Jojoba is a plant native to the arid regions of the United States and Mexico. This plant provides important forage for many wild animals in this region, and it is also commercially important, thanks to the wax produced and stored in its seeds. Jojoba wax, also known as jojoba oil, is used in a wide variety of applications, from cosmetics to industrial lubricants, and it is very similar in composition to sperm whale oil, a product which is increasingly difficult to obtain.
The jojoba (pronounced ho-HO-ba) plant is a shrub with oval-shaped leathery leaves and small yellow flowers. The plant is designed to thrive in arid climates, so it is extremely water-efficient and good at storing energy for dry periods. The jojoba wax is the plant's way of storing lipids which can be used for energy.
Like many other desert plants, jojoba can look sort of scruffy and scraggly, but it appeals to a number of animals. While the seeds are difficult for most desert animals to digest, the leaves, twigs, and bark are all perfectly edible, and they make appealing snacks for many creatures. Humans can technically eat the seeds, but most do not, because the wax makes the seeds rather unpalatable, and also acts as a laxative, which can be undesirable.
When refined, the wax is odorless and clear, and it can be used in a wide variety of ways. Moisturizers and other cosmetic products often utilize jojoba oil, and it can also be used as a carrier oil for fragrances. Because it does not break down readily, jojoba oil is less likely to go rancid in storage, making it appealing for massage oils and body creams. Jojoba oil can also be used as a makeup remover, and a component in cold cream.
All of these traits also make jojoba oil popular from an industrial perspective, where it can be used as a lubricant, source for alternative fuel, and potential fungicide. The wax can also be refined into other products, such as esters and alcohols, which can be used in a variety of ways.
Thanks to its commercial value, jojoba is cultivated in many arid regions of the world, including the Middle East. It is a very hardy and reliable crop, making it appealing in regions where people may struggle to eke a living from poor soils and dry conditions. Jojoba is also in very high demand, making it a profitable crop for people who manage it well.