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Ulysses supervises the biggest Argan oil manufacturing unit set deep down in the country, towards the village of Ida Ougourd. He supplies the most important cosmetic laboratories in France, Europe, and Asia.
The company was set up in 2003 and the laboratory was installed in Sidi Yassine four years ago. Originally from Switzerland where he managed an advertising agency for twenty years, Ulysses bought 12 hectares of land in 2004 as he wished to change both his occupation and his lifestyle. He has permanent associates who are supervised locally and also by France. His products benefit from a bio label certified and checked by France and Switzerland.
The laboratory produces about 40 tons of oil a year, 35 of which are exported. Half of the production is dedicated to the cosmetic industry and the other half to the food industry. They cannot ensure that customers will get constant quantities, as this depends on the harvest of the year, but they do guarantee a quality label.
To ensure a stable quality, the procedure is very stringent: the four enemies of the oil being light, heat, oxygen and water. Before being exported or sold locally, the oil is stored in containers or opaque tins away from heat and light; the laboratories themselves are all air conditioned. They operate quite differently from the small local coops which produce small quantities with unstable quality that they sell mainly to a tourist clientele.
Ten per cent of the Argan oil production in the world comes from countries such as Algeria, Mexico and Israel. The national production, not counting the Sidi Yassine laboratory, represents several hundred litres a year and amounts to 2 to 3% of the whole production. One can thus figure out the amount of Sidi Yassine production!
Sidi Yassine is a small company with one product manager, four employees in production, extraction and filtration, one secretary and Ulysses, the manager.
The argan nuts are bought then divided amongst about 500 women who work in cooperatives. The harvests come from several forests situated in different regions like Talmest, Hanchane or Smimou. Men and donkeys are required to stay within a 20 km radius in order to avoid problems of jealousy and perhaps fights. The distribution of the affiache to the various groups involves hard work: everything, that is pulp and kernels, is meticulously weighed. The almonds are first sorted out within the groups, and then undergo several sorting operations even inside the laboratory. For hygienic reasons, the almonds are not the result of the goats’ work: very fond of argan, they bite through the nuts and bacteria can then enter the opening. The cooperatives which provide the oil in the souks bypass this problem.
The oil is extracted from the almonds in the laboratory with the means of very efficient German machinery.
The fruit is made of a pulp which is an insulator and of a kernel, sixteen times harder than a hazelnut, which protects the almond. If a goat’s saliva gets in contact with the white mush inside the almond, the product is ruined.
Several operations are necessary in order to obtain pure oil:
- Mechanical cold pressing
- Here, the almonds are not roasted like coffee is, outside and inside. With a strong heat, the vitamins would be destroyed. The almonds are only slightly toasted on low heat; this way the oil is less bitter or not at all and 98% of the vitamins remains. The machines are set on 100°C.
- Mechanical decanting and filtering
- The oil is then poured into tins for exportation or into bottles for national sales.
Ulysses with his company is the best on the market: he wins every competition in quality and taste, including the “Concours Gourmet “in Paris a few months ago.
Planes, trucks and boats are used for exportation and customers range from Europeans to Koreans.
All the goods are centralized in Europe then dispatched throughout the world. There is no exportation during the Ramadan period. The production goes on all year round and the fruit are stored and kept for a maximum duration of five years. The laboratories comply with the purchase rules HACCP and American standards like ISO 20 2000.
The purchase of affiache amounts to about 4 Million dirham: they are sold between 3.5 dirham and 4.5 dirham a kilo in the souk. Sidi Yassine buys them at about 1.20 dirham a kilo.
- 20 kg of fruit are necessary to produce 1 litre of oil
- 1 kilo of almonds will give half a litre of oil
Definitions: affiache= fruit set to dry in the sun.
Removal of the pulp=destruction of the kernel