Argan Oil Production: Chemical Solvents, Machine Made, or Cold-Pressed by Hand?
Before machines became a possibility, all Argan Oil was extracted by hand, through hours of grinding and pressing the kernels from the pit of the Argan fruit. This produced Argan Oil that was thicker, richer, aromatic, and extremely beneficial. However, it also took an average of 14 hours to produce 1 litre of oil. (And that's just to press the oil! It does not account for the laborious hours it takes to gather the fruit, strip the outer layer off, and crack the pits to get the kernels out.)
As technology advanced, so did Argan Oil production methods. Nowadays, chemical solvents and/or machines have almost completely replaced traditional production methods. They increase production levels while lessening the labour needed. However, discerning Moroccans still insist that extracting through the traditional cold-pressed method is best. And we agree!
So what is the difference between using chemical solvents, machines, and cold-pressing the oil? The use of chemical solvents is very helpful to the manufacturer as an extraction method. It produces the highest yield (it recovers generally 99% of the oil from the kernels). However, the chemical used in extraction is hexane, which can cause adverse health effects. Because of this, to rid the oil of hexane after extraction, extreme heat is used. The oil is then refined and deodorized at a temperature of over 200 degrees C (392 degrees F). The oil will still contain some undesirable solvent residues, while many main nutrients such as vitamin E (polyphenols) are greatly reduced.
Machine pressed oil is also great for the manufacturer because it is very cost effective, cutting down tremendously on labour costs. Machines also filter the oil, resulting in clearer oil with little to no smell. The yield is still high, recovering anywhere from 75%-85% of the oil from the seeds. However, the machines heat the oil to anywhere between 90 degrees C to 250 degrees C (194 - 482 degrees F). Again, this results in a decrease in the potency of key nutrients in the oil.
Cold-pressed oil is extracted by grinding then squeezing the kernels by hand, with millstones, or even with stainless-steel presses. Although this produces a slight bit of warmth through friction, the temperature cannot rise above 49 degrees C (120 F) for any oil to be considered cold-pressed. This ensures the proteins and antioxidants remain in tact. Oil that is cold pressed by hand has the lowest yield and uses the most labour. True cold-pressed oil is more expensive and still contains all of the minerals, phosphatides, and vitamin E. It is also high in trace nutrients.
There is a very noticeable difference in Argan Oil that has been cold-pressed and oil that has been machine pressed. Cold-pressed oil has a richer nutty smell that dissipates within a few minutes on the skin. It is not greasy and absorbs very quickly. When you apply machine-pressed oil, there is very little aroma and the oil tends to remain on the surface of the skin. It often leaves the skin feeling greasy or oily. While chemical solvents and machines have revolutionized Argan Oil extraction for companies, cold-pressed oil remains most potent and beneficial. Temperature is the most important factor affecting the quality of the oil. When heat is used, key nutrients are lessened and the oil loses some of its best qualities. While cold-pressed oil is more expensive to produce, it by far offers the best results.