Argan oil or l’huile d’argan in French, is equally at home residing in either the kitchen or the bathroom cabinet. It is often referred to as ‘liquid gold’, whether this relates to its health claims or perhaps more likely the price, at an eye watering $27.99 for an 8oz bottle
. This Moroccan oil has been produced by the Berber people for centuries and is used equally in both the food and the health and beauty markets.
The Argan tree is endemic to the South Western parts of Morocco where it grows bearing fruits that contain a nut. The fruits resemble a green olive, only larger and more rounded, then ripening to yellow. Inside the nut are two or three kernels which are roasted (for the culinary variety) before the oil is extracted. The fruit pickers also have unusual competitors in the race to harvest the fruit, with a multitude of goats also climbing the gnarled and twisted trees.
The oil itself is slightly darker than olive oil, with a reddish tinge and a unique nutty flavor. It is used in salad dressings, drizzled over couscous and swirled into soups. Even imparting a nutty note to many desserts. The Moroccans make a delicious spread called amlou by combining one and half cups of roasted and ground almonds, three quarters of a cup of Argan oil and three to four tablespoons of honey. They use amlou as a dip for bread or croissant and often slather it onto warm toast.
There are also the many claims made for the oils age defying properties and even restorative abilities. It is reputed to be able to reduce the appearance of scar tissue if used daily. A study has found that consuming just two tablespoons a day can considerably lower blood cholesterol and that it has all of the benefits obtained from olive oil, grape seed oil, avocado and almond oils combined. The Moroccans use it as a moisturizer for their skin, rub it into their finger nails and even comb it through their hair.
Nowadays the production of the oil is carried out professionally by co-operatives that are mainly staffed by women. But in some of the small villages the traditional methods of harvesting the kernels for their own use, can still be seen. The aforementioned goats that wander up the trees eating the fruits, then expel the kernels as they are unable to digest them. The villagers collect these discarded kernels without the trouble of harvesting the fruit and cracking open the nuts to make the oil. The villagers do make the point that the kernels are not collected from goat stools they are merely ejected. Does collecting kernels from goat vomit really sound more appetizing?
Photos courtesy of flickr - baking soda, uglix, corv and moby-life