The argan tree (Argania spinosa) belongs to the family of Sapotaceae and is one of the oldest trees in the world. It is assumed that in the Tertiary period more than 50 million years ago it populated large areas in North Africa and Southern Europe. Due to climate change, its geographic range was reduced more and more, and today the argan tree can be found only in an area of approximately 8,000 square kilometers in the southwest of Morocco (Souss-Massa-Drâa region). About 20 million trees grow there, and the distribution area is protected by UNESCO as a Biosphere Reserve. All argan trees are property of the Moroccan state. So far, all attempts to colonize the tree in other areas have failed. The argan tree probably requires a unique combination of Atlantic and desert climate and the conditions found in the Atlas Mountains.
The argan tree has a relatively low trunk with a strikingly broad and wide spreading crown. The crown can have a circumference of about 70 meters and the branches lean towards the ground. The argan tree is thorny and loses its leaves in the dry months. The wood is very hard, which is why the term "ironwood tree" is used. The argan tree reaches an average age of 250 to 400 years. It is able to survive long periods of drought and high temperatures up to about 50 degrees, and its roots reach up to 30 meters deep into the ground. The fruits of the argan tree are about the size of dates and look very similar when dried. The fresh fruits are yellow-green and look like a mixture of olive and plum. The flesh is of the same color and has a slightly bitter taste. The very hard shell is wrapped around three hazelnut-sized kernels. The shell contains an almond of the size of a sunflower seed. From this almonds, the famous Argan oil is extracted. The argan tree has been cultivated in Morocco for several hundred years for the extraction of the oil. Argan forests are also an important safeguard against the progressive erosion of the soil and desertification.
To produce one liter of the golden Argan oil, which has an intense nutty aroma and taste, the harvest of about five trees is required, which corresponds to about 30 kilos of fruits. As it is traditionally hand-pressed, it takes up to two days to produce one liter of "Moroccan Gold", as the oil is also called. Overall, compared to other types of oil the amount of hand-pressed, virgin Argan oil that is produced (about four billion liters per year) is very low, thus the expensive price of about one hundred euros per liter. Argan oil has a high content of unsaturated fatty acids, but also particularly plenty of tocopherols and phytosterols. It is chemical plant substances that catch free radicals and have an antioxidant effect. They are also able to lower the cholesterol level, are anti-inflammatory and are supposed to have an effect on tumors. These effects are attributed to the two phytosterols, schottenol and spinasterol, which cannot be found at all or only in very small quantities in other types of oil.
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