Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Extra Virgin, Cold Pressed, Organic Canola Oil

The canola is a fascinating plant. It's a weedy looking thing with merry little yellow flowers. It is a distant cousin of the mustard and cabbage families, it grows easily and in great abundance in Canada. Interestingly, up until the 1970's, it was also mildly poisonous, inedible and had only industrial uses such as lubricating farm equipment.

Canola is a controversial plant given that it's name is a sort of acronym, coined by a couple of industrious agricultural scientists in the 1970's. Its etymology is thus: CANadian Oil Low Acid. (The acid refers to uric acid). I really hate the name.

Anyway, the original plant from which the canola hybrid is derived is called the rape plant, and thus the oil from it is called rape seed oil, or as some trendy Euro chefs call the good stuff, virgin rape oil....maybe the new name is not so bad. In the 1970's rape plants were hybridized to create canola, which is now the largest seed crop in the world and a major export from Canada. It is also liberally dumped into a million types of processed food and genetically modified beyond recognition. That is not to say that the original canola was GMO - it was hybridized using ancient and well established natural methods. But given the value of this massive commodity, it's no surprise that it has been tinkered with genetically and there are many strains of this humble plant that are patented, notably the 'Round-up Ready' brand name (Round up is type of herbicide for which this particular canola oil is resistant to).

I've never been comfortable with the concept of owning a life form.

Nevertheless, that is the sordid little history of this weed. However, there is a silver lining to all this. Despite what the conspiracy theorists will tell you (by whom, I will probably be accused of being a government shill or in bed with big agri for saying as much), naturally grown canola oil is healthy, versatile, tastes great and is truly part of the Ontario terroir (it thrives in cooler, heartier climates like Canada). No costly importing necessary as is the case with olive oil. It is definitely '100 mile diet-worthy' around these parts. You just have to know where to find the good, non-industrialized, non-patented, non-frankenstein version of it. And I finally have: extra virgin, cold-pressed organic canola oil grown, pressed and bottled in Waterford, Ontario by Pristine Gourmet. Actually, it's not certified organic, but it is certified, non-GMO, which is good enough for me. So how does it taste? Well, I ordered a bottle and the moment it arrived in the mail, I couldn't wait and poured out a little on a saucer.

First impression: it is a much brighter shade of yellow than the typical store-bought canola; not a dark gold like olive oil, but a bright gold, reminiscent of the canola flowers themselves. Taste: nutty, almost a peanut oil taste, not grassy like olive oil, more subtle. There are suggestions of sesame and sunflower seeds in the finish. It's light and non-greasy. I like it better than grapeseed oil, and it's certainly lighter than flax oils and such. Admittedly, for bread dripping and pouring on a tomato, I think olive oil still wins. But if this stuff is helped a tiny bit with a little vinegar, say apple cider vinegar, it can really shine. I goes really well with raw radishes and greens, tossed with some whole mustard seeds. It's a bit pricey to use as a cooking oil ($15 for 500ml bottle), but I certainly want to support my terroir and try to cook with ingredients that are truly local. I will start using it in my cooking post-haste and we will see what adventures it will take me on.

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