Moroccan oil, commonly referred to as argan oil, is a vegetable oil derived from the seeds of the argan shrub. It contains several essential fatty acids. Moroccan oil has various nutritional, health and cosmetic benefits including as an anti-inflammatory, a skin and hair moisturizer and as an energy booster. Benefits to the circulatory and immune systems have also been noted as well as positive effects on sexual performance.
What is Moroccan Oil
Argan oil is derived from the seed of the argan tree, Argania spinosa. This tree species is native to Morocco and grows extensively in the Souss valley towards the southwestern section of Morocco and in some parts of Algeria, specifically the Tindouf region.
The fruit of the argan tree is the size of a nut and has a round to oval shape. The argan tree nut is covered with a thick pulp and a peel on the outside. Each nut contains approximately two or three argan seeds from which the Moroccan oil is derived. The greater part of the fruit is pulp with the nut making up only about 25 percent of the actual weight. The oil has a nutty taste.
Moroccan oil consists primarily of fatty acids, the more abundant of which are oleic acid, alpha-linolenic acid, palmitic acid, stearidonic acid, linoleic acid and myristic acid. Moroccan oil is said to have one of the highest concentrations of vitamin E. The oil is extracted almost exclusively in Morocco by Berbers (Moroccan natives); primarily women.
The names Moroccan oil and argan oil are used interchangeably to refer to the oil derived from the Argan plant native to Morocco but should only rightly be done in reference to pure Argan oil and not other oil products which may contain only trace amounts of Argan oil. It may sometimes be called liquid or Moroccan gold.
Argan oil is manufactured almost exclusively by Berber women in the southwestern region of Morocco. Its production is overseen by cooperatives which protect the interests of the local producers and facilitate marketing and sale of the products.
The first step of producing Argan oil involves removing the exterior pulp of the fruit in order to get to the nut inside. The fruit of the Argan plant is placed in the open air to dry. Once dried the pulp is removed but can used for feeding animals. The next step involves cracking each nut to get the seeds inside. This is a very time-consuming process as this is all done by hand. Each nut is cracked between two stones and then the seeds are removed.
Once enough seeds are gathered they are roasted in most cases, especially if the Argan oil is intended for cooking purposes. When its use is for cosmetic products this step is omitted so as to avoid the nutty odor achieved from roasting. In order to extract the oil, the seeds are then ground by hand in a rotating stone grinder. The paste that is formed is then kneaded and pressed by hand for several hours, obtaining the oil. This residue is also used to feed cattle.
The oil goes through a filtration process that removes possible impurities. This simply involves allowing the oil to settle for approximately two weeks, in which time the unwanted solids that are present will sink to the bottom of the container. The oil is then packaged for sale, though sometimes it is further filtered to get the Moroccan oil as clear as possible.
It is a quite lengthy process from the time of collecting the fruit to the final product but this technique has been used for generations among the Berbers and is a necessary way of life for the women. Mechanical processes to extract the oil have been attempted but with very little success. Extraction by hand is quite efficient and the fat content removed is approximately 30 to 55 percent of the fruit. This time and labor intensive method also means that Argan oil is much pricier than other luxury oils.
Moroccan oil is used for its cosmetic, health and nutritional benefits. Nutritionally Moroccan oil contains high levels of Vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that may have strong cancer-fighting effects. Medically the anti-inflammatory qualities of Moroccan oil may help improve some of the symptoms associated with arthritic joint pains and rheumatism. This property also contributes to better skin recovery from chicken pox and skin abrasions such as burns.
This oil also helps to increase the concentration of gastric juices and pepsin in the stomach thereby enhancing digestion. Improving blood circulation, reducing cholesterol and strengthening the immune system are also noted benefits of using Moroccan oil. Another effect is on increased energy levels which also translates to improvement in sexual energy and general interest in sex.
The widest use of Moroccan oil is in the cosmetic industry and it has been lauded for its multiple benefits on hair and skin health. This type of Moroccan oil is extracted without first roasting the beans. The presence of the tocopherol type of Vitamin E in the oil, in addition to its antioxidant properties, is useful in diminishing signs of skin aging. Applied to the face, it helps to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines by increasing the moisture in the skin. The triterpenoids in Moroccan oil are also great for protecting and healing the skin from the effects of scars. Eczema, psoriasis, chicken pox, acne and similar skin conditions benefit from the topical application of Moroccan oil. The oil also contains saponins, a natural skin softener that alleviates skin dryness and thus reduces flakiness on the scalp, skin and even cracked feet, in addition to giving the skin a brighter, more vibrant appearance.
As a part of a regular hair regimen, Argan oil treats split ends by effectively moisturizing hair follicles. It is present in many hair and skin-care products such as conditioners. It also protects the skin and hair from the potential damaging effects of the sun.