The Argan (Argania spinosa) is a species of tree endemic to the calcareous semi-desert Sous valley of South Western Morocco and to the Algerian region of Tindouf in the western Mediterranean region. It is the sole species in the genus Argania.
Argan grows to 8–10 meters high and live up to 150–200 years. They are thorny, with gnarled trunks. The leaves are small, 2–4 cm long, oval with a rounded apex. The flowers are small, with five pale yellow-green petals; flowering is in April. The fruit is 2–4 cm long and 1.5–3 cm broad, with a thick, bitter peel surrounding a sweet-smelling but unpleasantly flavored layer of pulpy pericarp. This surrounds the very hard nut, which contains one (occasionally two or three) small, oil-rich seeds. The fruit takes over a year to mature, ripening in June to July of the following year.
Argan fruit falls in July, when black and dry. Until this happens, goats are kept out of the argan woodlands by wardens. Rights to collect the fruit are controlled by law and village traditions. The leftover nut is gathered after consumption by goats.
Argan oil is produced by several women's co-operatives in the South Western parts of Morocco. The most labor-intensive part of oil-extraction is removal of the soft pulp (used to feed animals) and the cracking by hand, between two stones, of the hard nut. The seeds are then removed and gently roasted. This roasting accounts for part of the oil's distinctive, nutty flavor.
The traditional technique for oil extraction is to grind the roasted seeds to paste, with a little water, in a stone rotary quern. The paste is then squeezed by hand in order to extract the oil. The extracted paste is still oil-rich and is used as animal feed. Oil produced this way can be stored and used for 3–6 months, and will be produced as needed in a family, from a store of the kernels, which will keep for 20 years unopened. Dry-pressing is becoming increasingly important for oil produced for sale, as this method allows for faster extraction, and the oil produced can be used for 12–18 months after extraction. The oil contains 80% unsaturated fatty acids, is rich in essential fatty acids and is more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Argan oil is used for dipping bread, on couscous, salads and similar uses. A dip for bread known as amlou is made from argan oil, almonds and peanuts, sometimes sweetened by honey or sugar. The unroasted oil is traditionally used as a treatment for skin diseases, and has become favored by European cosmetics manufacturers.
Argan oil contains: