Moroccan Argan Oil: Introduction 101

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Read this amazing post from Tammie Umbel, CEO Shea Terra Organics.

In 2003 one of my Moroccan employees introduced me to a bottle of argan oil that his mother had someone make for him. It was roasted and some debris of the nuts sat at the bottom of the bottle. It smelled and tasted so good. I found the oil remarkable, not so much for putting on the skin but for eating. I soon began receiving container loads of pure argan oil along with my amazing ghassool and fragrant rose water. Although completely unheard of in the US, the French, frequent visitors in Morocco, had been enjoying the benefits for decades. I recall meeting a man in a trade show a few years later who displayed argan as one of his European company’s line ups. “Argan oil is such a nice oil. Too bad its name is so similar to argon the gas. I think no one will ever use it just because of its name,” I said. He agreed with me as we shook our heads thinking it was just too bad that argan was cursed with such a name. Little did I know that it would become a world-wide sensation in less than a decade later.

What is argan? The Latin name for argan is argania spinosa. The argan tree grows wild in south-western Morocco although some can be found in Algeria as well. The tree is believed to be a survivor dating all the way back to the Tertiary Period. It is often quite gnarled and has a similar appearance to the olive tree. The trees are found growing in the wild where humans and nature have been living together harmoniously for thousands of years. Often crops are planted around the trees to avoid cutting them down. If you are familiar with sandy, beach type biomes then you can probably imagine the growing conditions of the argan tree. The tree only grows in an area with a particular type of soil spanning from the shore side to a section of Atlas to an area where the barren Sahara sands begin to encroach. The area is under threat from humans and climate change. In 1998 UNESCO declared the biome protected.

Each spring the trees produce a crop of roughly 150 kg argan fruits. The fruits are similar in shape to olives. They start out green but soon become the color and fragrance of apricot. Eventually the fruits darken and fall from the trees where they are eventually collected from the ground. It takes a tree about 30 years to produce their first crop. And of the bulk of the non-edible fruit, only two small slivers of fruit will be used to produce argan oil.

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