2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Plants
Foliage, flowers and immature fruit
The Argan (Argania spinosa, syn. A. sideroxylon Roem. & Schult.) is a species of tree endemic to the calcareous semi-desert Sous valley of southwestern Morocco. It is the sole species in the genus Argania.
Argan grows to 8-10 metres high, and live to 150-200 years old. They are thorny, with gnarled trunks. The leaves are small, 2-4 cm long, oval with a rounded apex. The flowers are small, with five pale yellow-green petals; flowering is in April. The fruit is 2-4 cm long and 1.5-3 cm broad, with a thick, bitter peel surrounding a sweet-smelling but unpleasantly flavoured layer of pulpy pericarp. This surrounds the very hard nut, which contains one (occasionally two or three) small, oil-rich seeds. The fruit takes over a year to mature, ripening in June to July of the following year.
The arganeraie forests now cover some 828,000 ha and are designated as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Their area has shrunk by about 50% over the last 100 years, owing to charcoal-making, grazing, and increasingly intensive cultivation. The best hope for the conservation of the trees may lie in the recent development of a thriving export market for argan oil as a high-value product.
In some parts of Morocco, Argan takes the place of the Olive as a source of forage, oil, timber and fuel in Berber society. Especially near Essaouira, the argan tree is frequently climbed by goats .
The average fruit yield per tree is 8kg per year. The fruits fall in July, when black and dry; until that time, goats are kept out of the argan woodlands by wardens. Rights to collect fruit are closely controlled by law and by village traditions. The leaves are an important browse after harvest. Fruits were and sometimes are gathered after consumption by goats (nimble climbers in argan trees), but this is not the case for oil produced for human consumption; the resultant product will taste unpleasantly (Nouaim 2005).
- Argan oil
Argan oil is produced by several women's co-operatives in the region. The most labour intensive part of oil-extraction is removal of the soft pulp (used as animal feed) and the cracking by hand, between two stones, of the hard nut. The seeds are then removed and gently roasted. This roasting accounts for part of the oil's distinctive, nutty flavour. The traditional technique for oil extraction is to grind the roasted seeds to paste, with a little water, in a stone rotary quern. The paste is then squeezed between hands to extract the oil. The extracted paste is still oil-rich and is used as animal feed. Oil produced by this method will keep 3-6 months, and will be produced as needed in a family, from a store of the kernels, which will keep for 20 years unopened. Dry-pressing is now increasingly important for oil produced for sale, as the oil will keep 12-18 months and extraction is much faster.
The oil contains 80% unsaturated fatty acids, is rich in essential fatty acids and is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous, salads and similar uses. A dip for bread known as amlou is made from argan oil, almonds and peanuts, sometimes sweetened by honey or sugar. The unroasted oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and has found favour with European cosmetics manufacturers.
Argan oil is sold in Morocco as a luxury item (although difficult to find outside the region of production), and is of increasing interest to cosmetics companies in Europe. It was very difficult to buy the oil outside Morocco, but in 2001-2002 argan oil suddenly became a fashionable food in Europe and North America. It is now widely available in specialist shops and, sometimes, in supermarkets. Its price (USD20-30 for 250 ml) reflects the labour needed for processing, but a little argan oil goes a long way.