What Is Argan Oil?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

illustration that shows uses for culinary grade argan oil
Illustration: Michela Buttignol. © The Spruce, 2019
Argan oil being poured into a small glass bowl
The Spruce / Christine Benlafquih

Argan oil, known as "liquid gold," is a beautifully hued oil that is almost uniquely produced in Morocco. It is a renowned culinary and beauty product. Despite its expense—the traditional method of extraction is labor-intensive—argan oil is regarded as an essential ingredient in many Moroccan kitchens. Not only is it delicious, but in terms of health benefits, it surpasses other healthy oils such as olive oil and almond oil.

A cosmetic grade of argan oil (not for eating) is used as a beauty and therapeutic treatment for the hair, skin, nails, lips, and scalp. Although argan trees and argan oil production are most famously linked to Morocco, the trees can also be found in Algeria and in Israel.

Fast Facts

Shelf life: 2 years

Place of origin: Morocco

Distinct flavor: nutty

What Is Argan Oil?

Argan oil comes from the fruit of the Argan tree (Argania spinosa), a species indigenous to the Souss Valley in southwestern Morocco. The oil is pressed from the kernels, which are inside the interior nut of the fruit. Opening the fruit and cracking the nut is laborious, as is the traditional method of extracting the oil by hand. The culinary argan oil is pressed from lightly roasted kernels (which results in the rich golden color) while cosmetic oil is pressed from raw nuts. Because of the arduous process for producing the oil, it comes with a high price tag.

Argan oil is treated similarly to other specialty oils, especially nut oils. It works well with both savory and sweet dishes as an ingredient and a condiment.

How to Cook With Argan Oil

This Moroccan specialty is used as a salad dressing, ingredient for both savory and sweet recipes, and sometimes a cooking oil. It can also be drizzled as a condiment on couscous, vegetables, salads, and eggs. It has a low smoking point, so it should be used over a low to medium heat—such as when cooking a tagine—and as a finishing touch to dishes.

What Does It Taste Like?

The culinary argan oil has a subtle but distinctive nutty taste somewhat similar to walnut oil or hazelnut oil. It has a toasted, creamy flavor and wonderful nutty aroma.

Argan Oil Recipes

Culinary grade argan oil is often appreciated in its most pure form as a dip for crusty Moroccan bread known as khobz but is also used as an ingredient in tagines and dips.

Where to Buy Argan Oil

Culinary argan oil is available online and may also be sold at well-stocked specialty food markets. Since it is expensive, it's important to read the label carefully. You want to be sure you are buying the real thing as well as the right thing. First, make sure the oil is culinary grade argan oil and not the cosmetic variety. The two are not interchangeable. Culinary argan oil is darker than the cosmetic variety. It also has a fragrant, nutty aroma and flavor while cosmetic grade argan oil will be almost odorless and flavorless. The cosmetic oil is usually sold in smaller bottles than its culinary counterpart.

Second, look for a few things on the label, starting with "Moroccan argan oil." It's important that it specifies Morocco. Also, read the ingredient list—it should simply say "100 percent pure argan oil." If other ingredients are listed, it means it is not authentic.

Commercially packaged argan oil often states on the label which grade it is. If purchasing argan oil online, take the time to read the description to be sure you know what you're buying.

Storage

Argan oil should be stored in a dark-colored glass bottle as the light will break down the oil's best properties. Place in a cool, dark place such as the pantry where it will last at least two years.

Nutrition and Benefits

Culinary argan oil has certain potential health benefits. It contains two healthy fats (linoleic and oleic fatty acids), as well as high levels of vitamin E. Argan oil also has a significant amount of oleic acid, also present in olive oil and avocado, which may be beneficial to heart health. And, like its cosmetic counterpart, culinary argan oil may reduce the signs of aging.

Argan tree and argan tree fruit
Left: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen / Wikimedia Commons; Right: Helge Høifødt / Wikimedia Commons
Goat climbing an argan tree
Pavliha / Getty Images
Argan fruit
Winifred Mok / Getty Images
Argan Fruit Interior
Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Berber Women Cracking Argan Nuts
Photo © Christine Benlafquih
Argan kernels
The Spruce / Christine Benlafquih
Stone mill for argan
mrtom-uk / Getty Images
Argan paste, leftover after extraction
The Spruce / Christine Benlafquih
Cosmetic grade and culinary grade argan oil
The Spruce / Christine Benlafquih
Argan oil
The Spruce / Christine Benlafquih
Amlou
The Spruce / Christine Benlafquih