The Moroccan argania is of average height and can survive extreme heat and drought, even in almost 1300 meters altitude. For millions of years, it is domiciled in northern Africa and is referred to as a “tree of life” by the local Berbers.
The thorny argan tree (Argania spinosa) bears bitter fruit, which is inedible for humans in its natural state. Only the goats of the Berbers venture into the argan trees and eat the fruit and leafage. The yellowish argan fruits have approximately the size of dates and are filled with three kernels, commonly referred to as almonds. The hazelnut-sized almonds house the precious Argan oil, which is due to its color also referred to as the liquid gold of Morocco. To extract the precious oil from the hard kernels, the Berber women have united in special cooperatives (UCFA – Union des Coopératives des Femmes de l'Arganeraie), which generally use the traditional method of manual extraction of the oil. About 80 percent of Moroccan Argan oil is produced by complex manual work.
The ripe fruit of the argan tree is gathered by the Berber women from the ground (it cannot be picked from the tree) and then dried under the hot sun on the rooftops of their houses. After this natural drying process the pulp of the argan nut is peeled off by hand. The extremely hard shell of the nut, which is six times as hard as the well-known hazelnut, is cracked by the workers using a stone hammer on a stone anvil.
The delicate almonds contained therein are carefully checked for damaged kernels and sorted by hand. Using this procedure, a single Berber woman is able to gain about one kilogram of perfect seeds / almonds per day. This harvest can then be roasted in a gentle procedure (producing an aromatic walnut-like fragrance) and then be manually pressed in a stone press.
Some slightly heated water is poured into the pulp thus produced and mixed by hand until the Argan oil begins to separate itself. To win a single liter of oil using this method, about 30 kg of argan fruit (about 4.5 kg almonds) are required. On the other hand, using a manual procedure, too, a first cold-pressing at a temperature below 40 degrees Celsius also produces valuable Argan oil, which has a very distinctive flavor. The pure Argan oil won through these complex methods of production is finally filtered so that any deposits be removed.
Today, Argan oil is won also by means of innovative industrial roasting and pressing procedures in large urban companies, although some of the precious natural ingredients may be damaged or even lost. The companies buy huge amounts of argan fruit and sell the industrially processed Argan oil mostly as “Berber-style”.
For Argan oil, which is produced with roasted seeds, only almonds are used that are completely intact, so that harmful burnings of the kernels, which are hazardous to health, are prevented. Roasted Argan oil is mainly used in the culinary field and contains essential and fatty oils, with the health promoting unsaturated fatty acids amounting to about 80 percent.
For cold-pressing no pretreatment of this kind takes place. Because of its special aroma, cold-pressed Argan oil is used successfully for traditional (partially pure) application or the healing of a number of skin diseases, as well as for skin care. Argan oil has, for example, an anti-bacterial and cell regenerating effect and keeps hair and skin supple. For internal use, 3 teaspoons of pure Argan oil per day are sufficient to provide the body with the vital vitamin E.
According to expert estimates, each year only 3 to 4 million gallons of precious Argan oil are produced (compared to 2.8 billion liters of olive oil), which explains its higher price. In addition, since 1998 the complete population of argan trees in Morocco is under protection of UNESCO as a “Biosphere Reserve” (Arganeraie). The agro-technical treatment of these special trees is absolutely prohibited, so that all argan fruits are grown 100 percent organically. Their purity and quality is regularly checked by local specialized laboratories.
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