by Marta Szumiata
on June 5, 2020

Argan oil, the liquid gold

Argan oil is a plant oil produced from the kernels of the rare Argania Spinosa tree that lives up to 250 years and is resistant to extreme conditions like drought. It’s native only to a small argan forest in Morocco, one of UNESCO’s recognized ‘Biosphere Reserves’. The plant takes 50 years to reach fruiting maturity and produce oil, and the wait is worth it for the prized oil, which is also listed in the Ark of Taste.

How argan oil is made

The first step is harvesting the argan fruit. Traditionally, they are picked and eaten by goats that climb to the tops of trees and chew nuts. Farmers then extract the argan seeds from the goats’ excrement. These goats are seldom ‘employed’ and annual bans disallow the goats to climb the trees until July to preserve the forest. https://blog-assets.foodpairing.com/2020/05/templates-blog-newsletter_2020_06_argan-fruit_cabbage_header-copy-2.png More commonly today, the harvested fruit is dried out and the flesh is removed to be processed into animal feed. With the help of a stone, the nuts are crushed to collect kernels from within, an arduous process that can’t be automated. If making food-grade oil, the seeds are then roasted, creating a characteristic strong nutty aroma. After cooling down, they are ground and pressed to obtain a brown liquid that rests two weeks in vessels. Once the solid particles settle down at the bottom of jugs, the final filtration takes place.

Why is it so expensive?

It is important to emphasize that all these processes are performed by hand according to traditional practices, generally by Berber women. When you consider that the manufacturing is incredibly laborious and time-consuming—and that it takes 30 kilograms of fruit and 15 hours of work to produce only one litre of liquid—it’s no wonder why the finished oil can cost as much as 20 euro per 100 ml.

Health benefits

Food-grade argan oil is known for its delightful aroma and taste. It can enhance the simplest food with its pleasant flavor. Additionally, there are many health benefits. That oil is abundant in vitamin E and fatty acids, such as oleic and linoleic (Ω-6). It might help in preventing different diseases including obesity, certain cancers, and cardiovascular disorders. The chemical compound γ-tocopherol possesses strong anti-inflammatory and chemopreventive properties. Morrocan people have used this magic liquid as a remedy for everything: scars, wrinkles, frizzy hair, face and much more.

Aroma profile

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The manufacturing process creates woody / phenolic notes due to 2-hexanol that occurs also in sour cream, borage flower, lemon balm, grapefruit, and Gruyère. The noteworthy roasted, nutty and coffee flavors are derived from pyrazines that are also present in chocolate, coffee, mustard seeds, versatile nuts, and oils. Earthy scents can be detected thanks to 2-octanone, which is also present in mushrooms, cooked chicken, sea urchin, and blue cheese as Roquefort or Blue d’Auvergne. Nonanal (nonanaldehyde) gives the oil a pleasant orange nuance that is supported by green, fatty undertones.

How to use argan oil in the kitchen

A traditional specialty from southern Morocco is called ‘amlou’ (also ‘amelo’) – a thick brown paste made from ground roasted almond, argan oil, and honey. It is typically spread on fluffy ‘khobz’ bread or other baked goods. The oil itself cannot be heated, so it is used primarily for seasoning and garnishing and pairs well with dishes like tagine, couscous, hummus, soup, pasta, grilled fish, or cheese. It can also be an ingredient in different sauces, salsas, and smoothies. Ice cream, pancakes, melted chocolate and other desserts can be enriched with the golden liquid. But the easiest and most comforting way to enjoy argan oil is to dip a slice of fresh bread in it.

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by Marta Szumiata
A confectioner, food technologist and culinary reenactor. Loving food, Marta is still exploring culinary world looking for new inspirations and bewildering dishes. She likes to try her created recipes on her family and friends, especially fermented ones

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