If there is one thing Morocco is known for apart from its leather products, it would probably be Moroccan argan oil. Before Mihir and I went to Marrakech we hadn’t given it too much thought. There are many many different culinary and cosmetic oils on the market, so why should Moroccan argan oil be anything special? However, walking through the souks on our first day and seeing it sold nearly everywhere, we became intrigued. So when we went on our day trip to Essaouira, we seized the chance to take a closer look.
What is Argan Oil?
Argan oil is a plant oil extracted from the kernels of the argan tree. It is widely used in cooking in North African cuisine and has traditionally been used as a home-remedy for assorted ailments. However, in recent years the oil has gained much popularity in the cosmetic industry.
Argan oil is produced from the kernels of the Argan tree which is native to Morocco. Although many have attempted to grow argan trees elsewhere in the world, none of them succeeded. Today, the only argan oil-producing region in the world is the region around Essaouira and Agadir in Morocco.
How is Moroccan Argan Oil Made?
The kernel is covered by fleshy pulp which needs to be removed before the oil can be extracted. This flesh is of particular interest to the hoards of goats which graze the country’s green patches. Traditionally herders would let the goats eat the fruits and then collect the kernels coming out on their other end. If you have ever seen a picture of a tree full of goats, this is the reason why.
In any case, this way of cleaning argan kernels is not efficient enough today. The fruit is now dried before the flesh is removed an re-purposed as animal feed. Afterwards, the nut around the kernel has to be cracked. So far there is no way to mechanize this process and it has become the task of local women, mostly Berber women. This happens by the use of two stones and is rather time-consuming, one of the reasons as to why argan oil is so expensive. The kernels are then ground up in order to extract the oil.
Goat Trees in Morocco
As mentioned, goats love the kernels of the argan trees and constitute a major part of their diet in the region. In order to access them, goats are known to climb the trees and munch away happily.
On our trip to Essaouira, we also came across one tree full of goats and a goat herder collecting money to take pictures of his goats. To us, it seemed utterly bizarre how busloads of people were lining up to have a baby goat shoved in their hands for a cute picture. It left us with a bad taste in our mouths and some research later revealed that in some cases goats are now forced onto the trees for money’s sake.
We still hope that one day we will see this occur naturally because it honestly is an incredible sight 🙂
Social Impacts of Argan Oil
There are several argan production facilities, known as argan cooperatives, on the road from Marrakech to Essaouira and Agadir. Too many to count, in fact. If you are travelling on a bus from Marrakech to Essaouira, chances are that you will stop at least one of them. Unfortunately, relatively little information is available in English, which is why we thought we’d fill in the gaps for you.
Most of the argan oil cooperatives in the region are women’s cooperatives. In recent years the argan oil industry has been a way to provide women with employment and a stable income and has become an important tool in women’s empowerment. For many, it has also become a path to basic education. Today, more than a thousand women are employed in the processing of argan oil.
Environmental Impacts of Argan Oil
Unlike other agricultural sectors, the boom of the argan oil industry actually came with observed improvements for the environment. As water becomes more scarce in the region due to climate change, argan trees are an important tool in the fight against desertification. Argan trees have very deep roots which means they can reach into deep groundwater reservoirs and help with soil stabilization. Growing interest in the trees has also halted their deforestation and in fact, led to afforestation. Argan forests now cover almost a million hectares of land in Morocco.
What you Need to Know About Buying Argan Oil in Morocco
Before heading out to buy yourself a bottle of argan oil, read our tips on how to identify good quality oil and how much money to take with you!
Price of Moroccan Argan Oil
Argan oil can be relatively expensive when compared to other Moroccan souvenirs. However, it is worth to keep in mind that about 30-40 kilos of argan kernels are needed in order to produce only one kilo of oil. In addition, you are also supporting the livelihood of local farmers and their families.
Some approximate prices you should expect:
- Up to 130 Dh. for a small bottle (150 ml) of cooking oil
- Up to 200 Dh. for a small bottle (150 ml) of cosmetic oil
- Up to 90 Dh. for a bar of soap
Depending on where you are going to buy your argan oil, you should take a closer look at the quality of the oil. This is particularly the case if you’re going to buy it outside the main argan region, e.g. in Marrakech. Pure argan oil is golden in color, although a bit murky (cooking oil may even have a bit of sediment at the bottom). If the oil appears very light and clear in color, it may have been cut with other cheaper vegetable oils.
You can also test the quality on your skin. Pure argan oil is light and non-sticky. Your skin may not absorb it instantaneously, but it should also not leave an uncomfortable film of oil on your skin.
Where to Buy Argan Oil in Morocco
You will be able to buy argan oil pretty much anywhere in the country, including the airport. However, we’d recommend to buy it directly at the source, from one of the many women’s’ cooperatives in the country. Below we have compiled a map of some of the most well-known argan cooperatives in the area. However, on the road from Marrakech to Essaouira, you’ll be sure to see plenty more.
Now, what do you think? Would you buy a bottle of argan oil in Morocco? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!