THE ARGAN tree (argania spinosa) is perfect for a
harsh environment, surviving heat, drought and poor soil.
It is little known outside Morocco, and many Moroccans
themselves have never heard of it because it grows only in the south-west of the country -
roughly between Essaouira and Agadir, in an area covering 700,000-800,000 hectares. But
within the area where the argan grows there are about 21 million trees which play a vital
role in the food chain and the environment, though their numbers are declining.
The tree, which is thorny and can reach heights of 8-10
metres, probably originated in Argana, a village north-east of Agadir (off Route 40). It
lives longer than the olive and requires no cultivation.
The trunk of the argan is often twisted and gnarled,
allowing goats to clamber along its branches and feed on the leaves and fruit.
The fruit has a green, fleshy exterior like an olive, but
larger and rounder. Inside, there is a nut with an extremely hard shell, which in turn
contains one, two or three almond-shaped kernels.
When goats eat the fruit, the fleshy part is digested but
the nut remains. Later, the nuts are collected by farmers
to produce oil.
The production of argan oil, which is still mostly done by
traditional methods, is a lengthy process. Each nut has to be cracked open to remove the
kernels, and it is said that producing one litre of oil takes 20 hours' work.
Argan oil is slightly darker than olive oil, with a
reddish tinge. It can be used for cooking and is claimed to have various medicinal
properties, such as lowering cholesterol levels, stimulating circulation and strengthening
the bodys natural defences. Internationally, there is some interest in its possible
The residue from the kernels after oil extraction is a
thick chocolate-coloured paste called "amlou" which is sweetened and served as a
dip for bread at breakfast time in Berber households. It flavour is similar to that of
The wood and nut-shells of the argan tree are burned for
cooking; the wood is also used decoratively in some of the inlaid boxes which are made in
Essaouira. The roots of the argan tree grow deep in search of water, helping to bind the
soil and prevent erosion.
Households that make their own argan oil tend to use if
for general cooking. Because it is expensive to buy, others may use it more sparingly -
flavouring salads, for example. A few drops stirred into couscous just before serving give
it a rich, nutty aroma.
Argan production is still basically a cottage industry,
managed largely by women. But many people believe that if the oil became better known it
could provide more employment in the region as well as enhancing the environment.
Bottles of what pass for argan oil are sold along the
roadsides between Essouira and Agadir, but is difficult to tell if they are genuine.
Because the oil commands a high price, sellers are often tempted to dilute it with cheaper
oils. Some bottles simply contain olive oil, coloured with paprika or other substances.
More about Argan
(La Fondation pour l'Arganier)
Moroccan argan oil faces cloudy future
Reuters, 6 January 2006
by Kitty Morse. Saudi Aramco World, September 2004
Pieces of the Argan Puzzle
Profile of argan researcher Zoubida Charrouf. IDRC Reports, 23
The argan tree, argan oil and women's co-operatives in southwestern Morocco
Geographical indications case study by David Luth, December 2004
Latest oil in American pantry is Argan oil from
Florence Fabricant (New-York
Times, 3 January, 2001)
Ethnomedical, and Phytochemical Study of Argania Spinosa
Review article, Journal of
Ethnopharmacology [PDF file]
trees in Algeria
The following are papers from
a conference - Journees
d'etude sur l'arganier - sponsored by Environment Ministry and the held in Essaouira,
September 1995. The papers are all in French:
La problématique de
Mr Nour-Eddinne Ottmani
socio-économique et environnemental de l'Arganier
Mr Mohamed Benzyane
préliminaires d'une monographie de quelques pratiques rituelles en rapport avec les Ayt
Mr Abdelghani Maghnia
Agro-sylvo-pastoraux de l'Arganier Approche Typologique en vue de leur mise en valeur
Mr Faiçal Benchekroun
Biologie de l'Arganier
Mme Rachida Nouaim
cartographie des groupements végétaux d'Anzi
Mr Fouad Msanda
produits de l'Arganier
Mme Zoubida Charrouf
Bilan des actions et
programmes en faveur de l'Arganier et perspectives
Mr Rémi Chaussod
Projet de la
Mr Frank Hayer
Phytocenoses du Parc National de Souss-Massa
Mr Ribi Mohamed
l'Association des Amis de l'Arganier (3A)
Mr Abdelkader El Othmani
Présentation du projet
financé par le Canada
Mr Roy Michel
Journées d'Etudes sur l'Arganier