The first time I visited Morocco, I saw postcards that featured goats perched in Argan trees. Sure, I thought, this is a gag. Surely they must have either tied stuffed goats to branches or retouched photos. So the first time I visited Argan Country, near Essaouira and Agadir, boy, was I surprised. There were real goats in the trees! Munching away! I soon found out that was going on. The goats were exclusively found in argan trees.
Argan is a relative of the olive, and the goats were eating the argan fruit. Argan is grown exclusively in the southwest region of Morocco. It is difficult to cultivate and as a result, wild trees are treasured. Argan oil is prized in Morocco and recently has been discovered by the West. It has been used for centuries for cooking and cosmetics. The oil is extracted from the kernel of the pits.
There are many women’s cooperatives in the region that help poor women with employment and educate their children as well. It is fascinating to see how experienced “crackers” take the small pit (imagine an olive pit), set it against a large stone and with another small stone, cracks the pit open in one try. I’ve tried it and got a bloody thumb as my reward! Then the kernels are ground into a past with the oil running out. You can see this is a very tedious and time-consuming procedure that accounts for the high price of argan products.
The gustatory oil is delicious with a nutty, smoky flavor (due to roasting). It is used as a finishing oil for salads or fish or as a bread dip. According to Wikipedia, Argan oil is exceptionally rich in natural tocopherols (vitamin E), rich in phenols and phenolic acid, rich in carotenes, rich in squalene, rich in essential fatty acids, 80% unsaturated fatty acids and depending on extraction method more resistant to oxidation than olive oil.
I love argan oil and always have a jar or two in my refrigerator where it keeps indefinitely.
The cosmetic industry uses argan oil in hair products all sorts of skin care products and lotions. It is often scented with rose, jasmin, or almond extracts. Unroasted oil is used traditionally as a treatment for skin ailments such as excema.
Now that I have visited the region many times, I am still delighted when we come across goats in trees and always stop to take pictures. You would too!
By Freya Ellinwood, Morocco Travel Writer
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