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Tuesday, 16 February 2016 12:00 AM

Moroccan Argan Oil


This truly magical 'Liquid Gold' as it’s known, is unique to Morocco and is still produced using traditional methods. Many of the ‘Argan Cooperatives’ found in various cities, towns and smaller villages in Morocco supply oil for culinary purposes but is also becoming increasingly popular cosmetically (in its unroasted form) for the hair, to treat a variety of skin diseases, as a natural moisturiser but also to combat wrinkles!

Where does it come from?

The Argan nut comes from a fruit formed on the Argan tree which has a thick outer peel and a fleshy pulp which surrounds the nut in the centre. The oil is extracted from these inner nut kernels which is then processed for use with cooking or as beauty products.

The traditional methods of extraction is very important to the end result and the nuts are usually air dried before the workers crack them open and remove the kernels individually by hand. Tourist visits to the Argan Cooperatives will see that this is a lengthy process that Moroccan ladies perform on a daily basis.

Watching these patient ladies cracking each individual nut with great precision and speed make the task look incredibly easy, but based on personal experience, this is definitely not the case. Many photos will show these ladies sitting on the floor with an upside down pot between their legs using a suitably shaped rock to crack the nuts open.  But do not be fooled, these ladies have years of experience and practise and it really isn’t as easy as it looks. I tried my hand at this and within less than an minute had smashed the rock into my fingers holding the nut (which the lady sitting next to me found highly amusing). I could see the funny side of it but I did not want to admit defeat so tried again several times but sadly, with the same results. After becoming the laughing stock amongst these lovely ladies who had patiently showed me how it all works, I decided that I was not destined to for such a task and gracefully departed the workshop with sore and throbbing fingers and more than a dozen Moroccan ladies laughing at me on my way out!

 

The end result

Despite my failed experience in the nut cracking department, I was determined to see the process through from start to finish and understand more about this fascinating process of how nuts being picked from the tree are magically transformed into pure oil in a bottle that ends up on your dinner table or to apply to your skin in the hammam (or to moisturise your hair). Once the nuts have been collected and removed from their outer shell, they are roasted, left to cool and then grinded and pressed. The mash that comes from this process is the pure Argan oil and immediately decanted into bottles (the roasting process gives the oil a slightly ‘nutty’ fragrance). The oil is then stored and left for a couple of weeks so any small ‘bits’ can settle at the bottom leaving the pure oil at the top. It is then filtered once more for the true ‘Liquid Gold’ it becomes at the end of this process.

With the cosmetic oil, the process is almost identical except the nuts are not roasted to avoid the ‘nutty’ smell which is good for flavouring food, but not so good for use on hair and skin.

After witnessing this amazing process, I bought a few bottles for myself to bring home and still do each time I visit Morocco. After spending 12 days in Morocco on my first ever trip (almost 7 years ago now) and having a variety of hammams during this time, my hair and skin looked and felt fantastic. So the claims of this little underrated nut truly does work wonders as a beauty treatment but also a delicious additional aromatic flavour to your cooking.

Do be warned though that pure Argan oil does not come cheap and be prepared to spend at least £5 for a small bottle. Do not be fooled by the cheaper bottles offered in various places, as they can be watered down versions. Remember, you only get what you pay for…