Amlou - Gastro Obscura
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Ingredients & Condiments

Amlou

Morocco's nutty, decadent spread is made from the prized oil of the argan tree.

Many may know of the argan tree because of the goats who climb and dine among its branches. Argan oil, made from the nuts expelled by these goats, is also famed for its age-defying cosmetic properties, which, at $130 per liter, makes this “liquid gold” one of the most expensive plant-based oils in the world. Less known, however, is amlou, Southern Morocco’s delectably sweet and nutty concoction made using three ingredients: argan oil, almonds, and honey.

Argan trees grow exclusively in Southwestern Morocco, making them so rare that UNESCO has worked to conserve them by establishing a 2.5 million-hectare reserve. In addition to protecting the tree from overgrazing, the reserve fosters cooperatives that employ local Berber women who transform the nuts of the argan fruit into oil. The process is arduous, taking as many as 20 hours to produce one liter of the precious golden liquid. It begins with cracking each nut to reveal a smaller kernel inside. After toasting, crushing, and mixing these nuggets into a paste, the women must then extract the oils by hand. This process, known as “hand-malaxing,” is incredibly labor-intensive and leads to the oil’s hefty price tag.

To turn the oil into amlou, however, requires yet more elbow grease on the part of the cook. In this family affair, household members often take turns churning away at a millstone filled with argan oil and toasted almonds. Drop by drop, the silky-smooth substance flows into a bucket, where it glistens, ready to be sweetened with local honey. Lucky eaters spoon or drizzle the decadent spread, also known as “Berber Nutella,” on crusty kesra bread or thinner, layered msemen (Moroccan-style breads). Making amlou is a time-intensive labor of love, so guests served this snack, typically alongside traditional Moroccan mint tea, should consider themselves lucky recipients of high-quality hospitality.

Need to Know

Look for amlou especially in Southern Morocco, though it is becoming increasingly available at artisanal and specialty stores worldwide. Beware, however, fresh amlou can have a short shelf life.

Where to Try It
  • Tighanimine Cooperative
    Morocco

    This woman's cooperative makes and sells fair trade argan oil and argan oil products.

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Contributed by
Leigh ChavezBush Leigh ChavezBush
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