Souvenirs and gifts – to buy or not to buy- an interesting, dividing, disputable and at times emotional question! How about Argan oil – a luxury from the south of Morocco? It is a healthy oil, containing 80% unsaturated fatty acids, rich in essential fatty acids and more resistant to oxidation than olive oil. Argan oil has a nutty flavour and can be eaten with bread, couscous or cooked. In addition you can purchase Argan massage oil, hair oil and other cosmetics. Argan oil is hand-made in the womens’ fair-trades cooperatives in Morocco, where the local Berber women produce it according to old traditional techniques.
On our way to Ouarzazate, the south of Morocco, our group stopped by one of the womens’ fair-trade cooperatives, which produce Argan oil. To introduce it to us, Argan oil was served in beautiful Tagines – pure or mixed with almonds, honey or other flavours to be tasted with home made bread (ahh!).
This is what I learned about Argan cultivation:
The Argan (Argania spinosa) is a species of tree endemic to the calcareous semi-desert Sous valley of southwestern Morocco. In Morocco arganeraie forests now cover some 8,280 km² and are designated as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. Their area has shrunk by about half during the last 100 years, owing to charcoal-making, grazing, and increasingly intensive cultivation.
I photographed a few steps of the traditional Argan oil production:
The most labour-intensive part of oil-extraction is the 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 flavour.
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.
It takes one woman three days to make just one liter of oil. This is also why Argan oil is so valuable.
My take on souvenir and gift shopping: In a de-cluttering mode – if at all – I only buy something I really will (!) use. At other times I will buy something to support the local traditions, preferably where they are produced. Morocco is full of stuff I always wanted to buy, but that is another story!
Regretfully, I didn’t buy any Argan oil product. However I tried one of their body oils on my hands, which were dried out in the dry heat of Morocco. My hands remained soft for several hours and I didn’t have this “oily” feeling on my hands. Guess I shouldn’t take so long to decide – at times at least!
No, it is certainly not a must do, but if you are interested in old traditional techniques, taste of Argan oil or in buying Argan oil products, a short stopover may be of interest.