No, you are not hallucinating. This is not a surrealist painting, and it’s not PhotoShopped. This is a real photograph. I know because I took it myself, last summer, when I was lucky enough to go Morocco and learn about and witness parts of the argan oil production firsthand.
There are goats in that tree. Fearless, hungry goats, that are willing to climb into branches 30 feet off the ground to eat the fruit of the Argania spinosa tree, which is native to southwestern Morocco and a small section of western Algeria.
On average, these goats graze on argan trees for over 6 hours a day, and argan accounts for between 47 percent and 84 percent of a tree goat’s diet. The goats are attracted to the bitter fleshy pulp of the fruit, and they excrete the argan nut that their body can’t digest.
Why do argan growers let this happen? Two reasons. First, the argan fruit would otherwise be difficult to harvest: the trees are tall, thorny, and have gnarled trunks. Second, and more important, the nuts are enclosed in a bullet-proof shell that is incredibly difficult to crack open. However, after passing through the goat’s digestive system, the shells of the nuts become easier to open. People gather them from the goat’s droppings, treat them to clean them, and crack them open to expose the seeds inside.
Argan nuts contain anywhere from one to three oil-rich, almond-shaped kernels. When producing culinary argan oil, the kernels are roasted before further processing, but not in the case of cosmetic argan oil. These kernels are then ground, on something that resembles a stone mortar and pestle, into a paste that looks a bit like peanut butter (and tastes surprisingly good). Finally, people squeeze the paste by hand to extract the oil, which is then bottled.
To produce 1 liter of oil, it takes 2 kg of kernels, which have to come from 25-30 kg of fruits. It can take up to two days of hard work to crack this number of nuts, and several hours to grind them. In Morocco, much of this work is done in in female-owned and run co-operatives, designed to give financial independence to poor women in remote regions who are uneducated or illiterate.
The cosmetic industry’s recent interest in argan oil is creating a lot of movement away from this traditional method of production: special strains of argan trees have been developed to grow in Israel; goats are sometimes kept out of the process; and the oil is often extracted in a large, industrial setting using mechanical or chemical methods. Furthermore, many popular beauty products that boast about containing argan oil often contain other chemicals, like silicon, that work against the oil, or prevent it from having its best effects.
At Essentique, our argan oil is organic and Moroccan, and we would never add any artificial ingredients that would dampen its powerful effects for the skin and hair. You can buy it alone to use as a massage, hair, facial, or body oil, or try Lumin8, UpLift, Line-Break, or Luminescence, which all have argan oil as an ingredient.