Argan oil is a traditional Moroccan ingredient, which is both used in cooking and on the skin as a beauty oil.
Argan oil, used by Berber women for centuries has gained in popularity in recent years. The oil can be used for both culinary and cosmetic purposes and is now a regular feature in kitchens and hair and beauty products around the world.
The Argan tree, looks a little like an olive tree but is not related. The Argan tree (Argania spinosa), native to Morocco is hardy and resistant to drought and heat and lives from 150 to 200 years. The arganeraie forests in the Southwest of Morocco are designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
It takes all the fruit from an average tree, about 250 pounds, to yield enough seeds for just one litre of oil. The fruit is traditionally harvested by entire Berber families.
The process is traditionally done by hand by local women. The fruit is spread to dry in the sun and the pulp is removed and the hard oval nuts are cracked open to reveal the ivory kernels. The Argan seeds are lightly toasted over charcoal in flat iron or terra cotta pans, and ground in stone mills into a thick paste. This paste is then kneaded by hand until the oil flows out, which is collected and bottled.
Traditionally in Moroccan cooking, Argan oil is used as a finishing touch for Tajines and couscous. Combined with lemon juice in a salad dressing, or mixed with honey and yogurt for breakfast.
Argan oil is rich in vitamin E and essential fatty acids and has a vibrantly toasty, nutlike flavour with fruity overtones and a delicate touch of bitterness. Its unique flavour makes it a perfect for cheeses, soups, grain dishes and braised meats. It also works well as a salad dressing.