National Geographic : 2009 Feb
PHOTOS: FOODFOLIO/ALAMY TOP ; REMO SAVISAAR Oil Boon The goats of southwestern Morocco go out on a limb to find the nuts of the native argan tree. So do the region's Berbers. For many centuries, they've extracted oil from the nuts. They use it as a seasoning---it has an earthy, nutty flavor---as well as a skin moisturizer, a hair softener, and a treatment for ills like acne. Now the oil also generates income. As scientists have revealed its rich antioxidants and healthy fatty acids and consumers abroad have discovered its benefits, sales have risen. Priced at about $45 for a mere 8.5 ounces, the oil has become a costly elixir. A decade ago only two cooperatives produced argan oil. Today about a hundred employ 4,000 women to hand-crack pits and remove the nuts, which machines crush for oil. But production can't expand much in the near future. The trees are late bloomers, wait- ing 25 years or so after planting to bear much fruit. ---A. R. Williams HEALTH Agile goats seek the fruit of Morocco's argan trees. Herders and barriers of thorny branches help thwart the animals. Each thumb-size pit (above) holds one to three argan nuts.