The argan tree is similar to the olive tree but can only be found on the southern coast of Morocco between the cities of Safi (to the north) and Goulimime (to the south). This is an impoverished, dry area that gets very hot during the summer. Since the beginning of time this oil, pressed from berries that mature between July and August, has played a key role in the cuisine of the Berbers, a nomadic Semite population present in North Africa long before the Arabic invasion (7th century C.E.).
Almost 50 kilos of fruit (apricot kernels) are needed to produce just a meager half liter of oil, a low yield for a product where the processing is long and tedious. For these reasons, argan’s market price (approximately € 25 a liter) is much higher than that of olive oil.
In Morocco, the production of argan oil is women’s work; traditional knowledge is passed down from mother to daughter. With simple, repetitive movements, the women break the hard shells of the pits with a stone, and extract and chop the kernel. They add a few drops of warm water to this rough paste to help extract the oil, and the mixture is pressed in a small homemade mill made from two large stones, one balanced atop the other.
Argan oil is a deep golden yellow color and the flavor is unmistakable and intense, with notes of hazelnut and crudités. A few drops can be added to a freshly cooked pot of couscous, a fish or meat tajine or crudités. It can also be consumed alone on a simple piece of bread.
Mixed with almonds and honey, argan oil is used for amlou beldi, the traditional creamy spread that is offered to visitors together with bread and mint tea as a sign of welcome. In the countryside, a few drops of this oil are used to feed newborns as their first food. Argan oil can also act as a skin-moisturizer, pomade or healing ointment.
Thanks to the support of the Piedmont Regional Authority, training courses have been organized for the women, experts have visited the Presidium to help improve the production process, and a recipe book, tasting manual and video to create a local panel of tasters have been published.
Agadir, Taroudant, Ait Baha, Chtouka and Tiznit provinces, Souss-Massa-Draa region. Essaouira province, Marrakech-Safi region
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