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What is Argan Oil?

If you are reading this, you, like me, have questions about argan oil. You have heard some great claims, but don’t want to use a product on and in your body on the word of someone who is selling it for a profit. To me, being a bit skeptical is a good thing and research is important to make safe, intelligent decisions.

Where does argan oil come from?

The oil itself comes from the nut or seed of the argan tree.

Argan tree in MoroccoThe argan tree (Argania spinosa) is native to Morocco which is located in North Africa. The argan tree has a deep root system that allows it to survive in the desert climate of Morocco and its branches and trunk grow in a gnarled and twisted shape. An argan tree can live for 100-150 years.

There are other countries where the argan tree is grown and cultivated. Around ten percent of argan oil collected and sold comes from Mexico, Israel and Algeria.

Argan seeds

When the trees flower in April they produce the seeds that look like small dates or limes. In Morocco, the seeds are collected in June and July for processing. The argan seed is has a pulpy outer layer that covers a hard shell with a soft interior. The oil is squeezed from the soft nut in the middle of the two outer coverings.

Production

My understanding is that in Morocco, the preparation of argan oil is an industry the government reserves for their women with the goal of improving their income and, therefore, their lives. Argan oil production is a long standing business. Archaeologists have evidence that argan oil extraction has been done for centuries.

The process

Producing argan oil is a long process. The outer pulpy layer of the seed is removed and then the hard shell is cracked by hand between two stones to remove the soft interior. The soft interior is then crushed to remove the oil or it may be slightly roasted first if the oil will be used as a food item, as in dressing for a salad or mixed with vinegar for dipping bread. The roasting gives the oil a nutty Mediterranean flavor. Unroasted, the nuts have a bitter, spicy taste. The unroasted nuts are used for cosmetic oil production.

A woman making argan oil

The outer layer and the pulp that is left over gets used as animal feed. The outer layer can also be used as gardening mulch and the cracked shells are often burned as fuel.

If you’re interested in seeing how argan oil is produced by hand in Morocco, here is a Youtube video by Sheila Simkin of “Travels with Sheila”:

The smell

Some say the unroasted oil has a bad smell. One person even described it as smelling like diarrhea and another said they will only buy oil that has lavender added to cover the scent.

Many companies just use a process that removes all of the scent.

What I personally found was that if you warm up a good bit of the pure oil in your hand and sniff it right away, it could possibly be described as smelling like baby diarrhea, but I also found there was no need to use that much oil and the smell dissipates after a moment or two anyway.

I did find an interesting smelly argan story though. Fazzousi who posted the Youtube video, “The Making of Argan Oil” had this to say:

Goats in an argan tree eating the fruitGoats like the pulp of argan fruits . . . They will digest the pulp, but shed the undigested seeds in their feces. As these have shells that are somewhat softened and easier to crack, they are occasionally used to produce oil for non-culinary purposes. An urban legend has it that all argan oil is produced this way. This myth seems to be based on the fact that occasionally, shrewd traders would have sold (and may still try to sell) such “non-food grade” argan oil to ignorant travelers or tourists. The fact that the nuts acquire a foul aroma in passing through the animal’s digestive tract makes it easy to tell this oil apart from food-grade produce with its rich, walnut oil-like flavor.

You can watch that video here:

I’m not suggesting our person reporting the diarrhea smell was one of the ignorant travelers or tourists mentioned above, but it was an interesting story.

If you are concerned about the scent of natural argan oil, you can purchase oil that has been deodorized by the manufacturer or has had a covering scent added to it.

Before buying the natural oil from a beauty or health food store, you may be able to give it a sniff test. If you are purchasing the oil online, reading the description of the product will often tell you if it has been deodorized or had a covering scent added to it.

The reviews of prior purchasers are also a good place to get an idea of the degree of natural odor that particular oil might have. The slightly nutty walnut scent was not a problem for me, but you may be more sensitive to the scent and prefer not to have it in your product.

How much argan oil do I need?

Just using a couple of drops was very adequate for moisturizing my hands and only one drop was needed for my hair.

More resources

Hopefully, you found this information helpful. Now check out the benefits of argan oil and what it can do for you.

The following Youtube video is very informative, but since I have no knowledge of Argan Oil Direct I cannot approve of or disapprove of their products: