Taste the Potential of Cold-Pressed Virgin Manitoba Canola Oil

Growers team up with researchers to test new product

The day may soon come when chefs brag about the variety of virgin Manitoba canola oil they use. At least

that's the hope of a new product development project by the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network Inc. (MAHRN) in co-operation with the Manitoba Canola Growers Association (MCGA).

Supported by the MCGA and funded by Growing Forward 2, the project ran its first test of cold-pressed canola oil late last year, unveiling the results at a Manitoba Canola Growers #CanolaConnect event in March 2014.

"It's a really tasty product," says Ellen Pruden, education and promotion manager with MCGA. "It is really packed with flavour. It's nutty and has a very dark-yellow hue to it. The initial response from chefs and food writers has been very encouraging."

That response is key in determining if cold-pressed virgin canola oil can be a viable commercial product. If it stands up to the taste tests of critics, it could become a new revenue stream for farms looking to sell consumer ready products.

"Many farmers are already familiar with cold presses," says Lee Anne Murphy, executive director of MAHRN. "It's a relatively easy and inexpensive technology to operate on the farm.

"Our task," she says, "was to get something in a bottle that was food safe and of acceptable quality. We've definitely done that. Now we need to look at whether this can be commercialized."

Growing Innovation in Manitoba

This project is the latest example of how MAHRN forms clusters of companies and organizations to drive innovation in the food sector. Its goal is to add value to Manitoba food products in ways that are profitable and sustainable. The virgin canola project received funds through the Growing Innovation Program - Capacity and Knowledge Development, which is part of Growing Forward 2, a federal-provincial-territorial initiative.

"This is a niche product, but it's a way to add value at the farm gate," says Brian Chorney, an MCGA director whose East Selkirk farm provided the seed for the test batch of cold-pressed virgin canola oil. "We need to try to find out how large that niche is and how many people are willing to pay a bit of a premium. That's what's required to make this whole thing work."

Second phase to feature more farms

More testing is required and the second phase of the project will feature seed from four different farms representing different regions with unique soil and climate conditions.

"We want to see if different regions will give you different flavour profiles," Pruden says. "We want to see if there is a taste factor that is unique to us and the regions and soils of Manitoba. If there is, we also want to see how those different qualities affect both taste and functionality of the oil."

In June, MCGA will add seed samples from farms in the Russell and Newdale areas for the second pressing. The pressing will be done at the Food Development Centre in Portage la Prairie. It will test the product and bottle it for distribution to chefs and others for further commercial testing.

Other beneficial uses

While much of the interest and focus is on the quality of the oil, it's also important to demonstrate that the entire cold-press process is sustainable. Project partners are looking carefully at the meal left after the pressing. Canola meal is high in protein and research shows vegetable based proteins can have positive health effects, including lowering cholesterol. Canola meal is already used in animal feed, but doesn't have a history of being used in human food.

If phase two proves successful and MAHRN finds suitable uses for the products, the next challenge will be to see if more farmers are interested in bringing branded products to market. It's relatively easy for a farmer to load a crop in a truck and take it to the elevator to sell, but selling a premium product in small batches directly to consumers will be something new.

Educating the public

"This will change your focus a bit as a farmer," says Chorney. "You'll have to become familiar with the marketplace. You'll have to understand what the consumer is looking for, whether it's a chef in Winnipeg or gourmet cooks at home."

The project has already been successful in providing an opportunity for the public to learn more about canola and the farmers who grow it.

"This is a chance to use cold-pressed canola as a conversation starter with the urban public," Chorney adds. "This lets us open the discussion about where our food comes from, because there's a segment of the population who want to buy local. They want sustainable practices and they want to know where their food comes from."

Pruden agrees: "We're always looking for ways for our farmers to expand their markets and connect their farms and stories back to consumers. This is a great way for us to do that."

Advantages of virgin oil

Virgin oil means it comes from the first pressing and is made through mechanical means only. The project is using a traditional cold-press method in which the seeds are not heated before, during, or after the pressing process. Seeds are selected, cleaned and crushed and then mechanically pressed at a slow pace to limit friction and avoid elevating temperatures above 60°C. Its color, taste and odor are much more pronounced than those of traditional oils.

Initial research indicates virgin oils have unique attributes. This oil is the first western Canadian canola oil to be marketed as virgin canola oil.

Source: Manitoba Canola Growers and CanolaInfo

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