One of the products fairly unique to Morocco is the production of Argon Oil. This is the oil of a nut that is reputed to have healing and health preserving powers. Why is it that every country seems to have such a product that its residents swear upon and yet is barely heard of in the West?
Whether you choose to believe the claims that a few drops can stop cancer, reduce wrinkles and generally make you live a full and happy life is up to you, but if you spend any time in Morocco then you will see the products of the Argan Oil before too long.
We were invited to stop at a women’s cooperative in the scrub land a little way out of Marrakech and starved of any shopping opportunity beyond bottles of water and fanta for 6 days, we all jumped at the opportunity. To be honest, the Argan is a good tree with deep roots which helps reduce the relentless spread of desert land, and I really don't mind spending a few dirham helping to support a poor local community (and to give our helpful guide a cut too). If you get out into the countryside outside Marrakech, you may even spot goats climbing the tree (they are more like large bushes) in search of Argan nuts to eat.
I'm sure the process is the same in the countless number of Argon Oil producers and show rooms up and down the south of Morocco. The building is a quite attractive traditional ryad with central open courtyard and attractive plants, pottery and tiling. Inside, a line of women demonstrate the cultivation and harvesting of the nut; using a traditional stone grinder to extract the paste from which the oil is produced. Of course, much of the Argan Oil is now extracted under factory conditions although that is less attractive to display, and you will soon spot the women stopping their "grinding" once you have passed the "show".
The oil is processed into a mind numbing number of products, from moisturisers, lip balms (actually really good for sorting out our dried lips after 6 days in the sun), lip sticks, fragrant oils and the like. Then there is the food stuffs including cooking oil (where only a drop or 3 should be added to cooking or salads for flavouring) and in a peanut butter type substance. Our travelling companion happened to pick up a bottle of this stuff and found the lid to be loose; her husband was wearing Argan butter on his shorts for the remainder of the trip.
If you buy your goods from the showroom then prices aren't particularly cheap; our small little plastic bottle of oil cost around £7, the perfume oil around £10 and so on. However, in UK terms they don't exactly break the bank and you are getting a good quality product (whereas in Marrakech market who knows?). As I said, in any case I don't mind spreading a little wealth in the rural community; it looks to me like life there is tough enough.
Whether the claims of a long and healthy life are true (and some studies do suggest a health benefit) or not, we enjoyed the look around the production and shop and didn't begrudge spending a few pounds on some unusual nic nacks to take home.