Not long ago, I wrote a post on argan oil and its many beauty benefits. From anti-aging and antioxidant properties to hair and nail treatments, this oil is a wonder ingredient. Safe and natural, light and hydrating, argan oil has many uses in the beauty world. But the argan tree and its fruits have a long history with Moroccan women that goes beyond beauty.
The Berbers (the people who live in the Agadir region of Morocco where the argan tree grows) have used argan for hundreds of years as a source of food, charcoal, firewood and building material. The oil, though, is by far its most significant use. In addition to medicinal uses, it is a dietary staple for the Berbers who eat it mixed with an almond paste, much like peanut butter.
Obtaining the oil is not only a tedious process but done solely by the Berber women. No men participate in the extraction of argan oil. The process is traditionally done by hand and involves breaking the very hard shell of the argan nut open with stones, mixing the lightly roasted seeds into a paste and then squeezing the oil from the paste by hand.
Is this beginning to make you feel guilty about your argan habit?
Enter Dr. Zoubida Charrouf, a chemist specializing in organic chemistry, who has spent over fifteen years studying the argan tree. Dr. Charrouf not only discovered antioxidant and anti-microbial properties in the argan that exist nowhere else, but also has helped the Moroccan women who produce the oil to have a better quality of life.
Dr. Charrouf established the first womens argan producing cooperatives in Morocco, where each woman is paid for her work and considered equal in the project. This way the women can earn money for their work and afford luxuries that were not accessible to them before, like sending their children to school. The women extract the oil with the use of machines (rather than by hand) so that the work is less difficult and allows the women more free time. Dr. Charrouf has also taught the women at her cooperatives how best to harvest the argan fruit and use the trees in the most friendly manner, helping to protect the trees from extinction.
Many countries have begun using argan oil as a treatment for certain ailments, like arthritis and psoriasis. It is also widely used in gourmet kitchens as an exotic ingredient with a rich aroma and nutty flavor.
Whether you are using the oil as a beauty treatment, gourmet ingredient or for medicinal uses, you are not only benefitting yourself but helping support the women of Morocco.
Image credit: CharlesFred at Flickr.com, Creative Commons license.