Argan oil is an oil produced from the kernels of the argan tree, endemic to Morocco, that is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties. The tree, a relict species from the Tertiary age, is extremely well adapted to drought and other environmentally harsh conditions of southwestern Morocco. The species Argania once covered North Africa and is now endangered and under protection of UNESCO. The argan tree grows wild in semi-arid soil, its deep root system helping to protect against soil erosion and the northern advance of the Sahara. This biosphere reserve, the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, covers a vast intramontane plain of more than 2,560,000 hectares, bordered by the High Atlas and Little Atlas Mountains and the Atlantic in the west. Argan oil remains one of the rarest oils in the world due to the small and very specific growing areas.
Argan trees were first reported by the explorer Leo Africanus in 1510. An early specimen was taken to Amsterdam where it was cultivated by Lady Beaufort at Badminton House in 1711.
Argan oil contains tocopherols (vitamin E), phenols, carotenes, squalene, and fatty acids, (80% unsaturated fatty acids) The main natural phenols in argan oil are caffeic acid, oleuropein, vanillic acid, tyrosol, catechol, resorcinol, (-)-epicatechin and (+)-catechin.
Depending on the extraction method, it may be more resistant to oxidation than olive oil.
Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous, salads and similar uses. Amlou, a thick brown paste with a consistency similar to peanut butter, is produced by grinding roasted almond and argan oil using stones, and is used locally as a bread dip. The unroasted oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and has found favour with the cosmetics industry.
SUPPORTING WOMEN All argan sold today is produced by a women's cooperative that shares the profits among the local women of the Berber tribe. The cooperative has established an ecosystem reforestation project so that the supply of argan oil will not run out and the income that is currently supporting the women will not diminish. The money is providing health care and education to the local women, and supporting the entire community as a whole.
According to the Moroccan Department of Water and Forests, argan oil provides income for 3 million people in the southern part of the kingdom. The oil provides a total of 20 million workdays per year. Its operation is an income-generating activity and has always had a socio-economic function.
The vast majority of the production of argan oil passes through the women's cooperative of argan oil. A program that focuses on improving the working conditions of rural women, generating additional income, and using sustainable management of argan areas in the southwest of Morocco, is funded using said income.
Much of the oil displayed in Moroccan souks is adulterated with other, cheaper oils. The pure argan oil, both for cosmetic and edible uses, becomes semi-solid at fridge temperature, (approximately 2–4 °C). However, the adulterated oil remains liquid but transluscent.
Co-sponsored by the Social Development Agency (SDA) with the support of the European Union, the UCFA (Union des Cooperatives des Femmes de l’Arganeraie) is the largest union of cooperatives for argan in Morocco. It comprises twenty-two cooperatives that are found in other parts of the region (e.g., Coopérative Al Amal, Coopérative Amalou N'Touyag, Coopérative Tissaliwine, Coopérative ArganSense, and Coopérative Maouriga). These women come together to be better organized and thus guarantee a fair income through cooperatives, allowing them a better living environment and a dynamic local.
Women cooperatives in Morocco work within a biosphere protected by UNESCO which ensures its protection and reforestation.