Goats seem to be everywhere in pop culture these days, from bleating goat videos on shows like The Good Wife to the always Instagramable goat yoga. So it should come as no surprise that pictures of goats climbing argan trees in Morocco are what’s giving us life this week.
As it turns out, these acrobatic tree-goats aren’t just climbing these branches to hang out with their tribe; they’re actually feasting on the tree’s fruit and pooping out the hard nut within. In turn they’re helping to produce one of the hottest commodities on the food and beauty market right now: argan oil.
Let’s break it all down, shall we?
What is argan oil?
Argan oil (or Moroccan oil as it’s often called in Canada) is an oil made from the kernels of argan fruit, which grows on the thorny argan trees found in southwestern Morocco and in parts of western Algeria. The hard nuts within the fruit contain anywhere from one-to-three kernels apiece, which are then roasted, ground, mashed, or cold pressed until they become the liquid gold known as argan oil.
There are two kinds of argan oil on the market: cosmetic oil, which is bright yellow and smooth, and cooking oil, which is toasted before bottling.
What is it used for?
These days many beauty manufacturers are adding argan oil to hair and skincare products, but pure oil can also be applied topically. Argan oil is said to help protect skin from sun damage and may help prevent the development of skin cancer, but it also moisturizes, improves acne and other skin conditions, and has anti-aging properties to boot.
In the culinary world, argan oil is traditionally used as a finishing oil rather than something to fry with, but its nutty flavour is a great way to enhance dishes, salads, a good old-fashioned loaf of bread, and even desserts.
What does goat poop have to do with it?
Goats love to eat argan fruit, which looks like a shrivelled, yellow apple. They love it so much that they’ll scamper 30-feet up off the ground just to munch on some of the bitter, fleshy pulp. These animals eat the fruit whole, including the inner nut, which their bodies can’t digest. The goats either spit out or defecate the nuts, which are then collected by oil harvesters, dried out, and cracked open.
Isn’t that kind of gross?
In theory, yes. But the kernels within the nuts are well protected. Furthermore, people pay good money to drink certain types of coffee that has been brewed from beans excreted by elephants or wild civets, so this isn’t exactly a new thing.
Can’t people just eat argan fruit?
It’s not common practice, especially since it’s the oil that has the real health benefits. Besides, economically the flesh is great fodder for goats and other animals like camels and sheep, and getting the fruit down from the trees’ spine-covered branches is difficult unless you beat it down with a stick. It’s easier to just let the goats do the majority of the work.
Where can you buy argan oil?
It’s readily available at beauty supply stores, Sephora, The Body Shop, and even Walmart, but be warned that the pure stuff, which is what you want, is pricey (the latter store sells a 60 mL bottle for $15). The high price tag isn’t surprising given that it can take 20 hours just to make a litre of actual oil, but that certainly makes you want to use it sparingly, doesn’t it?
Why should I justify that expense?
First of all, you’re keeping the goats in business. But even more importantly the production of argan oil is a sacred art in Morocco that only women practice, and the fact that it’s a hot commodity in North America these days has translated into more opportunities for women over there. Just make sure that when you’re purchasing your product you get it from women’s cooperatives that are specifically created and run by Moroccan women, and not one of the large manufacturing companies that have sprung up in recent years.
Still not sold? Let us remind you of all the aforementioned bonus health benefits.
Are there any downsides?
Thanks to the boom, forest conservation and sustainability is becoming an issue, especially since goat hooves can do a number on those trees. Some believe the answer is to develop new argan tree or bush strands that can withstand various climates, while others want to ground the goats permanently.
But how do the goats feel about all of this?
They certainly don’t want to be grounded. According to research, argan makes up between 47 and 84 per cent of a tree goat’s diet, depending on the season. The animals will graze on the fruit and the leaves for over six hours per day, and then hang out on the branches just chilling.
Because you know, goats are chill like that.