Argan oil is an oil extracted from the seeds of the argan tree, which is native to Southwestern Morocco. There are a number of uses for argan oil as well as for other products from the argan tree, and demand is often high for genuine argan products. Since the oil is difficult to extract, it tends to be very expensive, and this cost is passed on in products which contain argan oil, even in trace amounts. Depending on what you want to use the oil for, you may be able to find it in a health food store or a cosmetic shop; consumers can also order the oil from cooperatives in Morocco.
The argan tree or Argania spinosa has grown in Africa for thousands of years, and archaeological evidence suggests that people have been extracting its oil for centuries. The trees tend to develop gnarled, twisted trunks and branches, with deep root systems which have helped them adapt to harsh desert conditions. When a tree is well-situated, it can live for hundreds of years, producing small flowers in April and following with small fruits which look almost like limes.
To extract argan oil, people must remove an outer layer of pulpy flesh from a hard seed which must be cracked open to get at the seeds inside. The flesh does not smell very appealing, and it is also not very tasty; it is typically used as mulch or animal feed. The cracked shells are burned as a source of fuel, as is wood from downed argan trees, which can also be used to make furnishings; Moroccans make very efficient use of this ancient tree.
Traditionally, women have produced argan oil, first toasting the seeds to release a rich, nutty flavor and then grinding them by hand to extract the oil. The resulting paste can be pressed to get as much oil as possible, and then fed to animals as a nutritious dietary supplement. The dark oil has a rich flavor which appears in some Moroccan foods, classically amlou, a dip for bread, and less toasted oil is used for cosmetics. It is also possible to recover seeds from the feces of goats, as the digestive process softens the hard shells, but these seeds tend to have a pungent odor which makes them less desirable.
This oil is naturally high in vitamin E and essential fatty acids, making it an excellent dietary supplement. It is also very good for the skin; vitamin E can help smooth cracked hands, knees, and elbows while nourishing the skin, and essential fatty acids can promote healthy skin as well. These benefits have made argan oil popular in cosmetics for centuries in Morocco and beyond, and small vials of the costly oil are often on offer at high-end cosmetic stores.