I’d been curious for a little while about one of the products I’d spotted in the farm shop I like to use when I visit Suffolk and then a couple of weeks back two things conspired to make me get on with trying it out.
First I was reading Hugh F-W’s weekly slot in The Guardian (‘Trickle treat’ on 7 March) and then I went out for dinner at ‘The Lighthouse’ in Aldeburgh and when they brought the bread with oil and balsamic they explained that the oil was a local product made from rapeseed (in fact just theone I’d been eyeing up).
- Oh that terrible stuff that blights the English countryside in May covering all the fields in a yellow haze of flowers.
- Grrrr that’s the stuff that gives me major hayfever as soon as I step anywhere outside of a town centre and nearer to the countryside.
- Isn’t that grown for them to feed to cattle or something like that?
- Isn’t that just horrible industrial extracted oil used in ready meals and other stuff that’s bad for us?
- Don’t they use that in bio-diesel?
But maybe we haven’t got all this quite right.
Firstly not all rapeseed flowers are yellow – you sometimes see purple ones, but they are mainly yellow and they are a bit of a blot on the landscape when in flower. We should however remember that the English landscape (as any other) is a changing thing, after all it used to be mostly woodland before it was rolling hills with wheat waving in the gentle breeze. But we are also right to there be concerned that a crop takes over an area and we get a monoculture.
I’m not a doctor so the link to hayfever and asthma is not my specialist subject. A quick search via Google (see for example Wikipedia and also The Independent as examples) however suggests that the link is not definitive, as rapeseed does not have wind born pollen. I imagine there’s plenty out there would testify that it triggers some kind of reaction for them.
Yes they do use it in cattle feed, yes some of it is extracted using industrial means but some is now produced like virgin pressings of olive oil; and yes they do use it in biodiesel.
I decided to do a comparative tasting of three
Hemp: Good Oil Original cold pressed
Olive: Waitrose Organic 100% Italian extra virgin
Rapeseed: Hill Farm cold pressed extra virgin
Hemp: this is very unusual and a bit of an acquired taste – this actual tasting is the third time I’ve tried it since buying the bottle and it is growing on me slowly but I’m not quite convinced just yet. It has a strong flavour, which comes across as earthy and almost woody. The finish is quite long. It was better on the bread that it was ‘pure’ and contrasted the sourdough quite well. It makes a good change from olive but I doubt some people will ever be convinced that it’s a good substitute.
Olive: this was fairly fruity with a slight tang and peppery endnote. Its not a very strong oil but its nicely mild with the classic Italian notes. It was good with and without the bread but lets remember that this is the oil I have been using for a couple of years now as my basic olive oil so I’m used to its flavours.
Rapeseed: this has a mild and mellow taste. There’s a slightly nutty fruity seeds flavour that I couldn’t quite identify (I’m not sure its grassy like HFW says but then I was tasting a different brand). It was good on its own, but stood up to the bread test less well. The loaf though has a very distinctive sourdough flavour so this oil might work better with a milder flavoured loaf – it was certainly good when we had it at ‘The Lighthouse’ with balsamic. It’s also a good cooking oil – less distinctive than olive oil so better in some dishes and also with a nice high flame point making it better for sautéing.
Overall? I’ll stick with olive for a lot of things but the rapeseed is a definite permanent addition to the kitchen and I’ll keep trying the hemp but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be a big convert. Hugh FW suggests it more sophisticated than the rapeseed but actually I just think it’s stronger and more unusual but unusual does not always tally with sophistication and in this case I’d say it’s quite hard to get to know and love.