Argan oil comes from the nuts of the Argan tree (Argania spinosa).
This tree is unknown for many people since it grows only in the South Western part of Morocco in an area covering 700,000-800,000 hectares.
The argan tree produces nuts from which is extracted a very nutritious oil.
The remaining is used to feed the cattle and nuts shells for heating. Nothing is lost.
For centuries, Berber women of this region have produced argan oil which was used for their consumption and traditional Moroccan medicine.
People abroad are more and more interested in this oil either for its cosmetic and nutritional properties.
A threatened tree
The argan tree is a very resistant tree which can live from 150 to 200 years. It is perfectly adapted to the aridity of the South Western regions of Morocco.
In less than a century, more than a third of the argan forest has disappeared.
The Targanine cooperative
Funded by the International Development Research Centre and other donors, the Targanine cooperative is led by Professor Zoubida Charrouf of the Faculté des sciences at the Université Mohammed V of Rabat, and Professor Faiçal Benchekroun of the Institut agronomique et vétérinaire Hassan II.
The cooperative regroups women from the area who work together to produce the argan oil.
This project has two objectives:
1- to preserve the argan forest by finding a sustainable economic use for its products
2- to improve the social and economic status of rural women.
TARGANINE products are certified organic products by QUALITE-FRANCE.
The fruits of the Argan tree are green. They look like an olive but are larger and rounder.
Inside, there is a hard shell nut which represents about one quarter of the flesh fruit weight. The nut can contain up to three kernels from which the argan oil is extracted.
The manual method consisted in first, extracting the nut of the fruit then cracked the hard nut's shell to collect the kernels. These were roasted by mild heating and once cooled, ground in a stone rotary quern.
Latter the kernels were hand-mixed with mild water to form a dough. It was from the dough that had been obtained that the oil would be extracted by hand.
Recently mechanical presses have been introduced to extract argan oil. This process reduces considerably the time needed to extract 1 liter of oil.
Once the kernels are roasted, the mechanical press takes care of the grinding and extraction. More oil is extracted and since no water is added to press the dough, the oil can be stocked longer.
The most consuming time of the process, cracking the nuts, is still realized by hand.
Neither solvant nor heat is used for this oil extraction. This oil is a cold first pressed oil which means a high nutritive quality.
The argan oil is slightly darker than olive oil and has a nutty flavor.
Fatty acids are classified in three groups: saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. (Understand their name and chemical structures).
Oils are made up of a mixture of these three groups but one is always predominant and determines its classification.
As an example, olive oil which contains 13.5 % saturated fatty acids, 73.7 % monounsaturated fatty acids and 8.4 % polyunsaturated fatty acids is classed in the monounsaturated group.
Monounsaturated fatty acids reduce blood levels of LDLs ("bad cholesterol") without affecting HDLs ("good cholesterol") as long as they are used as replacement of saturated fatty acids.
Polyunsaturated fatty acids reduce blood levels of LDLs but HDLs too. However they must be part of our diet since they provide the essential fatty acids: linoleic acid and alpha linolenic acid.
In the body polyunsaturated fatty acids are important for maintaining the cell's membranes and making prostaglandins and leukotirenes.
Fatty composition of argan oil
|Saturated fatty acids||
|Monounsaturated fatty acids||
|Polyunstaturated fatty acids||
|Alpha linolenic acid||
< 0.5 %
The composition of argan oil is quite alike peanut oil's composition: predominately monounsaturated fat with omega-6 fatty acids but no omega-3.
Its high content in oleic acid makes this oil particularly interesting in the regulation of blood cholesterol. Some studies are being done and it seems that 2 Tbsp per day of this oil during a month could considerably lower cholesterol levels.
Argan oil is rich in the essential fatty acid, linoleic acid. This acid is converted in the body in other fatty acids which lead to the production of series 1 prostaglandins.
Arachidonic acid leads to the production of series 2 prostaglandins whereas alpha linolenic acid and its derivatives produce series 3 prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins participate in many body's functions, including immune, inflammatory process as well as blood clotting.
Prostaglandins 1 (from linoleic acid) and 3 (from alpha linolenic acid) have similarly effects which are stimulating circulation (vaso-dilatation, reducing blood clot...), strengthening the body's natural defenses, and suppressing inflammation.
Prostaglandins 2 have the opposite effects which we want to limit.
A diet rich in linoleic acid increases the production of prostaglandins 1 and thus is benefic for people with rheumatologic conditions and cardio vascular problems.
Oil rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids have greater tendency than other oil toward oxidation and rancidity. Oxidized oil contain free radicals that promote arterial damage, cancer, inflammation, premature aging of cells and tissues.
Argan oil is rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids but fortunately also contains large amounts of vitamin E . This vitamin is a powerful antioxidant that quenches free radicals and neutralizes destructive oxidation.
The negative point about argan oil is that it does not contain alpha linolenic acid. This essential fatty acid is as important as the others and must be part of the diet. Argan oil cannot be the only oil in your kitchen. It is important to rely on rape seed and soybean oil for this acid.
How to use this oil
Oils high in polyunsaturated fatty acids must not be heated.
Instead, we recommend steaming or broiling your food and adding the oil afterwards, for flavor only. You can also use it sparingly in salad dressing.
It is better to keep the oil refrigerated and consume it quickly once you open the bottle.
Prefer small and opaque bottles.
Argan oil is also used in the preparation of Amlou (which has aphrodisiac virtues), a mix of almonds, honey and argan oil. It is delicious on toasts.
This oil is also used for its cosmetic properties.
More about argan oil
Découvrez l'huile d'argane et les Coopératives Targanine
"Helping Moroccan Women Preserve the Argan Tree at the Gateway to the Sahara" Zoubida Charrouf, Serge Dubé
"Biodiversity links to cultural identity in southwest Morocco: The situation, the problems and proposed solutions" by Yorgos Moussouris and Alan Pierce
"L'arganier, une énigme en voie d'être résolue : Profil d'une chercheuse, Zoubida Charrouf "
Realized by Laurence LIVERNAIS-SAETTEL, dietetian
© Copyright L. Livernais-Saettel 2000
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