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The Essence of Berber life : Argan Oil

Argan from Morocco
In Morocco the production of Argan Oil is found between Sidi Ifni and Essaouira along the Atlantic Coast and inland as far as the foot hills of the High Atlas and Anti Atlas Mountains. This rare and precious resource of Moroccois found in only two countries of the world: Morocco and Mexico.

Here in Morocco there are 828.000 ha of arganiers, where the growing conditions are at a maximum, outside this region the delicate semiarid climatic conditions needed for the Arganier are too variable being either too arid or too humid. The Argan plantations are part of the National replanting programs of 154 major sites and 6 National Parks, which have been set up to protect and develop the 5.8 million hectares of forest in the country (10% of the land).

THE ARGANIER

THE ARGANIER

This hard wearing "prehistoric tree" has been holding the roots of Morocco in place against the constant onslaught of the desert and will do so for many more generations to come. Over the last 10 years a biosphere has been created to protect and develop the Argan reserve. New research has opened up doors for this mystic tree, showing us that nature has not unlocked all of her secrets and that with time and research we will find new ways of combating the worlds illness.

Inland in the more protected valleys and plains, the Argan tree can be seen in her full glory, growing to over 200 years old, alone on the arid landscape watching the passage of time. The tree is able to withstand the heat of the summer months and the lack of constant water through the years, by pushing her roots down to the upper water tables found at about 14m from the surface. The Argan tree is holding the top soil of Morocco together.

Plantations of Argan The deep roots act as an anchor, stopping the wind blown erosion in its tracks. To resist the battering from the Atlantic storms through the winter, the Argan has produced the more wind resistant bush which can be found in the coastal regions unprotected against the force of the wind.

Plantations of Argan can be found around Essaouria where the wind blows over 320 days a year. Here the trees have taken a tendency with the wind, covering the landscape, hugging the rocky outcrops, shaped by the invisible hands of the prevailing winds. The varied forms of the Argan are all searching the same product; water. Here by the sea the Argan bush will create an impregnable wall off thorns to ward off any predator of her argan. Further inland where the trees can be over 15m tall the berries are protected by the upper layers, thick with thorns, where other picking techniques must be used.

Traditional ways still work

goats to pick the argan

The traditional way using goats to pick the argan and hand mills to extract the oil is still found used to this day in many Berber households. You can find in most villages a mill over 200 years old, still in use today. This mill will be in one of the rooms of the house; the argan zone, a separate chamber used for the family production.

The traditional way of collecting the Argan, is by hand, picking the ripe Arganiers is an art, as the tree's sharp thorns try their best to keep out all prying hands. Waiting until the ripe Arganier drops to the ground in the Autumn is when the harvest starts. The collecting then is done by hand or by goat. By hand the Arganier has to be de-pulped, to remove all of the "flesh" around the nut. This is a time consuming job when there are better things to do.

hand millsBy goat is the preferred way: You take the family herd of goats to the Argan trees and leave them to eat the Arganiers. Wait until the next day and when the goats go to the toilet, collect the seeds from the mix. This part of the nut is not digested by the goats. Collect the hard Arganier nut, de-pulped and ready for the grinder! In some areas they have taught the goats to climb the Argan Tree making the work of Argan collecting safe as the argan collectors can keep both their feet on the ground.

The de-pulped seed can be easy cracked open and the soft teat from the nut is put into the mill. The oil is crushed out of the seed while being heated from the fire below. The oil is collected and stored in air tight containers for later use. The Argan oil is best used in the first six months after it has been produced, after this period the oil is said to lose some of its magic...The goats are also used at the end of the production; lucky, they eat the dried argan pulp a thank you for all of the hard work put in during the year!

The knowledge and properties of Argan have been passed from generation to generation, over 1000's of years always using the same time tested methods, now with the Argan tree's future is in good hands..

Uses of Argan Oil

Cooking oil

The uses of Argan Oil are still being looked into by the chemists of the world.The Berber's have been using it as:

1/ Sun oil: The argan is used as an oil to add moisture to the skin after it has had to much exposure to the sun. Shake the bottle and apply to the area needing attention (a massage is the best way). Then enjoy the security that your skin will be ready for tomorrow!

2/ After Sport: The oil has been used mixed with lemon as a remedy for over stretched and tired muscles. The lemon is mixed with the oil in a bowl, then the hands are warmed over an open fire and dipped into the magic mix. The lemon will open the pores of the skin, so letting the massaged oil get into where it is needed.

3/ Cooking oil: Argan oil cooks at a lower temperature than vegetable oil. A Black Bass fried in argan is a Berber treat for his tarjine. The salad dressing will get a new taste using argan oil instead of olive oil, a must for that hot summers day salad.

4/ A substitute for butter: The traditional Berber breakfast from this region is fresh bread dipped in Argan oil and honey. The afternoon tea break will be bread, argan oil and omli ( a mix of argan oil and almonds) served with "whisky Berber", the tea infusion in season.

Buying Argan Oil

Argan Oil

With the growing demand for Argan, a few co-operatives have been made to help the Argan Oil Industry develop into an industrial force. Based in Tiznit, this industry has shown sales on the increase as more people learn of the magic of this Moroccan tree. Bottled Argan Oil can be found for sale in some Moroccan and European supermarkets a product ready for your kitchen table.

Otherwise when you are driving between Taghazout and Sidi Kaouki you will pass the "road side" sellers, if you do not want to buy, take a bottle of oil and wave it at them when you drive past to show that you do not need their product, otherwise stop and barter your shoes...... Good quality argan oil will be the colour of liquid gold and smell like almonds.

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