There’s a lot of buzz going on about the awesomeness of Argan oil both as a personal care and culinary product. It’s even packaged in capsule form for medicinal purposes. The big question is how much of the buzz is truth and how much is a big pile of advertising hype.
As of 2013, here’s what you need to know before you buy Argan oil.
What is Argan oil?
Argan oil comes exclusively from the fruit (seeds) of Argania Spinosa trees indigenous to southwestern Morocco and the Tindouf region of the western Mediterranean.
A. spinosa trees are currently on the endangered species list however, that may change in the future due to their commercial value. For example, Israel is now growing a hardy variety. If the popularity of the oil continues to grow, other countries with favorable growing conditions may want to join Israel.
Argan oil is golden colored and has a nutty flavor. It has been used for thousands of years by the Berber people of Morocco both for its medicinal properties and as an addition to Moroccan dishes. It has only recently come into favor in Europe and the West primarily for culinary purposes and as an additive to skin and hair care products.
How is it made
If the oil is to be used for culinary purposes, the seeds are roasted before the oil is extracted. For both personal care products and for medicinal purposes, raw seeds are used.
Argan oil is manually produced by Berber women’s cooperatives based in Morocco. The seeds are ground by hand until the oil is expressed. It is a labor intensive process to produce the oil this way making it more expensive. It is also produced commercially using expeller presses.
Argan oil quality
Pure hand created Argan oil is supposed to be of higher quality than that created by industrial expeller presses. The reasoning is that the fruit is fresher when it is created by hand, but you have to question the validity of that argument when you consider that unprocessed fruit can last up to 20 years. Therefore, since unprocessed fruit is delivered to the presses, it makes no sense that there is a difference in quality. I searched for evidence of a difference and found none.
That said, I believe it is always a good idea to purchase products that help support our global neighbors make a decent living, even if those products cost a little more. Please read Morocco’s ‘liquid gold’ liberates Berbers.
Low-quality Argan oil is also produced from the seeds which have passed through the digestive tract of tree climbing goats. Oil produced in this way is sold for much less money. However, it is purported to have a distinctively unpleasant odor and is said to be sold only to unwary tourists who think they are getting a bargain. Oil produced in this way is not sold commercially so that’s not something we have to worry about.
The real problem with Argan oil quality comes when it has been adulterated with other oils and/or silicon. To truly test the value of Argan oil, or for that matter, any other oil it should be organic and free of any additives.
Argan oil uses and benefits
Argan oil is to Morocco what olive oil is to Greece. It is considered good for many maladies whether internal or external.
When comparing the benefits of Argan oil to other oils such as olive oil, coconut oil or almond oil, things start to get sticky. For instance, both Argan oil and olive oil are antioxidants. Which is best? That’s the giant unanswered question because there is no agreement among either experts or users. I could find only one scientific study that compared these two oils and it was of limited value.
Take a look at the chart below and you can do your own comparison. Take a look at the composition of these two oils side by side and see if you can make a determination which is oil is best.
|Oleic acid||X||43%||X||55 – 83%|
|Linoleic acid||X||36%||X||3.5 – 21%|
|Palmitic acid||X||12% +/-||X||7.5 – 20%|
|Stearic acid||X||5 – 7%*||X||.5 – 5%|
|?-Linolenic acid||X||0 – .5%||X||0 – 1.5%|
|Phenolic compounds||X||>.005 mg/g||X||.793 mg/g|
|Schottenol (sterol)||X||142 mg/100g||0|
|Spinasterol (sterol)||X||115 mg/100g||0|
* The oil from Israeli trees contains 2 – 4% stearic acid. The figures given are derived from Moroccan oil.
For the purposes of this post, we’re only going to look closely at the major differences between Argan and olive oils. If you notice, there’s a significant difference in the concentration of tocopherol (vitamin E) forms. You probably also noticed that Argon oil contains Schottenol and spinasterol sterols and olive oil does not.
From the information above we can see that Argan oil contains significantly higher concentrations of beta and gamma tocopherols compared to olive oil, but a much lower concentration of alpha-tocopherol. It’s important to note that alpha-tocopherol is the most bioactive form of vitamin E in humans. The question is; do these differences matter?
Vitamin E in the diet
From a dietary standpoint, these differences don’t mean all that much. If you eat a varied diet, you will be consuming sufficient vitamin E in all its forms. In fact, gamma-tocopherol is the most prevalent form of vitamin E in the diet, but alpha-tocopherol is the form most found and maintained in the human body. According to the Linus Pauling Institute, gamma-tocopherol may play an important role in helping to prevent heart disease.
If you want to know what foods contain each of the four tocopherols check out http://nutritiondata.self.com/.
Vitamin E and the skin
Alpha-tocopherol is the most abundant form of tocopherol found in the skin, although measurable amounts of gamma-tocopherol can also be found. Both forms play an important role in skin care and both can be absorbed through the skin. Since Argan oil contains more gamma-tocopherol it may have an edge over olive oil for topical use.
Schottenol and Spinasterol
These two sterols (organic substances found in plants) are purported to reduce inflammation, spinasterol blocks the absorption of cholesterol in the intestines and schottenol has anti-carcinogenic “potential.”
Whether the value of Argan oil justifies its use relative to other less expensive alternatives with the same properties has not yet been determined. To date, very little scientific data is available to justify using Argan oil over less expensive alternatives.
You will read that Argon oil is particularly useful in the prevention of breast and prostate cancer. To try and verify this, I compared data from the World Health Organization (WHO) on the global incidence of both breast and prostate cancers. Though the incidence of both types of cancer in Western Africa is lower than other regions, it was not the lowest.
This is not to say that Argan oil does not possess anti-carcinogenic properties. The purpose here is simply to attempt to put things into perspective.
- LDL Cholesterol reduction
- Relieves arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and joint pain symptoms (topical application)
- Improves joint movement (topical application)
- Helps prevent and may reduce atherosclerosis
- May control prostate cancer
- May protect against skin cancer
- Reduction in blood clot formation
- Lowers blood pressure
- Anti-inflammatory internal and external)
- Stabilizes insulin levels
- Increases efficiency of prostaglandins
- Hepatoprotective properties
Skin Care Uses
- Treatment for acne, psoriasis, eczema and chicken pox
- Anti-aging (both internal and external use)
- Helps control sebum production
- Moisturizes skin
- Softens, protects, and adds shine to hair
- High absorption rate
NOTE: Use of Argan oil may trigger an allergic reaction in some people
*The uses of Argan oil based on the few limited studies available to date (2013).
Below are a couple of Argan oil recipes found on the web:
For your hair:
Shampoo – Use pure cold pressed Argan oil for this shampoo. Expect to pay $7.50 an ounce or more (sometimes a lot more). Make sure the oil has no additives.
- 1/4 cup liquid Castile soap
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 tsp pure organic Argan oil
Mix together in a squeeze bottle and shake to mix ingredients. The Argan oil will make your hair soft, shiny and will remove the frizzes.
For your sweet tooth:
Amlou – A Moroccan bread dip recipe – For this recipe, you will want to purchase pure, culinary grade Argan oil. Expect to pay $5 or more an ounce.
- 3/4 cup almonds
- 3/8 cup Argan oil
- 1 1/2 – 2 tablespoons warm honey
- 1 tablespoons granulated sugar
- pinch of salt
Roast almonds at 375° F (190° C) for about 15 minutes. You want them crunchy, but not burnt. Let almonds cool then make a paste with them using a small food processor or meat grinder. The paste should be the consistency of smooth peanut butter. As an alternative, from your grocer, you can buy ready made unsalted almond butter. The only drawback to this is that most companies that make this product cannot guarantee that it doesn’t contain remnants of other nuts.
Once you’ve got your almond paste or butter ready, slowly drizzle the Argan oil into it making sure you stir as you go. The traditional recipe is fairly thin. If you want to make it thicker, add a little less oil.
Now that the oil and Argan oil are mixed, add the honey, sugar, and salt. Taste the amlou and add more honey if desired.
Amlou can be served in a small dish or on a plate with pita bread for dipping. Leftover amlou should be stored at room temperature. This is a great snack food.
Should you buy Argan oil? Absolutely, it’s a great oil. It’s always fun to try new things and you might be just one of those people who fall madly in love with Argan oil. Just know that there are less expensive oils and foods that will have the same health and beauty benefits.
If you do buy Argan oil, make certain you are purchasing the right oil for your intended use. Though generally not recommended, culinary grade oil can be used for personal care products, but cosmetic grade should not be used for culinary purposes.
Now go have fun and relax.
European Journal of Cancer Prevention 2003, 12:67–75
http://lpi.oregonstate.edu/infocenter/skin/vitaminE/ (Very informative article on Vitamin E and its relationship to skin.)
El-Mallah MH, El-Shami SM. Investigation of liquid wax components of Egyptian jojoba seeds. J Oleo Sci. 2009;58(11):543-8.