Hi all! It’s been quite some time since I posted a blog because I’ve been studying for my exams. My exams aren’t actually over yet, but I couldn’t resist sharing the secrets behind how Morocco’s liquid gold is made.
The source of argan oil is the argan (tree), which grows in the Souss region in Morocco. I’m originally from a little village in the Atlas Mountains of the Souss region, which is surrounded by argan. The women in my family all know how to make argan oil, so I though I’d share the secrets with all of you. The process is very long, so bear with me.
Step 1: Picking Up Argan Fruits Surrounding Argan Trees
When the argan fruits are ripe (after April), they fall off the trees and Berber women then pick them up with their bare hands. Now, my village lies high in the Atlas Mountains, where all kinds of poisonous scorpions, spiders and snakes roam the nature. The collecting process usually takes a month (in my village), where there are thousands (though I haven’t counted them) argan trees as pictured below.
Step 2: Getting The Argan Fruit To The Village
Since the women have to pick up argan fruits in a 10-30 kilometer (6-18 miles) radius of the village (until the territory of the other village begins), the fruits are collected in huge baskets. Some of the women are in charge of transporting them to the village (all day long), using donkeys.
Step 3: ‘Pealing’ The Argan Fruit & Removing The Shell
Ripe argan fruits have a dark shell, which has to be removed before they reach the nut inside, which is also in a harder shell. So before you reach the actual nut, you have to remove two shells. This is a tedious process which is done with a stone in one hand and the argan fruit/nut in the other.
The women hold the fruit between their thumb and index finger and place it on a rock. Holding another rock in their other hand, they hit it three to four times and then peel the first shell off. They do this for all argan fruits before moving to the next step. They use the same process to remove the ‘hard’ shell. What remains are the actual seeds, the waste shells are used to throw on fire (like fuel wood).
Step 3*: ‘Baking’ The Seeds
This is an optional step, used only when making culinary argan oil. The seeds are thrown in a hot pan and stirred until they slightly change colour. This means that the argan will be easier to mash and that more oil will be produced.
This step is skipped when making ‘white’ argan used for beauty. The seeds are much more difficult to ‘mash’ and less argan oil will be produced. This explains the difference in price between the two varieties.
Step 4: ‘Mashing’ The Seeds
The seeds are mashed in a stone mixer called ‘azerg’ as pictured below.
The women turn the top wheel while dropping in the seeds at the top. A fluid paste comes out under the wheel.
Step 5: Squeezing The Paste
Once the paste has fixed enough, the women pick handfuls of paste and they squeeze the argan oil out.
The finished result is the argan oil us Berber women love and cherish. The dry paste is fed to cattle, so nothing goes to waste.
There are small cooperations in Morocco (not where I’m from) that collaborate with companies. In trade, they pay the women a stable income (even though it’s nothing compared to what they make from argan oil) and they provide them with mechanic tools and machines. Thankfully, argan oil cannot be made without these women’s know-how (for now), so it remains an authentic process. Unfortunately, the oil is no longer pure when it’s sold in shops in the States or Europe. It’s mixed with all sorts chemicals; just check out the label of the Moroccan Oil products below.
I’ve found a video on YouTube about The Body Shop France that collaborates with Berber women for the production of argan oil. They use machines for a part of the process. The spoken explanation is in French, but the images are universal.