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All You’ve Ever Wanted To Know About Argan Oil

In this post, I’ve put together all the information I could find about Argan Oil, including what it is, how to use it, how to ensure it’s authentic and then I’ve sprinkled in a little bit of history and future of the argan industry in Morocco.

What is Argan Oil?

Argan oil is a cold-pressed oil made from the seeds of the deciduous argan tree fruit (Argania Spinosa) and is endemic to southwest Morocco.

Argan oil has primarily two uses, the most common of these is for cosmetics (hair, skin, nails), and the other is for cooking.  Don’t mix the two up and “no” you shouldn’t eat the cosmetic argan oil.  Although you could use the culinary oil for massaging into your skin.

The main way to tell the two apart is by the colour.  The seeds for cosmetic use, which are not roasted, give the oil a transparent bright yellowish straw colour.  Whereas the culinary argan oil made from the roasted seeds has a deeper golden, yellow colour bordering on brown and looks cloudy.

Cosmetic oil is normally packaged in small bottles appropriately labelled as “Cosmetique”, as in Morocco, or a similar local name.

How Is Argan Oil Made?

In Fes, Morocco, we were treated to a pharmacy tour and shown how cosmetic argan oil is made.

Primarily the role of the local women, the argan nuts resembling small pebbles, are first harvested. To crack open the nuts they use sharpened stones and bang them against a block of wood.  Each nut is opened individually in what is a painstakingly tedious, manual and labour intensive process.  The kernel is then removed which looks somewhat like an almond only smaller. They are sort of edible, but beware because the initial taste is sweet, before turning bitter in your mouth.

From here the kernels are hand ground, separating the oil from the residual brown tacky substance left behind.  Nothing goes to waste; the brown substance is turned into soap.  Don’t expect the soap to lather up like usual, however, it does leave your skin feeling soft and smooth.

Local women’s cooperatives have been set up throughout southwest Morocco enabling the profits to be shared between the women and keep alive the knowledge of how to process argan for oil.

In former times, goats used to be an important part of the oil making process.  The nuts are incredibly difficult to crack open, so enterprising people poked through goat poop to pick out the valuable argan nuts. Through the magic of goat digestion, the shells of the nuts became easier to open, and processing went from there.

These days, the demand for argan is too big to wait for the goats to do their business, but in some places, the traditional goat-poop process is still in place.


Why Is It So Expensive?

Argan oil is known to be one of the most expensive oils in the world. The oil came to the attention of the outside world in the 1990s and is now highly sought after for culinary and cosmetic purposes.

There are main three factors that make argan oil so expensive.

First, the trees only grow in one region of one country in the world.

Second, the extraction is a time-consuming hand production process, no modern day machines have yet replaced the labour intensive delicate process needed to extract this liquid gold.

Third, its unique elixir properties are creating an unprecedented demand from the rich and famous who search the world for anti-ageing serums. Therefore more cosmetic companies are including argan oil as an ingredient in their products, putting huge pressure on the available oil supply.


How to Use This Precious Liquid Gold

As mentioned above, there are two primary uses for argan oil.  Many people know about the cosmetic use, however culinary use of argan oil is more limited, due in part to its short shelf life.

Cosmetic Use

Packed with rejuvenating vitamin E and full of rich antioxidants, fatty acids and other agents that add glow, argan oil is reported to provide youth and beauty to hair and nails.  It apparently started its life as a hair product you couldn’t do without.  I’ve tried it twice, unsuccessfully, in my hair as a conditioner, so the jury is still out for me with this particular use.  It is suggested you use the oil as a conditioner, leaving it in the hair.  I don’t like the greasy look or feel so traditional conditioner has my vote, for now.

Argan oil is popular with women who prefer using natural, organic substances on their skin instead of artificial chemicals.

Pure Argan oil is light on the skin, glides on easily and is absorbed into the pores of your skin to give a glow like no other.  It can be used as a moisturiser at night before bed to help reduce wrinkles, especially around the eyes.

Sufferers of sensitive skin can enjoy the healing properties of this all-natural oil.  For those with olfactory sensitiveness, the argan oil scent disappears within a few minutes upon contact with your skin.  

Culinary Use

Hmmm, finding ways to eat this liquid gold wasn’t so easy.  Our Moroccan friend suggested we eat it every morning with breakfast.  I’ve drizzled it on top of peanut butter on my toast, which is delicious.  However I wanted to find a healthier way to consume argan oil.

So it was time for some research.

I can highly recommend making a traditional Moroccan dip called Amlou.  It is a blend of roasted ground almonds, honey and salt which turns into a dip or paste that you then spread on fresh Moroccan bread (khobuz).

You can also dip bread straight into the oil itself, although I found that a bit strong in flavour.

Apparently, it is awesome when added to tagines or other savoury dishes and I’m still experimenting with this.

I have, however, made Date and Walnut Balls using argan oil and these are particularly scrummy.  They are relatively healthy with no added sugar and just a few ingredients.  Great for a sweet snack after dinner.

In order to prolong the shelf life of argan oil, place it in the fridge with a pinch of salt.  The oil will harden and then it turns back into liquid form after sitting on the bench for a short period of time.

Eating a small amount of argan oil daily is said to provide anti-aging effects and helps to keep your skin hydrated and smooth.

Argan Oil At Room Temperature

Solid Argan Oil From The Fridge

What Does Argan Oil Taste Like? 

As best I can describe it, this oil has a toasty, roasted nutty flavour, much like sesame seed oil but not as strong and without the bitter after taste.


What Does It Smell Like?

The culinary argan oil has a mild nutty aroma (some identify it as a smell of popcorn or rubber band).  I liken it to a rich roasted nutty scent with buttery after tones.

The cosmetic oil has a much milder scent compared with its culinary sister, making it suitable for those with sensitivity to strong smells.

The best quality argan oil should be also un-deodorised. The deodorisation process removes the argan nut’s scent along with many important nutrients that makes the oil so sought after in the first place.


Four Ways To Identify Real Argan Oil

1.    Smell the oil to ensure you pick up its unique scent. If it smells like sunflower oil or paprika, it is not the genuine article.  Likewise, if it is odourless, walk away.

2.    When purchasing cosmetic argan oil, ensure that there is only one ingredient – 100% Argan Oil (Argania Spinosa) kernel oil.  It should contain no preservatives, no fragrances, not even water.

Anything mixed with it will, in fact, degrades the effects of the oil.

3.    As a completely natural product, this oil will absorb into your skin. Try some on your hand and wait 30 minutes or so. If it has been absorbed into your skin it is the real deal. If it is still oily and visible, it’s fake.

4.    Storing your oil in the fridge also serves to prove it’s authenticity as it will harden.  If your argan oil doesn’t harden, it’s not authentic.

How Expensive Is This Oil?

We purchased our culinary argan oil through a Moroccan friend who knows people in a village where this is hand-made.  He placed the order and we waited for three days, another indication it’s the genuine article.  Our one litre stash, which arrived to our motorhome door in Taroudant, in a re-used one litre plastic bottle, set us back 220 dirham (€20.25 or NZ$33.50).

As a comparison similar oil for consumption sells on Amazon for US$119.96 per litre!

In the souks and medinas throughout Morocco, I’ve seen this for sale at between 200 and 250 dirhams but beware of fakes or imitations.  Not all argan oil is created equal and we are told that some dodgy people sell a blend of argan oil mixed with ‘other’ oil.  But you now know what to look for so don’t be fooled.

We are told that buying from someone knocking on your motorhome door is considered particularly risky.

If you want the real stuff then ask a local for a recommendation and expect to wait for a day or two, or even three, for it to be specially made.

While in Fes we purchased a 75ml bottle of cosmetic argan oil at a cost of 120 Dirham (€12), making this a whopping €160 per litre!  I have seen reports where the price is as high as €263 per litre!  Compare this to your regular moisturisers and you get the feeling for the price!


What Are The Health Benefits?

While the list is quite extensive beyond what I’ve listed below, Scientific research has shown that Argan oil helps with the following ailments.  

• Reduce inflammatory disorders 
• Reduces cholesterol levels 

• Improves circulation
• Stabilise blood sugar
• Ease pain from rheumatism and arthritis
• Strengthen the body’s immune system
• Prevent various types of cancer, eg prostrate cancer
• Reducing the body’s resistance to insulin, helping treat diabetes
• Protecting the body from cardiovascular diseases

Where To Buy Argan Oil

The best place to purchase this wonderful product, in my humble opinion, is of course in Morocco.  However, I understand it’s not possible for everyone to just up sticks and head over there for a holiday.  That’s where Amazon comes in.  You can buy argan oil online here.  (No, I deliberately don’t receive any commission for sales of Argan oil).

Threats To The Argan Trees

Despite its uniqueness and indispensability, the argan tree sadly faces a variety of serious threats.

Goats are one of the primary threats to the argan forests because they climb the trees to graze on the delicious leaves.  The goats, as well as aggressive fruit harvesting techniques from some locals, can damage branches and dislodge buds for the next year’s production.

What is interesting, however, is that goats used to be an important part of the oil making process as mentioned above.


The Future Of Argan Oil

Despite its uniqueness and importance, the argan tree sadly faces an uncertain future.

Nearly half of the argan forest disappeared during the 20th century and average density dropped from 100 to less than 30 trees per hectare.  This historical pressure on the forest was driven by demand for high-quality charcoal (especially important during the world wars).  More recently land is being converted to agricultural production of export crops such as tomatoes.

Attempts to propagate and grow argan trees elsewhere in Morocco, as well as the rest of the world, have been a dismal failure.  (UPDATE August 2019.  While in Slovakia we met a couple from Israel who assures us that Argan trees are now being grown and farmed for their oil, with success.  That’s great news for the longevity of Argan oil industry). 

In recognition of its ecological value and local economic importance, the entire 2.5 million hectares of argan forest was declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1998. 

I hope this helps to secure a more positive outlook for the future of this rare gift from nature.

There is a new competitor emerging on the world stage that might reduce the demand for argan oil, and that’s the oil from the cactus plants, called prickly pear.  But that’s a story for another time.

STOP! Don’t Go.  If you liked this article, please drop us a line.  Or even better if you have recipes to share using argan oil, please do so in the comments below, thanks.

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