a light rubber and almond scent). If applied regularly, argan oil can make your hair as soft as a baby’s, hydrate your skin, reduce the appearance of stretch marks, regulate your skin’s oil production to reduce acne, soften brittle nails, and more. Basically, it can work wonders. Have a problem? Use argan oil. It’ll probably solve it.

Argan oil as a culinary product, however, is little known to the Western world. The roasting process during production brings out a rich, nutty flavour similar to peanut oil.  In Morocco, it is enjoyed with bread, couscous, and salads (think more pico de gallo, less spinach). Argan oil is also used to create amlou, a delicious spread made with roasted almonds, honey, and argan oil. It tastes like almond butter, with floral notes. Basically, completely and utterly delicious.

Pricing (Cosmetic Oil)

Argan oil is a pretty expensive commodity. It makes sense if you know that it takes 30-40 kilograms of argan nuts to produce 1 litre of argan oil. It really doesn’t help that the process is so labour-intensive.

Western brands have an enormous markup: Josie Maran sells 50mL for 60CAD (around 40 Euros, at the time of writing). In Morocco, you can definitely find argan oil for a fraction of that price. I bought a 30mL bottle for 100MAD (around €9) from a cooperative on the road to Merzouga. This is standard pricing for quality argan oil.

The main problem when it comes to buying argan oil in Morocco isn’t cost, but rather quality. It’s best to buy directly from a women’s cooperative, but this can be difficult if you’re only staying in major cities. Be wary when buying in souks, as they’re stocked with fake product. 100MAD for 100mL seems to be a common price, which should be your signal to run. If you are able to buy “100% pure argan oil” at a fraction of the price I listed above, you are not buying a premium good.

I hope this helps shed some light on what argan oil is all about! I’ll do a post tomorrow to tell you how to identify real argan oil from fake.


As usual, check out my other posts to make your trip as easy as pie:

🇲🇦 Scams – How to Avoid Them! 

🇲🇦 Bargaining – Tactics to Make Mama Proud

🇲🇦 Finances – How to Handle Your Money Like a Pro

🇲🇦 Culture and Society – 10 Facts You Should Know

🇲🇦 Basic Arabic Phrases – Impressing the Locals 

Until tomorrow! ✌️

 

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