Argan oil comes from the fruit of the Argan Tree which is currently found in orchards in Morocco, near the Atlas Mountains. It is distinguished by its thorny, gnarled trunk.
The harsh climate of the region limits its height to 8-10 meters only. Like the olive tree, it bears oil from its fruit.
The fruit of the Argan tree is broad in shape with a thick, bitter peel that covers a sweet-smelling pulp. The core of the fruit contains a very hard nut that encases a single (or rarely, as many as three) oily seed. The oil is harvested in a variety of methods like solvent extraction or the traditional methods used by Berber women.
The traditional method of extraction yields the highest quality of oil (similar in grade to extra-virgin olive oil) that does not need refining. It is somewhat similar to cold pressing which extracts oil without use of heat, so the yielded oil contains the least amount of impurities.
The traditional method is time consuming and requires intensive work, but oil produced by this method is the highest in quality that keeps for months without becoming stale. The first step is the removal of the pulp and cracking the nut by hand, with the help of two stones. Then the seeds are ground using a hand-turned stone quern, little water is added at this time. The seeds are ground into paste, and squeezed by hand to extract the high-grade Argan oil.
Its gentle nature and the absence of chemical use of the traditional extraction method, makes it ideal for use in cosmetics because large nutritive compounds are left intact and unadulterated.
The Argan Oil is improving the social position of the Berber women because of its increasing popularity and demand. Argan oil production has also improved their working conditions. Although it was difficult at first to sustain this type of livelihood, these women are working for various fair trade cooperatives in producing the oil. Some women are even allowed to work half days in order for them to be able to take care of their families and still earn fair wages.
Even more important, they are guaranteed good working conditions as they own shares in those cooperatives. They are also encouraged to attend regular schooling, something they did not have the means to do before. The Berber women have become more empowered, gaining more rights and living more freely. Aside from ensuring that they improve both their social and economic status, fair trade cooperatives also ensure the preservation of Argan forests.