Rapeseed Oil: A new way to enjoy a healthy British produce
by Anthony Denny | 28 March 2011 | 13 commentsTweet
Believe it or not, rapeseed oil can offer the maximum amount of flavour and the some of the highest available nutritional values you can get from an oil.
If there was an epicurian lexicon (and why isn’t there?), words like “extra virgin” and “cold pressed” would sit at the top table together with “organic”, “pole and line caught”, and “wild”. Languishing sullenly in the shadows would be “barn reared”, “mechanically recovered” and, until only recently, “rapeseed oil”.
Up to a few years ago, most of us would have considered the marriage of extra virgin cold pressed to rapeseed oil to be unlikely and unworkable.
Rapeseed oil is used as a basis for cattle feed, as an industrial lubricant, as a commercial cooking ingredient and, more recently, a genetically modified bio fuel. And most of the time, if you pick up a bottle of bog standard vegetable oil in a supermarket, the chances are that a high proportion of it will be conventionally pressed rapeseed oil (using high temperatures to extract the maximum quantity from the plant).
Understandably, as a result, rapeseed oil hasn’t got a very sexy image. Yet it’s the third largest crop in the UK, and a produce we should be proud of.
Rapeseed oil is changing its image
That’s right – it’s the third largest crop in the UK. Think back. You’ve probably, at some point, seen the huge yellow blankets of the oil seed rape flowers spread across the arable British countryside. You may even have sneezed and spluttered (if you’re one of the unlucky few) because of its pollen. But did you know you could buy it in the shops, and how to make the most of it?
Thankfully, a small number of enterprising souls are endeavouring to help us see rapeseed oil in a new light. The pioneers among these in Britain were the Fairs family, who own and run Hillfarm Oils at Halesworth in Suffolk.
They were the ones who originally looked at a pile of the tiny round black rapeseeds, and decided some of its best properties were being overlooked and undervalued. These attributes span health, culinary flexibility and, praise be, taste.
"Discovering the amazing health benefits compared to olive oil, we felt we had to bottle it and share it - which made pioneering Hillfarm Oils the first in the UK to produce this fantastic oil", says Sam Fairs, founder of Hillfarm Oils.
Getting the best out of the oil
To get the best out of the oil, Hillfarm Oils recognised that it needs to be extracted in the way of all high grade cooking oils: one pressing only, no high temperatures (that means nothing above 80°F).
The combination of these two practices limits the amount of oil produced – which understandably pushes up the price to around £4.99 RRP per 500ml bottle.
But in return, you get the maximum amount of flavour, the most beautiful golden colour and the some of the highest available nutritional values you can take from an oil.
The oil really is delicious; a light, nutty taste which allows it to be used in all sorts of different ways, bringing its own flavour to a dressing.
But try it unembellished over something quite sharp and enlivening, like endive, or dip a radish in it and this oil cosies up to their kind of tastes and flavours without cloaking it cloyingly. Its lightness makes it great for oriental cooking / stir-frying, whose flavours struggle against the strength of olive oil.
Another unexpected, yet hugely useful benefit to the cook is its smoke point, which is higher than many of the usual good oils, and 60°C higher than butter, so its versatility adds to its attractions.
And then there are the health benefits, which have become much better known in recent years. Cold pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil has the lowest saturated fat content (6%) available on the market (even sunflower oil is 10% and olive oil is over double the content); its Omega 3 level are 11 times greater than olive oil and the ideal ratio of Omega 3 to Omega 6.
Plus, it contains good levels of Vitamin E, which protects cell membranes (hence being so good for the skin) and, together with the three Omega sisters (3, 6 and 9), forms a formidable line-up of anti-oxidants and a scourge of “bad” cholesterol.
A British producer
But Hillfarm Oils doesn’t just shout about its taste and its goodness.
As well as being the first to produce and market cold pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil in the UK, its provenance is without question – every bottle is pressed from crop grown on their single estate farm; it’s non-GM, it’s pressed, filtered and bottled on the farm.
And if we’re going to start comparing with olive oil, that gold standard of high quality cooking oils, rapeseed oil already has hundreds, probably thousands of food miles to its advantage.
The stars earned by cold pressed extra virgin rapeseed oil for all its benefits don’t mean for a minute that it should replace the other oils you have in the cupboard – they all have important roles to play in the temple of cooking and taste – but it’s definitely worth making room for it.