Connect to share and comment

Is your beauty oil made from goat turds? Not anymore

Morocco's acclaimed argan nut oil, used in beauty products and salad dressings, is being produced by human hands.

ESSAOUIRA, Morocco —  Morocco's little-known argan oil is poised to be the next big thing in beauty products, but don't tell anyone that it was once extracted from goat droppings.

No one is trying to hide the goats' traditional role in producing argan oil. But in this roadside shop outside of the coastal Moroccan town, the women aren’t exactly eager to dwell on goat-related matters, either.

The artisans here are producing and selling argan oil, an increasingly trendy cure-all skin treatment. It is an amber-colored liquid that also livens up salads and tastes great in stews. The last thing they want is a customer thinking that their exquisite product passed through a goat's digestive tract and exited through its rear end.

“All the work now is done by hand,” said Naima Elattaoui, 28, as she showed visitors around the Tiguemine Argan Cooperative, where 25 of her colleagues spend their days making argan oil in a stone courtyard just a few miles from Morrocco’s balmy Atlantic coast.

That’s by hand, Elattaoui said, not hoof. Close to 90 percent of the argan oil made in Morocco gets exported, and the export product these days is by all accounts goat-free. Carefully, with tenses rigorously confined to the past, Elattaoui will say this:

It used to be that goats would climb up into the gnarled trees dotting the nearby hills. It once was the case that they ate the pecan-sized argan nuts, digesting the soft outer peel. Previously, the animals defecated the now-peeled nuts onto the ground. In the past, the local women followed behind, gathering kernels to crack, roast and grind into the highly sought-after, labor-intensive oil.

But that’s all over with, Elattaoui said, and people mostly do the peeling now. And it’s hard to blame her for insisting on this story. There’s business on the line.

Although argan oil has been prized here for centuries — rubbed on babies, brushed into hair and drizzled over couscous — the product has lately taken off abroad. Whether because of the oil’s distinctive, toasted flavor or its apparently restorative effect on skin, Moroccans say demand for argan oil has surged among foodies and cosmetic-sellers in America and Europe.

“It’s been a huge success,” said Zoubida Charrouf, a professor at Rabat’s Mohamed V University, who published chemical analyses of the Omega-6 and vitamin E–rich oil that helped spur foreign interest in argan. “Without international demand it wouldn’t have developed like this.”

In the space of a decade, argan-selling has become a $40 million-per-year business, Charrouf said, with the number of Moroccan oil-making cooperatives jumping from just three in 1999 to more than 150 today.