Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

argan_oil_bottle2.jpg

Back in August The Observer Food Monthly ran a series of articles about ethical and unethical food. One of the products mentioned as an "ethical" choice was argan oil. I was immediately intrigued.

Argan oil comes from ancient argan trees, a species indigenous to North Africa. The argan forests in that region have been a part of Berber culture in the form of fuel, timber and food, but have been heavily exploited to the point where they have shrunk by 50% over the last 100 years. UNESCO has declared the forest a biosphere reserve.

So off I went to the supplier web site that was mentioned in the article, visions of ancient forests surrounded by deserts in my head.

The price - 18.50 GBP (about US $40) for one 250ml bottle - gave me sticker shock at first. But I ordered one in the interest of research (and greediness) and lo, a couple of weeks later it arrived in my mailbox. (I was just a bit disappointed that it was shipped from the U.K. rather than straight from Morocco, but I guess that's where their distribution point is.)

Besides being from an endangered species of tree, argan oil is also supposed to be very healthyl. According to the little tag that was attached to the orange-tinted frosted glass bottle, extra-virgin argan oil is

..traditionally eaten for breakfast in North Africa, with freshly baked bread, as a healthy start to the day. Delicious sprinkled on salads, grilled vegetables, and soups, its health giving properties have been known for generations. High in mono and polyunsaturates (80%), linoleic acid (34%), and plant sterols, it is a wholesome as it is delicious.

But enough about the social and health benefits. How does it taste?

First I opened up the bottle and sniffed it. It has a very unique smell - nutty, a bit like sesame oil, but with an slightly strange hint of something else that I couldn't put my finger on - sort of a "raw" scent. It's not unpleasant, just very unusual.

I poured out a little into a small glass bowl. The oil is a yellow color, like a light colored olive oil, with just a slight orange tint. (The bottle is tinted so you may think it's a bright orange, but it isn't. That bottle by the way is made in "150 year old moulds" and is "frosted to protect the oil" from light.)

argan_oil_bowl.jpg

I tasted it with the good old finger-in-the-bowl method. It has a very subtle but quite distinctly nutty taste. It's unlike any other nut or seed oil I've had before though. The closest to it is pumpkin seed oil, an Austrian speciality that I am rather addicted to. Argan oil has the same slightly spicy undertones, but is much milder than the dark, punchy pumpkin seed oil. It's not at all like olive oil, since it has no fruitiness or pepperiness to it.

So far we've only tried it sprinkled on salads (delicious) and on plain bread (even better). I tried sautéing some onions and garlic in it, and the smell was heavenly, but the flavor does dissipate a little (more than sesame oil does) when heated. So I think it's best used as a condiment, where you can get the full hit of flavor. It has a really addictive quality to it. Try drizzling a little on sliced or flat bread, sprinkling on a bit of sea salt, and then toasting the bread under the broiler. Yum. It's also great on grilled fish.

The only problem with ordering it again is the price. I'm wondering now if a trip to Morocco to bring back a suitcase full would pay for itself...

If you order 250ml or more from Wild Wood Groves, they will include a small pot of Moroccan spices too. Curiously though the recipe they include in the box is one for Chicken with Olives and Lemon that uses olive oil, not argan oil! There are other places selling argan oil (try Google, or if you are in the U.S. you may want to try the Amazon Gourmet Food store). Wild Wood Groves does specifically state that some of their sales proceeds go towards conservation efforts though. Wherever you get it from, be sure you are buying oil for cooking, not the kind for cosmetics...though the idea of slathering my ever-dry skin with this rich oil is quite appealing.

(Note: this is now attracting more and more argan or other oil selling spammer scum, so I've closed down the comments. If you are in the market for argan oil, be sure you are buying from a reputable source! And as for you spammers, go to hell.)

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Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

It's interesting about what is/isn't ethical.

As foodies we can be drawn to things that seem a little "out of the ordinary", which then quickly become fashion. When something like this becomes fashion, the supermarkets think very little of the ethics involved (and the customer is oblivious).

Scott | 8 September, 2006 - 21:33

Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

Sure, I think that only a small minority of people even think about the origins or ethics of the food they eat. Supermarkets or most retailers certainly care primarily for the profit they can make. The thing that intrigued me about the argan oil wasn't necessarily just that the species was dying out, or that it was an important part of a culture, though it all added up. I was as much drawn to the exoticism of it as anything else.

The thing is though, if something that is socially redeeming to support/buy is tasty or useful or beautiful or healthy or whatever other selfish benefit it may have too, it just becomes easier. Sort of the way animal charities get probably so much support, because of the cuteness factor. Humans are primarily selfish things after all...

maki | 8 September, 2006 - 22:43

Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

I was given a bottle of Argan-oil as a birthdaypresent, last year.
Delicious!
The "birthday-oil" had been purchased online via this site
http://www.blauer-planet.de/.
I just checked, and they still sell it for 15,95 Euro per 0,25 liter and 14,95 if you buy 4 of these 250ml-bottles.
I have bought other stuff via the blue planet (baby-formula to be precise), and they were really okay to do business with!

Steffi | 11 September, 2006 - 16:00

Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

Looks like a great site - thanks for sharing Steffi!

maki | 11 September, 2006 - 22:18

Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

I love this stuff -- it has those dark undertones you talked about, almost smoky, for lack of a better word. I first had it in France on a chopped raw salad, but we also use it to dress roasted winter vegetables (cauliflower, broccoli, stuff like that) with some light vinegar and a little curry, spicy and sweet.

Christine | 12 September, 2006 - 12:15

Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

I was first introduced to argan oil in a restaurant in Essaouira, Morocco, where there was a small display. We were told it was produced by Berber women in a very small area. We bought some at a spice shop in Marrakesh near the souk; it was sold in recuperated plastic water bottles and cost very little, only a few euros for 1.5 litres. So maybe it would be worth planning a trip and coming home with a suitcase full!

overthemoon | 13 September, 2006 - 18:06

Re: Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

I just purchased 2x 125ml bottles of Argan oil via telephone selling. It arrived today but on opening the bottle and smelling the oil felt nauseous as this oil leaves a lot to be desired..........rubbing it on to my hand made the smell even more obnoxius....is this normal ? I love olive oil pumkin and sesame oils, and the only thing the smell resembles is if one passes by an olive oil extracting mill ( in Cyprus I came accross thîs smell and almost left the island.....seems its normal but the end product never has this smell ) ......So how do I proceed to complain as I am not sure what it is suppose to smell of...

Tuna | 18 February, 2009 - 15:25

Re: Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

I don't think it matters what it's _supposed_ to smell like - if YOU don't like it, just tell them that it smells bad to you and return it! (I can't imagine using it as a cosmetic myself...it smells too nutty and food-like, like pumpkin seed oil, but of course everyone is different)

maki | 18 February, 2009 - 18:22

Re: Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

Argan oil, in its RAW, nutrient-rich state, does not have a nutty scent but a little unpleasant scent that quickly goes away if used for cosmetics. Raw argain oil is the best because when food or oils or anything is heated, nutrients are lost. Argain oil is HUGE with vitamin E and antioxidants.

anon. | 30 November, 2009 - 04:48

Re: Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

For about two years now I have been using a type of Argan Oil sold as Moroccan Oil on my hair. It has a wonderful rich smell and does amazing things for my hair. A tiny bit rubbed through wet hair and then blow dryed gives sheen and body that friends have gone out of their way to comment on. The price is about half of the cooking version.

Knowing how much I loved my hair product, DH gave me a tiny bottle of the cooking version last Christmas. (He'd heard a friend rave about its flavor.) But knowing how expensive it is, I've been wary of trying it.

Folly | 1 December, 2009 - 17:17

Re: Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

While reading the post, I noticed one post saying "smelling the oil, I felt nauseous as this oil leaves a lot to be desired..........rubbing it on to my hand made the smell even more obnoxious....is this normal ?" While is true, the smell does not last long, but if you are using the argon oil as a cosmetic product add a few drops of essential oils or just apply a small amount of a fragrant lotion after you apply the oil. This will eliminate the unpleasant smell and you can enjoy the benefits of the oil and also help the Berber women.

anon. | 25 June, 2010 - 13:45

Re: Argan oil, golden oil from ancient Berber trees

I just got back from Morocco, and as a reference point, I haggled my way down to 50MAD for a 250mL bottle of the cooking Argan oil, which is equivalent to about 5 euros or about $6.40. A more experienced haggler probably could have done even better.

anon. | 14 August, 2010 - 01:21

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