Archive | Argan Oil Production

Argan Oil Quality

Goats love to eat the argan nuts.

There are varying qualities of cosmetic argan oil on the market, as evidenced by the wildly differing prices for oil sold on sites such as Amazon.com.  There are several factors that are important in determining the quality of argan oil.

The argan nut is a hard almond-like seed, encased in an external shell and a fruity outside pulp.  The nuts that are gathered for oil must have the exterior pulp in tact.  If there is no pulp, it means that the nut has been eaten and digested by a goat (goats love to eat the nuts) imparting a foul smell to the oil.  Often, these “goat nuts” will be sold at a low price and then the oil will be deodorized, a process that destroys the essential nutrients in the oil.  This is typically the case of the lower priced oils on the market.

The location from which the argan nuts are harvested also makes a difference.  There are five distinct regions in the South of Morocco where the argan trees grow.  The five regions engulf the coastland of Essaouira, to the desert of Taroudant and the mountains of the mid and anti atlas.  Each of these areas differ in their soil, exposure and weather conditions.  For example, the trees from Essaouira are exposed to more moisture than the trees of the desert region near Taroudant and so the nuts from Taroudant are smaller but more nutrient-rich.  The area around Agadir includes lots of agriculture, thereby exposing the trees of that region to chemical pesticides and fertilizer, so the oil from that region is rarely organic.

Finally, the method of harvesting, extraction and storage is extremely important.  Nuts must be gathered from the ground, not the tree.  The nuts that have not fallen yet from the tree are not sufficiently ripe.  This also helps to protect the tree.  The nuts are then dried for one week in the sun before depulping and cracking by hand.  The highest quality oil is extracted by machine to eliminate excess water and the chance for bacterial contamination.

It is important to recognize that it is most often the women who do the hard work of extracting the argan oil who are undercut in the market for low-priced argan oil.  It is crucial that these women receive a fair wage for their labor in order to make the money they need to survive.

Of course, Kahina Giving Beauty works with cooperatives that pay a fair wage to the women and ensures that only the highest quality nuts go into its oil.

The Argan Extraction Process

an instructional booklet teaches the women proper techniques for each step of the oil extraction.

In an effort to preserve the quality of argan oil on the market and control the rights to the usage of the argan name, Morocco has a plan to instigate a protected geographic indication for argan oil coming from the argan region in the South of Morocco.  Part of its efforts includes organizing and educating the women of the cooperatives in proper extraction techniques, including the proper harvesting, drying, and cracking of the nuts.  The entire process is briefly outlined here:

1. Nuts are gathered from the ground during the summer months.  If the nuts are picked from the tree, they will not be ripe enough and will produce an inferior quality oil.  Nuts should have the exterior pulp in tact, as otherwise it is an indication that they have been predigested by goats.

2. The gathered nuts are left to dry in the sun for one month, turning frequently to protect against humidity.

3. The nuts are then stored in a cool, dry place until they are ready for cracking.

4. Nuts are depulped manually or by machine, then cracked using traditional methods.  To extract the almond, the women hit the argan nut against a rock with the help of a second, smaller rock.  The almonds are then separated from their shells.

5. The almonds are sorted to select for quality, consistency in color and without odor.

6. The cosmetic oil should be pressed by machine to eliminate bacterial contamination.  The oil is left to rest before filtering to allow for the oil to separate from any remaining sediment.  This sediment forms the “paste”.

Each of these steps is traceable under the new labeling standards.  The standardization of the industry will help to stabilize the market for argan oil and ensure fair wages to the women of the argan cooperatives.

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