A wonderful oil, new to the west, and another treasure from Africa, Dattier du desert is one of the finest oils for the skin that I have worked with. Known by many names, its Latin binomial, Balanites aegyptiaca identifies the tree but its numerous common names including wild toogga, desert date, corona di Jesus, Egyptian balsam, Laloub tree and a number of Ayurvedic names from India attest to its wide distribution and use. A simple Balanites after it’s Latin botanical may be a good name to use.
To westerners the oil from this tree is new but it has ancient roots going back over 4000 years to Egyptian tombs and burial mounds. Harvested from trees that grow across Africa and the Middle East to India, it has almost as many names as Caulophyllum inophyllum (tamanu) of the Pacific basin. Called a desert date, the association is something of a misnomer as dates are the fruit of palms but balanites or, dattier du desert is not a palm but a thorny tree of the genus of the caltrop family, Zygophyllaceae not Arecaceae, (Palmae).
The fruit looking similar to dates, though not as sweet with a bitter taste is a popular food where it grows. Oumou Bathily a member of the Facebook group Lipid Love, sent me samples of oils she distributes from Africa with Dattier du desert among them. Other oils of the group included shea and cocoa butter, moringa, marula, baobab, Kalahari melon and neem, but Dattier du desert was my first choice to sample as it is completely new to me. Even the name is exotic, evoking far off lands and new experiences.
And a treat it is; the oil is amazing with an unusual fatty acid structure, which I gather, can vary widely from crop to crop and growing locations that produce the fruit and oil. In our Lipid Love group a member once asked for opinions on the oil that felt most silky when applied to the skin; this is hands down that oil. It flows on smoothly, and is taken up by the skin yet leaving a protective barrier that has no heavy or oily feel. The fatty acids that contribute to this wonderful feel are strong in linoleic acid about 40%, next by volume are the saturated stearic and palmitic acids at 34% combined, then oleic acid at 26%. Lesser amounts of a number of beneficial fatty acids include palmitoleic, behenic, erucic, and lauric and myristic acids.
The unsaponifiable portion is equally outstanding with a number of healing and nourishing compounds including calcium, magnesium, iron, copper, zinc and thiamine. Each seed generously endowed with vitamin E tocopherols plus other unsaponifiables such as diosgenin and yamogenin and sterols, beta-sitosterol, stigmasterol, and campesterol. Known as a healer, the oil has tremendous possibilities for use.
Messaging Oumou, she mentioned how she had eaten the fruit growing up in Africa spitting out the pits, which, was very much my experience growing up in Hawaii eating papaya, passion fruit and guava. Years later these fruits are all used to produce oils for us to use. All those seeds and pits discarded that have now become valuable commodities; this is the most exciting development in the world of oils. In more temperate areas, it’s not unlike eating raspberries and black berries, where the seeds have also become oil!
And so we have another new oil to add to our palette for skincare formulation and essential oil delivery. We are fortunate indeed.
Fatty Acid profile for Dattier du desert;
Linoleic 32 – 48%
Oleic 22 – 40%
Stearic 32 – 48%
Palmitic 11 – 13%
As you can see the proportions vary widely. Additional fatty acids in descending order of volume are;