Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Rapeseed oil: the next big (yellow) thing

Stand by for two things. The first is the explosion of acid yellow rapeseed flowers that will dazzle the eyes in fields across the country in early summer. The second is the explosion of locally grown, cold pressed rapeseed oil that is going to migrate from the plastic bottles on the bottom shelf to the fancy bottles on the top shelf, where the olive oil sits.

We’ve been growing rapeseed in this country for years, thanks to EEC subsidies, and the EU interest in biofuels is going to see to it that those glaring fields of yellow continue to shock. I don’t mind them; they put me in mind of French impressionists and I quite like the scent although I believe it gives some people a headache. All the oilseed rape grown in the UK is GM free, which is nice, but I bet you didn’t know that 85-95% of it goes into the food chain. And most of the stuff in plastic bottles that is labelled ‘vegetable oil’ is actually rapeseed oil. I don’t think I would like to know about the processes the large scale manufacturers use to recover the oil, but then I wouldn’t like to know about what they do to make ordinary olive oil either.

No. We are now talking about a high end product. Cold pressed, low in saturated fat, ten times more Omega 3 than olive oil, and a natural source of Vitamin E, rapeseed oil is locally produced in an increasing number of locations in the UK. Arable farmers who previously took little interest in what happened to their product are now keenly aware of consumers’ concerns about food miles and a market has opened up. I sampled oil from two producers; Mellow Yellow from Farringtons in Northants, and Oleifera from right up in Northumberland, on the Scottish borders.

Mellow Yellow is a virgin cold pressed oil with an unfiltered cloudy look in the bottle. Grown by Duncan Farrington on his LEAF marque farm (Linking Environment And Farming) it is one of the leaders in this new move from commodity product to a competitor to olive oil. The seeds are planted in August and the pods are harvested at the end of July. You can plant a variety of rape in the spring, but it tends to have a bitter taste. The seeds are pressed gently, at temperatures which never rise above 31ºC, thereby retaining all the health giving properties.

Oleifera, in its elegant tall bottle which won’t fit into my cupboard, is clear and bright golden. Grown by a group of farmers in the borders the crop seems to like the climate and thrives. It settles naturally to give a bright sparkling oil which, aside from all its healthy properties, has a high burning point of around 230ºC, making it ideal for frying and for roast potatoes to which it imparts its wonderful golden colour. From first pressing to bottling takes about six weeks and if you’re wondering about the name – Oleifera is latin for ‘oil-bearing seed’, and as the Romans brought the seed to Britain it is an appropriate name.

So – what does it taste like? Both oils look bright and clean, with the Oleifera bright in the bottle and Mellow Yellow cloudy and unfiltered – good in my book. Mellow Yellow has a bit more scent than Oleifera when you sniff it. When I tasted the Oleifera my first thought was ‘buttery’. It has a warm, clean taste, very light and with a trace of sweetness. Mellow Yellow – my first thought was ‘new mown hay’. A definite but quite pleasant vegetal taste, sweet and clean. Both producers describe their product as having a ‘nutty’ taste, but when I think ‘nutty’ I think of walnuts and hazelnuts and there is no comparison.

But if, like me, you really like olive oil, I think you will be disappointed. The complexity of olive oil, the pepper, the hit at the back of the throat, the bitterness or lack of it, the acid freshness green or golden, those notes are absent. I don’t honestly think you could offer your guests a pool of rapeseed oil to dandle their bread in and expect coos of delight.

But, on the other hand, you know how cook books are always telling you not to use your best olive oil for such and a thing, and you end up using your best olive oil because you only have one bottle? Well, for roasting potatoes instead of goose fat, for massaging the roast chicken before it goes into the oven, for mayonnaise when you don’t want the strength of the olive flavour to dominate, and for a light salad dressing – this will be ideal. And it hasn’t travelled very far to get to you.


Jules said...

I'm a huge fan of Mellow Yellow. It makes the best Yorkshire puds and roasties. Mellow Yellow have also recently bought out dressings.

Anonymous said...

Dear June,

I am delighted to see you reviewing our Mellow Yellow oil. We are very proud of what we do here at Farrington's in producing top quality cold pressed rapeseed oil entirely on our farm. Although we have been doing it now for a while, I am still learning day by day, and it is great to see people talking about it on the web! As for the cloudy oil, this shows its natural properties, and the bottle you have is from the cold winter months – it may not look quite so good, but certainly tastes just as great. On taste, I agree, I wouldn't use it for dipping bread as it is far too subtle (I think peanuts, with slight greenness, and a clean finish). It is however great for so many other things, when stronger oils overpower. My personal favourite though has to be British Asparagus, in a barbeque wok simply cooked in Mellow Yellow. My wife likes it done for around 2 minutes to give that 'aldante' touch, I prefer 4 – 5 minutes to crisp the edges more. The tastes go together so well; what better than this, a glass of crisp white wine, and of course a bit of sunshine.

Thank-you to you and your fellow bloggers from a Northamptonshire farmer

Duncan Farrington

June said...

Hi Duncan

Thanks so much for your note, and the very best of luck with your extremely attractive product. I am looking forward to trying roast potatoes with it this weekend! I'm sure it will be great with asparagus because warming it up will increase the flavour palette - goodness, how cheffy am I!!!

Chris Combs said...

"dandle"!! Excellent!

Toffeeapple said...

How thrilling to be addressed by the producer of the oil! I live not far from Northamptonshire so will be looking out for this product. Thank you for reviewing the oils.

Catherine said...

Did you know that you can eat the plant as well,when it is in bud, just like sprouting broccoli? (I believe they are in the same family). Bizarrely, I found some on a West Indian stall in Leeds last summer and have since seen it at Farmers' Markets. I thought it tasted very good simply steamed and seasoned - quite nutty.

Jeanne said...

Intriguing. I read that this is meant to be the Next Big Thing but didn't realise just how upmarket it had already gone. But I suspect you are right - that if you like the strident and complex taste of olive oil, this won't be a replacement.

Madeleine said...

That's a coincidence. I went to a Herb Day at Garden Organic and watched Sophie Grigson doing a cookery demonstration in which she recommended rapeseed oil and said not to be put off by the scent. I'll look out for it now because I keep using up my one bottle of olive oil as you mention!

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.