The smaller the world gets, the harder it it is to discover something truly unique. So I was excited when on a recent trip to Morocco with Access Trips, I was able to visit the Assous Argan Oil Cooperative about 40 miles east of the coastal city of Essaouira.
Previously unknown to me, I learned the Argan tree grows in only a few places in the world and only produces a nut here in Morocco. The tree drops its fruit in the waning months of summer after which it is roasted and pressed and turned into some really delicious oil. Did I say delicious? I meant super-delicious, scrumptious, yummy.
That would have been enough for me, but there's more to the story.
For generations, the women in this west central area of Morocco have been harvesting the argan nuts and producing the oil, a not-so-easy production requiring time and patience. It wasn't until about 10 years ago, however that they began to organize in cooperatives, pooling their resources and making shopper-friendly, tourist-ready products.
On my recent visit, the young and lovely Karima Barniche explained how nuts are turned into oil by leading me past a row of women seated along the wall of the cooperative's center salon. They were cracking and grinding the nuts and making a gummy black Play Doh-like wad. This goop wasn't pretty but it smelled sensational! The women squeeze this lump and oil comes out. It takes a lot of nuts and even more muscle to fill a bottle.
In the showroom, a selection of oils, honeys, cosmetics and lotions are artfully displayed while English-speaking assistants offer shopping advice. On a table in the center of the room there are chunks of fresh bread for dipping into bowls of samples.
It is sweet when people pull together to make better and easier the process of selling a local specialty. But there's a challenge on the horizon.
While the ladies crack nuts one at a time and grind them using nothing more than the power in their two arms, new mechanized factories are beginning to churn out argan oil. Whether this threatens the livelihood of the low-tech labor force or whether it is hastening the process of making argan oil into the next hot thing, which will in turn employ more people, I can't say.
But one thing I really like about travel is the way I can vote with my pocket book, supporting quality products and community enterprise in a real, tangible and okay, edible way.