What is Rapeseed Oil?

Rapeseed oil is the 3rd most common crop grown in the UK[1] and the 3rd largest source of vegetable oil in the world. The crop is part of the Brassicaceae family whose members include cabbage, mustard and kale which explains the plant’s potent smell. The crops perform best in cooler climates making them ideal agricultural plants for the temperatures of Northern Europe.

Farm landscape of yellow rapeseed and green fields and trees
Fields of Gold

The plants are easily distinguished by their bright, garish yellow flowers. They are disputed as either brightening the British landscape or being an eyesore that destroys Britain’s synonymity with green, rolling landscapes.

Like many things in our culture, it was the Romans who introduced this plant to the UK. The Romans used rapeseed to make oil. It has been used since Medieval times as a secondary crop. Secondary crops are used to control weeds and improve soil quality. Rapeseed has also been an important technological crop. During the Industrial Revolution, rapeseed oil was used to lubricate steam locomotives and the rapeseed meal was used as animal feed. These days the oil has been used as part of the bio-diesel movement and over the past decade, rapeseed oil has established itself as a versatile product in the kitchen.

Rapeseed was grown to lubricate large machinery such as a steam locomotive
Rapeseed was grown to lubricate large machinery such as a steam locomotive

The oil is produced from the black seeds of the plant. The average seed 45% oil and 55% cake[2]. The cake part is used as animal feed and is a high-protein product that can compete against soybean meal. Soybean products are controversial as the majority of soy crops grown globally are genetically modified. Commercially-grown rapeseed oil from the UK is not made from GM crops[3]. Therefore, it is important to check the origin of the oil you buy.

The plant was banned in the USA in the 1950s because the old strains of rapeseed contained levels of toxic erucic acid. The effects of erucic acid have not been tested on humans. By the 1970s new strains of rapeseed were developed in Canada which also improved the taste. This strain became known as canola oil which is a low-erucic acid rapeseed oil [4].

A bottle of oil
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Modern rapeseed oil taste has a light, nutty flavour. Its popularity increased following poor olive harvest in Italy in 2012 and since then the oil has found a spot on the shelf amongst other cooking oils such as olive oil, sesame oil and coconut oil.

Health

Cold-pressed oils are best enjoyed in dishes such as salad
Cold-pressed oils are best enjoyed in dishes such as salad

Rapeseed oil is often touted as a health product. It is rich in omega 3 and 6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are important for brain function, heart health and supporting skin function and appearance. Rapeseed oil has the lowest saturated fat content of any oil; only 6% per 100g[5]. It is high in cholesterol-lowering monounsaturated fat, the good kind of fat found in plant foods such as nuts and vegetable oils, at nearly 60g per 100g just 10g less than olive oil[5].

Rapeseed oil has a high smoke point. This means that this oil is suitable for roasting and frying and the nutrition content is less compromised. Although, it is best not to use cold-pressed rapeseed oil for deep-frying as it will change the good fats into trans fats.

Cold Pressed

A jug of vegetable oil
Most cold-pressed oils are rich in vitamin E

You see cold-pressed food and drink as a healthier alternative in the wellbeing industry; ranging from fruit juice to oil. Simply, cold-pressed means exactly what you think it means. The product is pressed without the use of heat.

A lot of products, such as vegetable oils and margarine, are treated with heat to create flavourlessness. These are called refined oils. This process, however, generally destroys the vitamin and mineral content.

Cold-pressing can be a slower process. Since it isn’t treated with heat to speed up the extraction, you are left with natural flavours and a higher nutritional content. Cold-pressed oil is predominantly extracted by a large steel press. The force and weight of the press expel the oil from the seed.

Cold-pressed oils retain their flavour, aroma and nutrients; for instance, they are rich in vitamin E. Cold-pressed oils are best used raw, as when heated they begin to lose some of their nutritional value. Rapeseed oil that isn’t cold-pressed is known as canola or vegetable oil. This variety of rapeseed oil is flavourless and is used for deep-fat frying.

Uses

Rapeseed oil being used to cooking
Rapeseed oil can be heated up to 200C

It’s not an alternative to olive oil, it’s just another versatile product. Olive oil will be better in some things, and likewise so will rapeseed oil. Over the past decade, rapeseed oil has positioned itself as an authentic British, artisanal product to rival traditional olive oil.

Rapeseed oil is suitable for a variety of diets and can be used for roasting vegetable to making mayonnaise. Rapeseed oil, too, can be used as a butter alternative in baking. With its mild taste, rapeseed oil is popular with vegan bakers.

Cold-pressed rapeseed oil can also be used as a beauty product. The oil is rich in vitamin E which is essential for healthy skin, hair and nails.

Rapeseed Oil Producers

Baste & Bray

Baste & Bray is based near Ashington and has been making rapeseed oil products since 2015. They source locally grown rapeseed from Buston Barns, of Buston Potatoes fame, at Warkworth. The rapeseed is cold-pressed, in order to retain its nutrients and to create a wholesome locally sourced, locally made product.

Baste & Bray‘s rapeseed oil has minimal food miles and the residue is used for animal feed. You can find their products at local delis and farm shops. The rapeseed oil comes in various flavours including chilli, garlic and lemon oil.

Their range also includes coconut oil and nut butter varieties.

Borderfields

Borderfields started as a collaboration between farmers in Northumberland and Scottish Borders in 2005. The company has since grown and has formed a cooperative with other counties in the UK. One of the founding farms of Borderfields is McGregor Farms in Coldstream.

Borderfields originally started with a cold-pressed rapeseed oil. However, over the years the range has increased to include a selection of herb infused oils, salad dressing varieties and catering sized containers of classic rapeseed oil.

Borderfields cold-pressed rapeseed oil can be found nationwide in most supermarkets and online

Sp-OIL-t for choice?

Whatever your preferences, there is the option to enjoy locally produced oil. Rapeseed oil has an ardent following who holler its praises as a versatile British product. Do you use rapeseed oil in your cooking?

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