Lately, we have almost introduced a new word to the English language: Argan Oil. In the past we almost never heard about it. Now however, many cosmetic products claim to contain a percentage of Argan Oil and boast about its benefits. Although boasting the benefits is great and necessary (and mind you, I probably will do the same soon), as a chemist I prefer understanding where the products I use come from. What is their origin? Where are they grown? And how are they made?
A little background
Argan Oil comes from an Argan tree grown in the mountainous region of Morocco. Red fertile earth and a moderate dry climate have been an ideal growing ground for these bi-centennial trees. The people that traditionally cater for these trees are the berbers – an indigenous people who have inhabited this mountainous area for thousands of years. Their name comes from the Romans who considered them as “barbarians” since they were their hostile neighbors. The berbers however chose to call themselves differently- Amazighen or “free noblemen.” Very early on, they learned the benefits of this magical tree. They extracted the oil using a hand press and used it for cooking and for cosmetic care.
A common question everyone asks is: “Where does the oil actually come from?” To understand the extraction process, you must know the make-up of the fruit: A thick green peel covers a fleshy pulp, which in turn covers a hard shell. The hard shell contains the argan kernels (or nuts). Now, the extraction process could be divided into three simple steps:
- The fruit is collected and dried in the sun.
- Once dry, the peel and the pulp are removed to reveal the shell. The shell is then broken, by the berber women usually using two stones, and an oil rich kernel is then removed from the shell.
- The oil is then extracted from the kernel by hand (traditional), by temperature (conventional) or by hydraulics (cold pressed)