Ever get the feeling that you’re barking up the wrong tree? Well, this goat up a tree is bleating with joy at his favorite nosh: argan nuts. As Karin revealed to us in this post about argan oil production, in Morocco, Berber women process argan nuts the laborious traditional way till this day.
First, goats are set free in the argan groves and allowed to eat the yellow mature fruit. They excrete the indigestible nuts, which are gathered, cleaned and broken open, revealing an oil-rich kernel. Lightly roasted, the kernels yield oil with the deep, nutty taste so highly prized in the foodie world. Extracted raw, it is used as a cosmetic. If we’re to believe what we’re told about how miraculously argan oil reverses damage to skin and hair, it’s worth the expense. Current prices go as high as US$50 for 100 ml. (Makes you want to run to the kitchen and simmer some butter to make smen.)
The traditional Moroccan method, where women sit together on the floor and crush the kernels in a hand-held quern, yields 1 liter of oil over several day’s work. Today these women work in co-operatives, and most of the argan oil from Morocco still comes from their hands. Some oil is press- or solvent-extracted as well, for cosmetic and laboratory use.
The Moroccan argan tree itself balances on the slippery slope of extinction. Overgrazed by hungry goats and chopped down for wood by poor locals hungry for fuel, there are less than half the trees that there were 50 years ago in Morocco (Wikipedia). Although UNESCO and other bodies have set up reserves where the trees are protected, the soil and climate conditions that the trees need meet only in very small areas. And the native Moroccan variety won’t thrive anywhere else in the world.
But there is hope for argan oil lovers. An Israeli company, Sivan S.M., has developed a strain of argan tree called “Argan 100,” which not only thrives in the Arava valley, the Negev, and Ashkelon, it bears ten times the amount of fruit that the Moroccan tree does. Hopefully these new crops will eventually bring the price down.
And the other good news is – the oil is extracted by pressing. No goats need apply.
About another good-for-you and affordable oil from Green Prophet:
Photo of goat in argan tree by Rh69 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Berber women grinding argan kernels by Chrumps via Wikipedia.