In recent years, due to the rising popularity of Mediterranean cuisine, there has been a growing culture based around the different types of olive oil, with many people advocating olive oil’s many health benefits. Now, more and more people are recognising the many benefits of rapeseed oil, which is not only grown by British farmers, but also has plenty of health advantages over olive oil.
Rapeseed oil was originally grown to be used as a lubricant for steam engines, but the oils you can buy today, bred from a different strain of rapeseed crops, are a world apart from the cheap industrial lubricants that rapeseed was originally intended for. The amount of rapeseed that is being grown in the British countryside is growing steadily year upon year, so much so that Japanese tourists have even started flocking to the fields, preferring to watch the acres of rapeseed flowers bloom rather than the cherry blossoms in Japan.
One of the main disadvantages that many people are not aware of when it comes to using olive oil to cook with, is that once it reaches a certain temperature, it will start to burn and become toxic. Rapeseed oil has a much higher burning point than olive oil, meaning that it can be used in a larger variety of cooking techniques, from roasting to baking to deep frying, with a flavour that does not bleed out as it cooks.
The cold pressed varieties are great for salad dressings, as they have a delicate, nutty taste, and also do well when drizzled over pizzas or pastas. Like with olive oil, there are certain ingredients that rapeseed oil can be used with to really bring out its flavour, such as asparagus or artichoke hearts. When used in baking as a substitute for butter, its benefits truly shine. Try using it in a carrot cake, for a delicious dessert that has 60% less saturated fat than it otherwise would have had.
We are all aware of the fact that olive oil, with 14% saturated fat, is always a healthier alternative to butter, which has a saturated fat content of 51%. However, rapeseed oil beats both of these, with only 7% saturated fat, making it one of the healthiest cooking oils that you will find. It also contains high levels of vitamin E, which is not only a powerful antioxidant that boosts your immune system, but also enhances your skin. In addition to this, it contains high levels of omega-3 and omega-6, giving it heart-friendly and anti-inflammatory properties.
The past 20 years have seen numerous clinical studies carried out on a wide variety of people, all related to examining the actual health benefits that rapeseed oil can bring about. The studies all confirmed that, when used as part of a balanced diet, rapeseed oil not only lowers blood cholesterol levels, but also decreases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
So, when faced with the increasing number of bottles of rapeseed oil on supermarket shelves, which one do you buy? Usually, if the origins of the oil are not mentioned on the packaging, it is safe to assume that it has come from a British field, a huge bonus for ethical shoppers who are concerned about keeping their food miles to a minimum and supporting British farmers. It also means that it is usually cheaper than olive oil, which is produced abroad.
Britain is also one of the only countries that has kept the name ‘rapeseed oil’, whilst other countries around the world, including the US, use the name ‘canola oil’. Although these both originated from the same plant, breeding programmes in the US means that at least 93% of rapeseed oil produced there is genetically modified – another issue that has given the oil a bad reputation. Luckily for us Brits, all British produced rapeseed oil remains GM free, so if you are located in another country, it would be best to opt for a British brand of the oil.
Many talented chefs, including Britain’s favourite celebrity chefs, are also promoting the benefits of rapeseed oil. Jamie Oliver, who has always been a firm olive oil advocate, is now a rapeseed oil convert, using the oil in his restaurants to not only prepare meals, but also serving the cold-pressed version in jars on every table. Like wines that are produced at different vineyards, the flavour profile of rapeseed oil significantly differs throughout the different regions, but you are often able to taste before you buy if you visit a local farmers market.
With so many health benefits, and a brand new flavour profile to complement your cooking, now is definitely the time to try rapeseed oil if you haven’t already done so. Although summertime is the peak time for rapeseed crops, the oil is available all year round as it has a long shelf life, and you can even buy it online from specific farms if you like to know exactly where your food has come from.