by Eliza Ward
Imagine a shelf-stable oil that not only tastes good, but is almost as high in omega-3 fatty acids as flaxseed oil, has high levels of a rare type of vitamin E, and can be grown in such a way that it might just be our nation’s solution to growing bio-fuels without disrupting our current food supply chain. Imagine….Meet Camelina Oil – the Next Big Super Food
From the same family as kale, broccoli and mustard, Camelina started its heritage as an oil seed crop. Archeologists have found evidence of Camelina use from Lake Constance in Germany/Switzerland dating back to 5000 BC. It was the oil for the Celts when those tribes migrated all over Europe, spreading the seeds as they went. Then Camelina farming spread even further during the Roman Empire, when it was also used as lamp oil. Although praised through the ages for its culinary and medicinal properties, when industrialization came along Camelina disappeared – along with 75 percent of the other traditional “real food” crops. This oil was shunted aside because it did not lend itself to hydrogenation.
Ironically, the very reason that it was worthless to large food production companies is the very reason this oil is actually good for you.
Emmer and Camelina being harvested.
Camelina Oil is now experiencing a renaissance, due in part to the ongoing search for sustainable bio-fuels in Europe. It turns out Camelina may work better in some bio-fuel farming situations than rape (or canola) seed oil. And interestingly, while it makes for a decent bio-fuel, its chemical composition is actually better suited to the production of bio-plastics. Imagine the day that your child goes to school with a sandwich that is actually healthier for them the longer it sits in the zip-lock bag… Whether or when Camelina “plastic” reaches large scale production remains to be seen. However, as a cooking and salad oil, there are few better sources.Here are three great reasons to switch to Camelina Oil today.Reason #1: Camelina Oil is High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids
There is an ever-growing understanding of the importance of essential fatty acids in achieving a good, healthy diet. There are many types of fatty acids, the most commonly known ones are Omega-3s, Omega-6s and Omega-9s. Omega-3s and Omega-6s are especially critical to ongoing healthy bodily functions, and they are called “essential” because our bodies cannot make them – we must consume them.
Due primarily to the fact that there are many fewer natural sources of omega-3s, and that omega-6s are less volatile than omega-3s, modern diets strongly favor omega-6s. Food manufactures specifically prefer omega-6s because they “hold up” longer, which means products maintain a longer shelf life and are less likely to go rancid. As it turns out, like many things in life, balance is the key to our long-term healthy existence.
But there in lies the main problem. The American and Northern European diets are way out of whack; our diets are too high in omega-6s when compared to omega-3s. Over abundance of omega-6s in our diet can lead to a multitude of health problems. Our bodies can easily convert linoleic acid or omega-6s (as well as alpha-linolenic acid) into longer chain fatty acids, which lead to the production of eicosanoids. Eicosanoids, depending on their source, can have both positive and negative effects on our bodies. But generally speaking, the eicosanoids produced by the over abundance of omega-6s are believed to produce mostly negative affects, such as an increase in blood clotting (which leads to heart attack and stroke), a suppression of the immune system (leaving us more susceptible to infection), an increase in cellular growth (promoting the growth of cancer cells), and the creation of new blood vessels (which can feed cancer cells.)
As we become more knowledgeable about the need to balance our consumption of essential fatty acids, the demand for plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids has increased. Specifically, there is a demand for consumable oils that provide a more optimum balance of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Although the optimal omega-3s to omega-6s ratio is up to some debate, it is clear that the average American or Northern European diet is far from optimal. Experts estimate that during the Stone Age the ration was approximately 1-to-0.8. That is in stark contrast to today’s Northern European and American diets that have ratios of 1-to-15 and 1-to-16.7, respectively. And it is in stark contract to all of the expert recommendations, which range anywhere from 1-to-1 to as high as 1-to-4.
Clearly we have a long way to go to get back to “neutral”, but including Camelina Oil in your diet can help. Camelina Oil tests at a ratio of 2.3 omega-3s to 1 omega-6. Clearly, like Flaxseed and Cod-Liver Oil, Camelina Oil is healthy oil. Just as important, you can use Camelina Oil in many more ways without having to endure the characteristic fishy or linseed-oily aftertaste. And, because of the high levels of Gamma Tocopherol, a Vitamin E with strong antioxidant properties, Camelina oil is not only extra healthy, but it has a very long shelf life and can withstand higher cooking temperatures.Reason #2: Camelina Oil Tastes Great
It turns out that Camelina Oil is a wonderful salad oil – and not just because it is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids. Camelina oil actually tastes great. A hint of broccoli? Or is it asparagus? Or is it pea? Not sure … but it is surprisingly delicious, with mellow nutty overtones and flavorful, but not overly so. Over the last 10 years, a whole slew of small oil press companies began supplying local stores and restaurants in southern Germany, Austria, Luxemburg and France with Camelina Oil. That effort was consistent with the growing “real food” movement, and chefs began concocting delicious vinaigrettes using Camelina Oil and balsamic vinegar or wine vinegars with fabulous results.
With the ongoing growth of the “functional food” category, it seems like we often are forced to choose between good health and good taste. Well, not this time! Unlike flaxseed oil and fish oil, Camelina Oil has a nicely nutty flavor and aroma, and can withstand low to moderate heat. So, in addition to dressings and dips, it can be used for baking and sautéing, as well as other low-heat cooking applications. Pretty much any recipe that calls for olive oil, can also take Camelina Oil. Add to that high concentration of Vitamin E (Gamma Tocopherol) and the shelf-stable nature of Camelina Oil, and the choice is clear – and no compromises necessary. In my book, that makes Camelina Oil the next big “super food.” Intercropped organic emmer and camelina from Tim Mar on Vimeo.
As the Camelina trend grew in Europe, organic farmers began experimenting with a sustainable growing practice called intercropping, or “Mischkultur.” The concept is to grow grain, legume and Camelina crops together in one field at the same time, harvest them simultaneously, and then separate them after harvest. The agronomic advantages of intercropping are numerous, including better weed control without the use of chemicals, and a considerable increase in microbial soil activity leading, intimately, to more nutrient-rich grain and legume crops. Additionally, like a perfect dance partner where the sum is greater than the parts, there is also the added advantage that the oil crop is being grown with no deficit in food or feed production, which means a higher return per acre for the farmer. What could be more perfect, or sustainable?Then Along Came Lena Camelina
Camelina came to America when Montana State researchers were investigating oil crop options for dry land farming. Great Plains Oil, a subsidy of British Oil Corp with global reach, gommed onto that research and has been pushing for large-scale Camelina bio-fuel production. However, their seed has been genetically altered through molecular breeding at Helsinki, Finland and is a non-food item.
In 2006, Rene Featherstone and Lena Lentz of Lentz Spelt Farms obtained two heirloom varieties of Camelina seed from the early stages of the Montana research/pilot program, and began to cultivate it. As it turns out, Camelina is very adaptable to a wide range of growing conditions – which means it is an excellent crop for a place like Marlin, Washington, which measures an average of only 8 inches of precipitation a year. In 2008, Lentz Farms partnered with an organic farmer near by to create the first organic “Mischkultur” on irrigated acreage. This year they are celebrating a successfully intercrop of Camelina with Emmer Farro grain. They are calling their heirloom crop “Lena Camelina”, after Lena of Lentz Spelt Farms.Pick a Different Dance Partner and Add a Little Camelina Oil to Your Life Today
So what are you waiting for? Get off that chair, and update your dance card. Add Lena Camelina Oil to your list of amazing ingredients worth consuming every day. I put a few tablespoons into my yogurt smoothie every morning, but there are many other ways to add a little Camelina boost into your daily routine. Here are a few simple recipe ideas to get your culinary imagination (and blood) flowing. Most of these recipes called for either olive oil or vegetable oil – and we just used some Camelina Oil instead – it’s that easy!
Click here to buy Lena Camelina OilSo, imagine a shelf-stable oil that not only tastes good, but is almost as high in omega-3 fatty acids as flaxseed oil, has high levels of vitamin E, and can be grown in such a way that it might just be our nation’s solution to growing bio-fuels without disrupting our current food supply chain. Imagine….