Argan Oil - Cooking With Liquid Gold

Argan oil is one of the rarest oils in the world coming from the UNESCO protected Arganic Spinisa tree. The tree only grows in the South West of Morocco, and being as old as the dinosaurs it is one of the earliest plant species that still exists today. The Berber tribes of Morocco have been producing argan oil for centuries. It formed the main lipid in their diet and they would feed it to new born babies to aid digestion. We spoke to Dana Elemara, founder of Arganic, about argan oil, its properties and uses in the kitchen.

Properties of Argan Oil

In recent years the world has caught onto the unique properties of argan oil giving it powerful medicinal and cosmetic uses. Argan oil boasts three times the amount of vitamin E than olive oil making it a very powerful anti-oxidant and great for the skin and hair. Argan oil is a reported aphrodisiac and traditionally newly-weds would be gifted a jar of amlou, which is a delicious paste of stone ground almonds, argan oil and honey. It has also been proven to lower bad cholesterol, aid digestion, reduce menopausal symptoms in women and help regulate blood sugar. For these reasons and its colour, argan oil has been nick-named ‘liquid gold’.

Argan oil is a reported aphrodisiac and traditionally newly-weds would be gifted a jar of amlou, which is a delicious paste of stone ground almonds, argan oil and honey.

Production of Argan Oil

It takes 15 hours and 30kg of fruit to produce just 1 litre of argan oil. There is extensive hand work involved in extracting the small kernel from the fruit which is cold-pressed to make the oil. However there is no waste as every part of the fruit has a use for example the hard husks are ground up and used in scrubs. Arganic only employ Berber women to do all this hand-work. Most have not had the privilege of going to school and can’t read or write but grew up making argan oil. Also, involving the local people and making sure they benefit from argan oil sales means they now do not cut down the precious tree to sell the wood.

Goats love to climb the argan trees and it is fascinating to watch. There is a common story to tell tourists which is that the argan fruit needs to pass through goats to prepare the oil, but this is definitely not the case with Arganic or any reputable producer, for hygiene reasons as well as for the welfare of the tree!

With the world catching onto all the health benefits of argan oil and its effectiveness in cosmetics like anti-ageing products, many countries with similar climates to Morocco have tried to grow the tree but with no success. Thus, some countries such as Israel and Kuwait have grown a genetically modified strain of arganic spinosa and so argan oil will soon be a region protected ingredient like Champagne.

 

About Arganic

As with olive oil, when purchasing argan oil it is important to make sure you ask questions and go to a trusted source. The amount of ‘argan oil’ currently being exported is double the amount that could physically be produced if we take all the argan trees in Morocco. Arganic is entirely transparent about every aspect of production. Their trees are tested for their health before using the fruit and they work exclusively with a small farm near Essauouira which they visit every few months. They also cold-press the kernels within 2 days of extraction to avoid any oxidation which can effect the properties of the oil. You will also notice that Arganic argan oil is not orange in colour as they don’t burn the seeds.

As with olive oil, when purchasing argan oil it is important to make sure you ask questions and go to a trusted source.

Arganic’s Great Taste Award winning oil is used by Michelin starred restaurants and even enjoyed by the likes of Mick Jagger! It is best used in dressings and for finishing dishes. It has a distinctive but subtle nutty flavor that makes it very versatile in sweet and savoury dishes. It will certainly get the dinner guests talking...

Cooking with Argan Oil

Ilyas Kassam, founder of the Secret Supperclub, The Thinkers Balcony,  stresses the importance of keeping the flavour profile simple with subtle flavours that don't overpower the argan oil. Here are his top tips:

1. Simple and Delicious

Don’t over complicate things. Argan oil is a delicate flavour and extremely precious so don’t let it get lost in a sea of overwhelming flavours. Garnishing a salad, risotto or pasta with argan oil is enough to transform a dish.

2. Healthy Grains

Trying using it with slow releasing carbohydrates, they are incredibly healthy and have an earthy flavour that really complements the argan oil. There are so many out there; millet, amaranth, and quinoa are strong favourites.

3. Veggies

The best use of argan oil is to finish off simple one vegetable dishes, like grilled aubergine, green beans, raw cabbage, char mushrooms, sweet potato and pumpkin. Another favourite is with grilled Kohlrabi and Artichoke.

4. Chargrill

Chargrilling or dry frying veggies gives them a beautiful colour and smoky taste, this goes fantastically well with the nuttiness of the argan oil.

5. Pulses, Soups and Dips

Argan oil works beautifully with bean dips. Use it as a final garnish to Houmous, or other chickpea and bean dishes.

6. Nuts and Seeds

Nuts and seeds are delicious and a great compliment to the natural nuttiness in the argan oil. Use them in salads, dips, pasta. (Don’t grind the nuts too fine otherwise the oil in the nut can overpower the argan oil). Argan oil with walnut is an especially interesting combination.

7. Rustic and Easy

Why not just grab a rustic piece of bread and dunk it in argan oil, this way you can truly enjoy its natural fragrance.

8. Porridge

You will be surprised at how much a drizzle of argan oil can transform your breakfast. Turn the humble porridge into an exciting morning treat. Why not throw in some nuts, dates and figs as well.

9. Desserts

There is no reason to stick to savoury dishes. Experiment with it’s sweetness. It can add a new dimension to fruit - figs work especially well. Also with chocolate dishes as well as drizzled over ice creams.

10. Experiment with Mayo

If you want to get a bit more adventurous you can try making argan oil mayonnaise with sweet potato chips. By all means experiment just keep the flavour profile simple. The possibilities are endless.


1 comment

  • I adore Argan and amlou!

    In 2012-13, I lived in Taroudant – a tiny medina in the Souss Valley. There were many argan trees around there, where not only goats would graze but also camels – I used to go and photograph them… in exchange for handing over 20 dirham (just over £1) to the goat and camelherds!

    Even though argan has always been a staple food of the Berber people, it’s unfortunate that most folk in Taroudannt can no longer afford it, due to around 75% of it going for export, which has pushed up the price of the remaining 25% for the domestic market. It might be different in Essaouira, which is more affluent, due to tourism and film-making.

    I consider myself very fortunate that I was able to afford the odd bottle here and there; my favourite way to have it was simply by dipping fresh bread in it at breakfast. I also used to buy a mix of argan and olive oil (the latter was really cheap), which was great for cooking with, and for salad dressing.

    By the way, the Black Nigella you sell is used in Berber medicine, and is especially good for clearing sinuses. :-)

    Nicole le Strange on

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