Argan oil comes from the nuts of the argan tree that only grows in a certain region in Morocco. There is a tradition of using argan oil for cosmetic use and food in Morocco. Until the 2000s, argan oil was cheap because it was only used in Morocco and there was no demand for it worldwide. Then it was “discovered” by cosmetic corporations and the demand for this “miracle” oil skyrocketed.
Argan oil is quite costly because it takes about 40 kilos of nuts to make 1 kilo of oil via cold press, making the oil is labor intensive, and the argan tree is not domesticated. Despite the best efforts to domesticate the tree, it can only grow in the wild. The argan tree is under protection because of its endangered status from the mass scale clearing that Moroccans did several decades ago to clear forests for farming and from the goats. Goats are fond of eating the hulls of argan nuts, which is fine because it’s the interior seed that is used for making the oil. However, the goats’ desire to get to their snack of choice means that they climb on the trees and destroy the trees. The government has forbidden goats from climbing on trees, but because tourists looooooove taking pictures of goats cheerfully nibbling on argan nuts, there’s one tree that used for that purpose.
If you have seen photos of goats in an argan tree, it’s the same tree in all of the photos. A goat herder opportunistically waits for the tourist buses and other travelers to spot the goats in the tree. You pay a few dirhams for the privilege of taking photos of their goats and also to hold a kid. My heart melted when I held a 12-day old kid. I adore baby goats and yes, it was everything I thought it would be and more. I think I can die happy now.
We drove along a road from Marrakech to Essaouira, a seaside town by the Atlantic Ocean. Along that road, we went to Marjana Cooperative, an all-women cooperative dedicated to making argan oil and various other products using argan oil by hand. This cooperative was formed to help women who come from very traditional and agrarian lifestyles to gain economic independence. We observed women making oil using traditional methods. And do I mean traditional! A row of women used smooth rocks to pound the argan nut to release it from its outer hull and tossed that nut to a sack. Another row of women took those sacks to once again pound that nut to free the inner nut from the hard shell. It is those nuts that are ground by hand using a giant stone mill to squeeze out the muddy-colored oil that will be decanted and filtered to make the precious golden argan oil.
Eating argan oil is made in a similar way except they are roasted. When I entered the room, a heavenly nutty aroma filled my nostrils. The nuts are ground into a paste and water is added to separate out the oil. A woman worked the paste in a giant bowl.
The work of the separating out the oil is so grueling that every half hour, a new worker has to come to be a replacement.
Obviously at the shop, our tour group went crazy and bought several argan oil products. I was happy to support an all-women’s cooperative and to buy pure argan oil. Finding 100% pure argan oil is difficult in the United States. Many products claiming to be pure argan oil are adulterated with vegetable oil or contain so little argan oil in the product that basically all you’re paying for is the label saying that there is argan oil in there. Their almond butter with argan oil and honey was insanely delicious. There’s nothing that I’ve ever eaten that tastes like that almond butter.
If you ever have the chance to go to Morocco, I definitely recommend going to Marjana Cooperative to buy argan oil, but more importantly to hold a baby goat in your arms.