Argan oil is produced from the nut of the argan tree, which grows in only a few countries, including Mexico and Israel. But argan trees that yield nuts are found in only one area of the world: Morocco. In this North African country, and only in that part of the country bordered between the High and Anti-Atlas mountains, argan trees bear fruit. This area, unique in the world, measures less than 10,000 square kilometers and has been declared a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
Last week on a culinary tour with Access Trips, I visited Morocco's Assouss Argane cooperative, which is a community operation staffed by local Berber women. Throughout the day, these women peel off the thick, fruity outer layer of the nut and then crack the hard outer shell to reveal the edible seed or kernel that's ground up to create the oil.
Goats love argan nuts, and they like to climb the argan trees. This can be a problem. Although argan trees grow well in the hot and dry climate of Morocco, they are damaged by goats treading upon them. Still, some local Berbers allow goats to climb the trees and eat the nuts. The nut, with the hard outer shell still intact, is then excreted, the nut recovered, cracked to release the kernel, and the processed into oil. I know, it sounds odd, but it's a technique that's been used for centuries to feed goats and streamline the argan oil production process.
This goat-processing of the argan nut is a procedure not employed at Assouss Argane, where the women do all the work. I was told by our guide at the cooperative that "the oil did not taste so good" when the nut went through the goat, but the nut's shell is really hard and non-porous; it seems there's little chance that flavor of the well-sealed kernel would be affected by traveling through a goat's digestive tract.
I brought home a bottle of argan oil, which is slightly cloudy and amber in color. We will use it much like olive oil. It has a relatively low smoke point, so you can't fry with it, but you can add it to salads for a slightly sweet, light, roasted peanut-buttery flavor.
Argan oil also has value in cosmetic products. I just spotted hair conditioner with argan oil for sale at the Walgreen's on Madison. Though at $15 US for a quarter liter in Morocco (and double that, with shipping, to the U.S.), I'm guessing there's probably not a lot of argan oil in this hair care product.
If you want some argan oil for eating, you'll have to go to Morocco or order the oil online: http://www.assoussargane.com/