Argan oil

Argan oil

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Argan oil is an oil
Vegetable fats and oils
Vegetable fats and oils are lipid materials derived from plants. Physically, oils are liquid at room temperature, and fats are solid. Chemically, both fats and oils are composed of triglycerides, as contrasted with waxes which lack glycerin in their structure...

 produced from the kernels of the argan
Argan
The Argan is a species of tree endemic to the calcareous semi-desert Sous valley of southwestern Morocco and to the Algerian region of Tindouf in the western Mediterranean region. It is the sole species in the genus Argania....

 tree, endemic
Endemic (ecology)
Endemism is the ecological state of being unique to a defined geographic location, such as an island, nation or other defined zone, or habitat type; organisms that are indigenous to a place are not endemic to it if they are also found elsewhere. For example, all species of lemur are endemic to the...

 to Morocco, that is valued for its nutritive, cosmetic and numerous medicinal properties. The tree, a relict species from the Tertiary
Tertiary
The Tertiary is a deprecated term for a geologic period 65 million to 2.6 million years ago. The Tertiary covered the time span between the superseded Secondary period and the Quaternary...

 age, is extremely well adapted to drought and other environmentally difficult conditions of southwestern Morocco
Morocco
Morocco , officially the Kingdom of Morocco , is a country located in North Africa. It has a population of more than 32 million and an area of 710,850 km², and also primarily administers the disputed region of the Western Sahara...

. The species Argania once covered North Africa and is now endangered and under protection of UNESCO
UNESCO
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations...

. The Argan tree grows wild in semi-desert soil, its deep root system helping to protect against soil erosion
Erosion
Erosion is when materials are removed from the surface and changed into something else. It only works by hydraulic actions and transport of solids in the natural environment, and leads to the deposition of these materials elsewhere...

 and the northern advance of the Sahara. This biosphere reserve
Biosphere reserve
The Man and the Biosphere Programme of UNESCO was established in 1971 to promote interdisciplinary approaches to management, research and education in ecosystem conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.-Development:...

, the Arganeraie Biosphere Reserve, covers a vast intramontane plain of more than 2,560,000 hectares, bordered by the High Atlas
High Atlas
High Atlas, also called the Grand Atlas Mountains is a mountain range in central Morocco in Northern Africa.The High Atlas rises in the west at the Atlantic Ocean and stretches in an eastern direction to the Moroccan-Algerian border. At the Atlantic and to the southwest the range drops abruptly...

 and Little Atlas Mountains and open to 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
Leo Africanus
Joannes Leo Africanus, was a Moorish diplomat and author who is best known for his book Descrittione dell’Africa describing the geography of North Africa.-Biography:Most of what is known about his life is gathered from autobiographical...

 in 1510. An early specimen was taken to Amsterdam
Amsterdam
Amsterdam is the largest city and the capital of the Netherlands. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of August 24, 1815 and its successors. Amsterdam has a population of 783,364 within city limits, an urban population...

 where it was cultivated by Lady Beaufort at Badminton House
Badminton House
Badminton House is a large country house in Gloucestershire, England, and has been the principal seat of the Dukes of Beaufort since the late 17th century, when the family moved from Raglan Castle, which had been ruined in the English Civil War...

 in 1711.

Traditional method


Before modern times, the Berber
Berber people
Berbers are the indigenous peoples of North Africa west of the Nile Valley. They are continuously distributed from the Atlantic to the Siwa oasis, in Egypt, and from the Mediterranean to the Niger River. Historically they spoke the Berber language or varieties of it, which together form a branch...

s (also known as the Amazighs) of Morocco would collect undigested Argan pits from the waste of goats which climb the trees to eat their fruit. The pits were then ground and pressed to make the nutty oil used in cooking and cosmetics. However, the oil used in cosmetic and culinary products available for sale today has most likely been harvested directly from the tree and processed with machines.

Press-extraction


Now increasingly important for oil produced for sale, as the oil will keep 12–18 months and extraction is much faster. Using mechanical presses, mixing of the dough and water is unnecessary and the dough can be directly pressed.

Properties and uses

Fatty acid Percentage
Palmitic
Palmitic acid
Palmitic acid, or hexadecanoic acid in IUPAC nomenclature, is one of the most common saturated fatty acids found in animals and plants. Its molecular formula is CH314CO2H. As its name indicates, it is a major component of the oil from palm trees . Palmitate is a term for the salts and esters of...

 
12.0%
Stearic
Stearic acid
Stearic acid is the saturated fatty acid with an 18 carbon chain and has the IUPAC name octadecanoic acid. It is a waxy solid, and its chemical formula is CH316CO2H. Its name comes from the Greek word στέαρ "stéatos", which means tallow. The salts and esters of stearic acid are called stearates...

 
6.0%
Oleic
Oleic acid
Oleic acid is a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid found in various animal and vegetable fats. It has the formula CH37CH=CH7COOH. It is an odorless, colourless oil, although commercial samples may be yellowish. The trans isomer of oleic acid is called elaidic acid...

 
42.8%
Linoleic
Linoleic acid
Linoleic acid is an unsaturated n-6 fatty acid. It is a colorless liquid at room temperature. In physiological literature, it has a lipid number of 18:2...

 
36.8%
Linolenic
Alpha-linolenic acid
α-Linolenic acid is an organic compound found in many common vegetable oils. In terms of its structure, it is named all-cis-9,12,15-octadecatrienoic acid. In physiological literature, it is given the name 18:3 ....

 
<0.5%


Argan oil is exceptionally rich in natural tocopherol
Tocopherol
Tocopherols are a class of chemical compounds of which many have vitamin E activity. It is a series of organic compounds consisting of various methylated phenols...

s (vitamin E), rich in phenols
Natural phenol
Natural phenols, bioavailable phenols, plant phenolics, low molecular weight phenols or phenoloids are a class of natural products. They are small molecules containing one or more phenolic group. These molecules are smaller in size than polyphenols, containing less than 12 phenolic groups...

 and phenolic acid
Phenolic acid
Phenolic acids are a type of organic compounds. Included in that class are substances containing a phenolic ring and an organic carboxylic acid function ....

, rich in carotene
Carotene
The term carotene is used for several related unsaturated hydrocarbon substances having the formula C40Hx, which are synthesized by plants but cannot be made by animals. Carotene is an orange photosynthetic pigment important for photosynthesis. Carotenes are all coloured to the human eye...

s, rich in squalene
Squalene
Squalene is a natural organic compound originally obtained for commercial purposes primarily from shark liver oil, though plant sources are used as well, including amaranth seed, rice bran, wheat germ, and olives. All plants and animals produce squalene, including humans...

, rich in essential fatty acid
Fatty acid
In chemistry, especially biochemistry, a fatty acid is a carboxylic acid with a long unbranched aliphatic tail , which is either saturated or unsaturated. Most naturally occurring fatty acids have a chain of an even number of carbon atoms, from 4 to 28. Fatty acids are usually derived from...

s, 80% unsaturated
Saturated fat
Saturated fat is fat that consists of triglycerides containing only saturated fatty acids. Saturated fatty acids have no double bonds between the individual carbon atoms of the fatty acid chain. That is, the chain of carbon atoms is fully "saturated" with hydrogen atoms...

 fatty acids and depending on extraction method more resistant to oxidation than olive oil
Olive oil
Olive oil is an oil obtained from the olive , a traditional tree crop of the Mediterranean Basin. It is commonly used in cooking, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps...

.

Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous
Couscous
Couscous is a Berber dish of semolina traditionally served with a meat or vegetable stew spooned over it. Couscous is a staple food throughout Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.-Etymology:...

, salad
Salad
Salad is any of a wide variety of dishes, including vegetable salads; salads of pasta, legumes, eggs, or grains; mixed salads incorporating meat, poultry, or seafood; and fruit salads. They may include a mixture of cold and hot, often including raw vegetables or fruits.Green salads include leaf...

s and similar uses. "Amlou" a thick brown paste with a consistency similar to peanut butter is produced by stone grinding roasted almond and Argan oil and is considered a favorite local bread dip. The unroasted oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and has found favour with the cosmetics
Cosmetics
Cosmetics are substances used to enhance the appearance or odor of the human body. Cosmetics include skin-care creams, lotions, powders, perfumes, lipsticks, fingernail and toe nail polish, eye and facial makeup, towelettes, permanent waves, colored contact lenses, hair colors, hair sprays and...

 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 disappear. The money is providing health care and education to the local women, and supporting the entire community as a whole.

According to the 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 economic activities, generating additional income and sustainable management of argan areas in the southwest of Morocco.

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 everywhere in the region (e.g., Coopérative Al Amal, Coopérative Amalou N'Touyag, Coopérative Tissaliwine, Coopérative ArganSense, 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.

General references

  • Rachida Nouaim: L'arganier au Maroc: entre mythes et réalités. Une civilisation née d'un arbre, une espèce fruitière-forestière à usages multiples. Paris, L'Harmattan (2005) ISBN 2-7475-8453-4