Over the past decade or so, argan oil has become increasingly popular as a beauty product, prized for its ability to moisturize and nourish the skin and hair. However, what many may not realize is that argan oil is equally versatile when it comes to cooking. Native to Morocco, argan oil has been used for centuries both topically and internally by Berber women. Its unique aroma and subtle flavor impart a richness to savory and sweet dishes alike, elevating them to new heights.
In this post, I hope to introduce readers to the wonders of cooking with argan oil and provide inspiration for how they can incorporate it into their own kitchens. We’ll explore argan oil’s origins and nutritional benefits, as well as tips for selecting and storing it. I’ll also share some of my favorite recipes that showcase argan oil’s culinary alchemy, from appetizers to entrees to desserts. Whether you’re looking to add a touch of luxury to an everyday meal or experiment with new global flavors, argan oil is sure to become a staple in your cooking.
The Origins and Production of Argan Oil
Let’s start with a brief overview of where argan oil comes from. Argan trees are endemic to the arid regions of Morocco, growing mostly around the provinces of Essaouira, Taroudant, and Agadir. These gnarled, thorny trees can live for over 200 years and produce small, prickly fruit resembling olives or crabapples. Inside each fruit are one to three seeds, and it is from these seeds that argan oil is produced.
The oil extraction process is entirely artisanal and carried out predominantly by Berber women in rural Morocco. After harvesting the fruit, the seeds are removed, dried, and then roasted. Roasting enhances the nutty flavor of argan oil. Next, the seeds are crushed between two stones to separate the kernels from the shells. The kernels are then pressed, either manually or using a small hand mill, to release their prized oil within. One kg of kernels typically yields 30-40 mL of oil.
It’s a labor intensive process, but one that has earned argan oil the distinction of being the most expensive vegetable oil in the world—and for good reason. Not only is argan oil rare due to its exclusive geographic origins, but it takes an incredible amount of manual work to produce just small quantities. Some estimates indicate it requires 12 kg of seeds to make just 1 liter of oil. The traditional extraction methods help preserve argan oil’s intense color, aroma, nutrient density, and flavor profile.
The Nutritional Benefits of Argan Oil
Aside from its distinctive taste and culinary uses, argan oil boasts an excellent nutritional profile. It contains around 80% monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic acid, similar to olive oil. In fact, research has found argan oil may have even higher levels of antioxidants compared to olive oil. These antioxidants along with vitamin E help protect cells from oxidative damage.
Argan oil also provides an ideal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids—around 3:1. A balance of these fatty acids is important for reducing inflammation in the body. Plus, argan oil serves as a rare source of omega-6 γ-linolenic acid (GLA), which supports skin, joints, and hormonal function. Other notable nutrients include:
- Vitamin E (tocopherols): Powerful antioxidant that promotes heart and brain health.
- Phenolic compounds: Plant-derived antioxidants that may protect against certain cancers.
- Squalene: Antioxidant that shields skin from UV damage and aids elasticity.
- Plant sterols: May help lower LDL “bad” cholesterol levels.
In North Africa, argan oil has traditionally been prized both topically as a skin moisturizer and internally for its proposed anti-inflammatory and cholesterol-lowering effects. Research is ongoing regarding argan oil’s potential health benefits when consumed, but early results are quite promising.
Selecting and Storing Argan Oil
When shopping for argan oil, there are a few things to keep in mind for ensuring you get a high quality product. Look for oil that is labeled “pure” or “100% pure argan oil,” which indicates it contains only the oil extract and no other ingredients. The oil should have a rich, lightly nutty aroma and deep golden color. Avoid any that appear darker or have an off odor, as these could indicate oxidation.
As for taste, pure argan oil has a subtly nutty yet slightly grassy flavor profile. It’s quite mild overall. Some specialty brands may be infused with other aromatics like vanilla pod or citrus peel, but traditional Moroccan oil will solely be derived from roasted argan kernels. You’ll also want to check the origin listed—authentic argan oil should always come from Morocco where the trees are indigenous.
When stored properly, argan oil retains its nutrients and quality for 6-12 months. Keep it sealed in an opaque, light-resistant container like amber glass and refrigerate after opening if possible to prevent oxidation from light and heat exposure. To prolong shelf life, you can also transfer argan oil to smaller sealed bottles as needed since less air contact keeps it fresher longer. Proper storage helps maintain those delicate antioxidants and ensure your argan oil is fresh for cooking and eating.
Now that you’re armed with background knowledge on argan oil’s origins and properties, let’s dive into some recipes that showcase its culinary magic! Keep reading for ideas on how to incorporate this unique flavor into appetizers, main dishes, and sweet treats.
Marinated Olives with Argan Oil and Herbs
A lovely appetizer to start any meal is olives marinated in argan oil and fresh herbs. The oil enhances the olives’ natural briny flavor while imparting anti-inflammatory omega fatty acids. This makes for a nutritious and elegant hors d’oeuvre.
- 1 lb mixed olives (such as kalamata, Castelvetrano, Niçoise), pitted
- 1⁄4 cup extra virgin argan oil
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, minced
- Pinch crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- Rinse olives under cool water and drain well, leaving some brine on them.
- In a glass jar or other airtight container, combine olives with remaining ingredients. Close lid securely and shake to coat olives.
- Allow olives to marinate for 2-24 hours at room temperature before serving, shaking jar occasionally.
- Serve olives from jar with toothpicks or crusty bread for scooping. Refrigerate leftovers up to 2 weeks.
The subtly nutty argan oil enhances the natural salinity of the assorted olives for a flavorful yet refined appetizer. Feel free to experiment with different fresh herb combinations as well. Serve these marinated olives with drinks as the perfect savory starter.
Spicy Argan Oil Popcorn
Your movie night snacking just got upgraded! Infusing popcorn with argan oil adds a luxurious element while also ensuring plenty of omega-3s. A sprinkle of seasonings gives it big flavor without needing extra butter. Kids and adults alike will gobble it up.
- 1⁄4 cup popping corn kernels
- 2 tsp argan oil
- 1⁄4 tsp smoked paprika
- Pinch cayenne pepper
- 1⁄4 tsp sea salt
- Add corn kernels to a large pot over medium-high heat with a tight fitting lid. Cook, shaking pot occasionally, until all popcorn has popped, about 3-5 minutes.
- Transfer popcorn to a large bowl. Drizzle with argan oil and spices while tossing to coat evenly.
- Serve immediately for a satisfying yet healthy movie night snack. Store leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.
The smokiness of the paprika complements argan oil’s mild nuttiness. Feel free to also add parmesan, nutritional yeast, or your favorite seasonings for extra flavor pop. It makes a wonderful complement to homemade chocolate bark or fresh fruit for nibbling.
Argan Oil Braised Chicken Thighs
Argan oil adds depth of flavor to comfort food like braised chicken thighs. Its anti-inflammatory fatty acids also benefit joint and muscle health, making poultry cooked this way ultra nourishing. Feel free to serve the succulent chicken and sauce over mashed potatoes, polenta, or rice for a satisfying weeknight meal.
- 8 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
- 1⁄2 tsp sea salt
- 1⁄4 tsp black pepper
- 2 Tbsp argan oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1⁄2 cup chicken or vegetable broth
- 2 Tbsp fresh parsley, chopped