Oil is an every day foodstuff used in many different kinds of dishes – yet the sheer range of available oils can be baffling. The paradox of choice is obvious in every supermarket – how to choose between olive, sunflower, coconut, rapeseed and numerous other cooking oils and fats? Leila Dukes pours on the possibilities in this exploration of unctuous options.
One type of oil which is increasingly likely to be found in kitchens across the country is rapeseed, with sales rocketing in the last year. The golden elixir attracting discerning shoppers is not the refined, processed stuff often labeled as “vegetable” oil you may associate with rapeseed. British farmers are now producing premium cold-pressed, extra virgin oils from rapeseed crops which are comparable in quality to the best olive oils.
Hillfarm Oil is the first UK producer of cold-pressed rapeseed oil. Founders, married couple Clare and Sam Fairs, made their family farm in Heveningham, Suffolk the first farm in the UK to cold-press and bottle their own rapeseed over ten years ago. Hillfarm is now one of the UK’s leading producers, bottling over 500,000 litres of their oil for shops, restaurants and supermarkets across the land. Clare and Sam Fairs speak passionately about the health benefits of rapeseed oil and are quick to compare the numbers to olive oil: it has half the saturated fat, eleven times more natural omega 3 and more vitamin E.
While the Hillfarm branded tshirts may proclaim they are “challenging the olive,” in fact all sorts of oils should be welcome in the kitchen, for different uses. There is nothing quite like the peppery, grassy kick of extra-virgin olive oil drizzled over dishes just before serving. But olive oils are not suitable for cooking: not only does the quality deteriorate, applying very high heat can release toxic chemicals according to scientists. Coconut oil is often described as excellent for cooking due to its high burn point, but the strong flavour and greasy mouthfeel can be overpowering.
Rapeseed oil also has a high smoking point, so can be used for roasting and frying. It’s also relatively thin in texture as oils go, meaning vegetables crisp up more quickly than with other oils. Taste wise, rapeseed certainly doesn’t pack the same punch as really good olive oil, but the faintly nutty, mustardy qualities are undeniably delicious and does not interfere with other flavours. Instead of trying to “convert” shoppers from one type of oil to another, we should be encouraged to expand our repertoire of oils, in the same way we build an arsenal of herbs and spices in our store cupboards.
Rapeseed oil has a lot going for it: the British providence, the high burn point and the distinct, mellow flavour. Cake Shop Bakery, a renowned bakery not far from Hillfarm, uses the rapeseed oil in many of its recipes including a stunning “British foccacia.”
It’s not just rapeseed oil that is liquid gold, earning praise from big names like Tom Kerridge, Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson. Hillfarm is now growing and selling rapeseed greens and seeds for culinary uses, which are popular with chefs like Mark Hix. Hillfarm also make seriously amazing mayonnaise – the yellow colour, thick wobbly texture and mellow nutty, mustardy flavour are glorious. The most recent launch is a new range of rapeseed hand soap and creams which feel lovely to use.
Time to make room in your kitchen cabinets: there is a new healthy, homegrown crop around.