Argan oil, the Berber women, and tree climbing goats

Scouring the Internet to bring the latest argan oil news can often take us on an adventure. Today's weekly round up is no exception, with a tale that starts in New Zealand, lands in England and then begins the long road back via Morocco.

If it’s not taking time out in the Atlas Mountains with the Berber women themselves, following the trail of the argan seed can uncover some curious destinations.

Today, we catalogue a trip through Sidi Moktar, between Marrakech and the Morocco’s Atlantic coastline, to read all about tree-climbing goats and the history of argan oil production.

Tree-climbing goats is perhaps not so uncommon in itself. However, that they were used at one time to inadvertently suppose the role of natural filters for argan fruit – as in, in one end and out…well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

It’s absolutely true. New Zealand Herald feature writer Graham Reid, often found writing travel and music reviews for the Australasian publication, has travelled half way around the world to Blighty compiling his insights along the way.

Recently, however, the intrepid reporter journeyed with his wife the couple of short thousand miles (in comparison) to Morocco.

As they were heading out of a Marrakech market, out into desert landscapes devoid of life, but perfect for the backdrop of any Clint Eastwood western from the seventies, they were taken by their guide to find out more about argan.

The stop off point, the Assouss Argane collective’s workshop, lay just beyond Sidi Moktar; a fair trek through desert landscapes lay ahead. As did the promise of witnessing the phenomenon of tree-climbing goats.


Six goats hanging out in argan tree branches – that’s normal!

Graham and his good lady did indeed see six goats perched, as if in some Monty Python sketch, precariously upon the branches of an argan tree.

Despite the lack of other vegetation, said hircine hextet were positively portly; feasting on the argan fruit with its natural oils as is the goats’ wont, a bit of ballast is hardly a surprise.

The surprise came to Graham when he discovered exactly how the Berber women used to rely on the goats as seed softeners.

One may suppose that this was to make the job of crushing the seeds and subsequently extracting the precious argan oil easier.

Due solely to the global upsurge in interest of argan oil since the ’90s, methods are (slowly) changing somewhat in the farming of argan fruit. And not before time.

Not only has the oil become the most expense cooking oil in the world, much sought after for its nutty taste and health benefits, but it’s also the must-have ingredient for many high-end cosmetic brands due to its wonderful cleansing and rejuvenating properties for hair and skin.


Back to the goats and the old production method

The Assouss Argane collective, whose hive of production happened to be where Graham and his wife found themselves, lies deep within this otherwise arid region of Morocco.

Before the more modern method of farming the trees was implemented, the menfolk would allow the goats to climb the argan tree, feast from its fruit and then…wait.

After nature had taken her course, upon the passing of the seeds, they would be separated and harvested from the goats droppings.

They’d then be passed back to the Berber women who’d proceed to do what nature couldn’t, namely break them down into the paste for the oil.

The collective would then do the rest, exporting the oil at ever-increasing prices per ton all around the globe and, even now, argan farming is not that far removed from the old methods.

I do like cooking with oil high in mono- and polyunsaturates. But knowing what that nutty argan oil may have had to go through to get bottled, I think I’ll stick to using it externally on my skin and hair and rely on olive oil for my vinaigrette dressing…

The Editorial Team
Poppy Austin

Photo Credits - (Header) CC: 'Goat (山羊)' by Tom Thai - (Sidebar) CC: 'Breaking Argan kernels' by Patrick Slattery
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