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Plantation of argans

Argan oil is an oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree, endemic to Morocco, that is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties. The tree, a relict species from the Tertiary age, is extremely well adapted to drought and other environmentally difficult conditions of southwestern Morocco. The species Argania once covered North Africa and is now endangered and under protection of UNESCO.[1] The Argan tree grows wild in semi-desert soil, its deep root system helping to protect against soil erosion and the northern advance of the Sahara.[2] This biosphere reserve, the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, covers a vast intramontane plain of more than 2,560,000 hectares, bordered by the High Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains and open to the Atlantic in the west. Argan oil remains one of the rarest oils in the world due the small and very specific growing areas.

Argan is also produced form argan orchards in Israel, in the Arava and Negev..[3][4][5]

Argan trees were first reported by the explorer Leo Africanus in 1510. An early specimen was taken to Amsterdam where it was cultivated by Lady Beaufort at Badminton House c1711.[citation needed].


Extraction of the argan oil


Traditional method

The production of argan oil by traditional methods

For centuries before modern times, the Berbers (indigenous people of Morocco) of this area would collect undigested argan pits from the waste of goats which climb the trees to eat their fruit. The pits were then ground and pressed to make the nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics. However, the oil used in cosmetic and culinary products available for sale today has most likely been harvested and processed with machines in a verifiably clean and sanitary way.

The oil was sold in Moroccan markets even before the Phoenicians arrived, yet the hardy argan tree has been slowly disappearing. Overgrazing by goats and a growing, wood-hungry local population have whittled the number of surviving trees down to less than half of what it was 50 years ago.

The tree is a relic of the Earth's Tertiary Period, which ended about 1.6 million years ago, and it grows in only a few other places in the world. It is tenacious, withering and fruitless during extended droughts, and it lives as long as 200 years. So there was alarm that the Argania spinosa, as the tree is properly called, was headed for extinction, along with its precious goat-related oil.

UNESCO, and people excited by the oil's reputed anti-aging qualities have helped by creating a global market for the exotic oil, the unlikely alliance hopes to raise awareness about the inherent value of the trees, encouraging more careful grazing and stopping the local population from chopping the trees down for firewood. The people in the area are poor, as they now understand the value of the tree, they are protecting it.

UNESCO declared a 25,900-square-kilometer of land between the Atlantic and the Atlas Mountains and provided money to manage the trees' preservation. Chefs and society matrons took up the cause, praising the culinary qualities of the oil and its anti-aging effect on the skin. There is also a ban against grazing in the trees from May to August, when the fruit ripens to a bright yellow and eventually the goats climb the trees, eat the fruit and expel the pits, which locals continue to collect.

At the Cooperative in Tiout, Berber women sit on the floor with rough rectangular stones between their knees cracking pits with rounded rocks. Each smooth pit contains one to three kernels, which look like sliced almonds and are rich in oil. The kernels are then removed and gently roasted. This roasting accounts for part of the oil's distinctive, nutty flavour. It takes several days and about 32 kilograms of fruit - roughly one season's produce from a single tree - to make only one liter of oil. The cosmetic oil, rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, is used for massage, facials and as an ingredient in anti-aging cream. The edible oil is extracted from roasted kernels.

Most of the oil is bottled pure for cooking, as a dressing on salads, meat or fish or simply as a dip for bread. The Tiout cooperative produces about 5,000 250-milliliter bottles of the edible oil a year. 250 ml of oil sells for as much as $50 a bottle. The oil can be purchased at the Cooperative in Tiout but the neighbouring city of Agadir sells the oil for a fair price as well.


Now increasingly important for oil produced for sale, as the oil will keep 12-18 months and extraction is much faster. Using mechanical presses, mixing of the dough and water is unnecessary and the dough can be directly pressed. All other steps remaining unchanged, the oil is obtained in about 43% yield (calculated from the kernels) and only two hours are needed to get one litre of oil that preserves correctly.


For industrial or laboratory purposes, argan oil can be extracted from ground kernels using any volatile lipophilic solvent. After evaporation of this latter, and one or two cycles of extraction, the oil is obtained in 50 to 55% yield. This type of extraction furnishes an oil with unsatisfactory organoleptic properties compared to the traditional or press extraction, which is exclusively reserved to prepare argan oil for cosmetic purposes.

Properties and uses

Fatty acid Percentage
Palmitic 12.0%
Stearic 6.0%
Oleic 42.8%
Linoleic 36.8%
Linolenic <0.5%

Argan oil is exceptionally rich in natural tocopherols (vitamin E), rich in phenols and phenolic acid, rich in carotenes, rich in squalene, rich in essential fatty acids, 80% unsaturated fatty acids[6] and depending on extraction method more resistant to oxidation than olive oil.

Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous, salads and similar uses. The residue from traditional oil extraction is a thick chocolate-coloured paste called "amlou" which is sweetened and served as a dip for bread at breakfast time. It has a flavour similar to that of peanut butter.

The unroasted oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and has found favour with the cosmetics industry. An Irish sufferer of the skin condition Psoriasis claims that Argan oil has helped greatly in clearing up the physical manifestation of the condition.

Supporting Women

All argan sold today is produced by a women's cooperative that shares the profits among the local women of the Berber tribe. The cooperative has established an ecosystem reforestation project so that the supply of argan oil will not run out and the income that is currently supporting the women will not disappear. The money is providing healthcare and education to the local women, and supporting the entire community as a whole.[7]


  1. ^ "Biosphere Reserve Information". UNESCO. Retrieved 2007-10-11. 
  2. ^ Morocco: Argan trees
  3. ^ Growing for Change, Ruhama Shattan, Jerusalem Post, Oct. 12, 2001
  4. ^ Growth and oil production of argan in the Negev Desert of Israel, A. Nerd, E. Etesholaa, N. Borowyc and Y. Mizrahi, Industrial Crops and Products, Volume 2, Issue 2, February 1994, Pages 89-95
  5. ^ Phenology, breeding system and Fruit development of Argan [ Argania spinosa , Sapotaceae] cultivated in Israel, Avinoam Nerd1, Vered Irijimovich2 and Yosef Mizrahi, Economic Botany, Volume 52, Number 2 / April, 1998, pl 161-167.
  6. ^ "Argan oil". DietOBio. Retrieved 2006-10-09. 
  7. ^ "Is Argan oil miraculous?". Care2. Retrieved 2009-07-17. 

General references

  • - Argania spinosa
  • Rachida Nouaim: L'arganier au Maroc: entre mythes et réalités. Une civilisation née d'un arbre, une espèce fruitière-forestière à usages multiples. Paris, L'Harmattan (2005) ISBN 2-7475-8453-4


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