I’ve been using Hill Farm Rapeseed Oil for a few months now. It’s as a result of a family outing that went skewy one day! We tried to find the Suffolk Food Hall, following signs for ‘Suffolk Food Show‘ and ended up at said show in Wherstead Park. I was delighted as I love rural food shows. I’m the person who will stop and buy anything, whether I need it or not, from roadside stalls or village shops just because I like the thought of buying something that has a story and a little bit of love injected into it. Knarly carrots from a hessian bag, meat from a local farm or eggs from hens that are roaming free in someones garden are my idea of heaven. I had bought some of the oil at the show and used it in my cooking, baking, frying, cakes, dressings etc instead of olive oil or standard vegetable oil – a recipe can be found here. The difference in taste and sizzle during cooking was quite noticeable so I contacted Sam at Hill Farm to find out why. He invited me to the farm to check it out….
When I say these guys are rural I mean it! Set amongst rolling green hills sits a farm, an office, a house or two and a food factory. All tucked away down a long driveway with the glow of bright yellow flowers in the background. This was different to the many food and supplement manufacturing plants I’ve been to that are mostly carparks amidst huge sterile looking sheds with very little character. They did still make me wear the standard food factory attire though – very unattractive net hat, shoe coverings and a disposable lab coat 😉
Graeme and Alice gave me the grand tour. First off was the seed storage – harvested in July the seed is stored where it is grown then brought over to this side of the farm in batches to fill the 10tonne hoppers x 3 that pump seed through to the presses. These presses are gentle slow creatures that keep the temperature of the oil below 35C. This is called cold pressing. The room is warm not hot and not noisy at all. The rustic smell of oil and earth permeates the room. The seeds are pressed by rotational force by one of 6 machines separating the oil from the husk.
The oil drips down into tubes while the husk is pushed through and collected. This husk or waste matter is called ‘meal’ and is used for animal feed and to make artificial logs with. I found that fascinating! The oil then gets filtered through a plate and frame filter press (which i thought looked like a beehive).
The oil comes out looking much clearer and is a lovely golden colour. From here it travels via a tube to a room next door; the bottling plant. The bottles are imported as although Hill Farm looked they couldn’t find this type of bottle in the UK. It’s a long narrow bottle that is dark in colour. The bottling process is automated via a fancy machine that pumps the oil straight from the tube into the bottles, caps them, seals them, labels them and sends them on their way…to the ladies who were packing them in boxes the day I visited.The boxes are then stored in a cool dark room for subsequent shipping to store.
Sam the owner then made me a cup of hot green tea which was most appreciated as it was a cold snowy day. We talked about the health benefits of Hill Farm rapeseed oil amongst other things such as glamping in nearby Norfolk.
I gathered the following points from our chat:
- Buying UK oil uses ALOT less food miles
- Dark bottles are better for storing oil as they reduce UV exposure
- Vitamin E is not only an antioxidant acting as a preservative but it holds the oil together during cooking
- Rapeseed oil is to the UK as Olive Oil is to Italy
- Oil labelled Vegetable oil is rapeseed oil but goes through an additional process of heat pressing to extract more oil from the seeds. It’s this heat pressing that is thought to damage the nutrients in oil.
- Rapeseed varieties have different flavours as do other oils. Most oils are blended to arrive at the required flavour. Hill Farm rapeseed oil may change in flavour however they do use the same variety to try to maintain the most velvety texture and nutty flavour. It tastes great in dressings.
- Oil from a single estate ie harvested from the one farm is more premium than multiple estate oils.
- Single estate oil is usually more expensive than multiple estate oil. The Hill Farm Oil is surprisingly affordable given it is a single estate oil
- Rapeseed oil is used in some cosmetics.
- Rapeseed oil is significantly lower in saturated fats than other oils and of course than butter. It has 6% saturated fat compared to 10% in sunflower oil, 14% lower than olive oil and 51% in butter.
The provenance of this oil really struck me. I grew up in Australia where it is culturally important to purchase Australian made. Many companies aimed to put the little ‘Australian Made’ logo on their products. We all know that buying locally helps the economy but it may also increase the nutritional value of your diet.
For example, if we buy tomatoes that are to travel far before reaching their sales point, they need to be picked earlier ie before they are ripe, then travel in humidity controlled transport and ‘ripened’ by nitrogen just before we buy them. Yet the important antioxidants such as lycopene are formed in tomatoes at the end of the ripening process ONLY when this occurs on the vine.
Heat and vibration of transport can damage chemicals in food – particularly heat sensitive items such as oil. Instinctively to me, the more variables in all parts of the growing, harvesting, processing (pressing in this case) and packaging (bottling) of any food item the more likely it is something will go wrong. I am more likely to trust a products health claims if they are bound to adhere to the local rules of where I live, if they consume their own product and if they know exactly what goes into it.
For those interested I was not paid to visit Hill Farm. I was supplied with some complimentary bottles of oil so watch out for some recipes. All opinions are my own.