The Morocco Diaries, Part 9 of 10: How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives

November 05, 2018
How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco

Grease me up, buttercup!


THE MOROCCO DIARIES, PART 9 of 10:
THE ARGAN OIL ROUTE FROM 
MARRAKECH TO ESSAOUIRA


Argan oil. Blessed liquid gold. The darling of the beauty industry - nourishing, lightweight, and versatile. Ladies in the know use it on their skin, their cuticles, in their hair. Myself, I’ve stopped washing my waist-length hair with conditioner, instead using argan oil on the mid-to-ends to keep my tresses happy. I knew that the best argan oil comes from and is native to Morocco, but I had only the vaguest idea of how it is harvested and produced. So it was rather a treat to visit a women’s cooperative and see the traditional methods used to produce this precious ingredient, buy my beloved argan oil (and other) products straight from the source, as well as witness for myself the legendary tree-climbing goats of Morocco


MUCH MOROCCO

How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco

How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco

Goats in trees...Why? How? Where?


Why? Well, these sure-footed creatures literally do the dirty work for argan oil farmers. The goats eat the fruit of the Argan tree (Argania Spinosa) and the seeds from their, um, waste it what argan oil is extracted from. A sh*t situation in name only - as the goats are mad for argan fruit and people are mad for argan oil as beauty, medicine, and food products. Everybody wins.


How? Well, this is where it gets interesting. The reality of how these goats end up at such heights is not quite one of nature’s strange quirks. In fact, it is entirely a human machination. The goats are trained to climb and stand in the argan trees. First, the farmers places the herd there. Then, the goats’ feet are bound to the branches for additional support, then left that way for a few hours. The process is repeat daily until the goats are accustomed to and comfortable with their new roles. And do they take to it like fish to water, sorry, goats to argan fruit! The goats will happily hang out in trees all day, taking naps between grazing while standing upright in the trees.


Where? I saw these critters on the route between Marrakech to Essaouira. It was extremely straightforward, the 2½ hour journey between the cities follows a single straight road, the National Route 8.



As novel as it is to see goats in trees, any connoisseur will tell you that the highest grade of argan oil is that which is derived not from goats but extracted by hand. The highly physical, time-consuming process of which you see in women's cooperatives, the likes of which I visited next...

How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco


How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco

How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco

How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco

How interesting it was to visit a women’s cooperative and see the journey of Moroccan argan oil from farm to beauty shelf. There are many buildings in Morocco purporting to be argan oil cooperatives, but only the ones in Arganeraie - the region in southwest Morocco colloquially known as ‘Argan Country’, where the Argan tree (Argania spinosa) is endemic to - are authentic. Such was my good luck that one of the best-known co’ops is between Agadir and Essaouira; the latter of which I was heading to from Marrakech. AFOUS ARGAN is the real deal - a government-approved argan oil cooperative run by Berber women, produced using traditional methods. 


And how. The production process is tedious. The argan fruit has to be cracked by hand, then roasted, grounded and pressed into a fragrant brown mash. This delightful goop - with an aroma I’d describe as a mix between peanut butter, hazelnut butter, and something so indescribably rich I still fantasise about it - expels pure, unfiltered argan oil. Finally, the oil is decanted into vessels, where they are left to rest for 2 weeks so that the suspended solids settle to the bottom. The mostly-sediment-free argan oil is filtered even more, depending on the required clarity and purity. Cosmetic argan oil is produced in the same way, minus the roasting of the kernels to avoid an overwhelming nutty scent. Nothing goes to waste - the remaining protein-rich mash is fed to livestock.

SOAPS FOR SALE
CERTIFIED ORGANIC
More than just developing a newfound appreciation for the ardous effort that goes into one of my favourite beauty products, AFOUS ARGAN was highly satisfying in so many ways. Knowing that many interntional cosmetic companies (big ones, too) source their argan oil from co’ops such as these, buying directly from the co’op’s vast shop appealed to the savvy shopper in me. My head spun at the selection - shampoos, soaps, face and hair oils, cooking oils...and that was just the argan products; there were also others such as cactus, rose, and many more.


I splurged on argan oil (for my hair), argan balm (for my lips), cactus oil (for my face), rose oil (ditto), jasmine oil (as a fragrance), orange flower honey and a tub of delicious argan paste. All of it certified organic, fairtrade, and wholesome as can be.


Now, I must say that my haul didn’t come cheap. In fact, I’ve heard that you can get similar products for less elsewhere. But the cost wasn’t an issue. I was happy to support a cause that empowers women, especially in a rural environment where employment opportunities may be otherwise limited. Knowing that these community initiatives also contribute to socioeconomic and enviromental development (the latter in encouraging the planting and protecting of the endangered argan tree) added more feel-good factor to my cosmetic and cooking purchases.

How Argan Oil is Made - From Tree-Climbing Goats to Women's Cooperatives in Morocco

I left AFOUS ARGAN, enlightened and significantly more moisturised and fragrant for the last leg of my journey - 
the surfing capital of Morocco. Next stop, Essaouira.

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