When they say ‘taste the difference’ they really mean it with this canola oil.
Three newly released cold-pressed canola oil products from Manitoba actually do taste like the individual farms the seed producing them came from.
Big Prairie Sky, Heartland and Northern Lights oils hit store shelves earlier this fall.
Owners of farms at Newdale, Starbuck and between Winnipeg Beach and East Selkirk teamed up earlier this year to form the small company, CanFarm Foods Ltd., which produces them.
The oils are a cold-pressed, premium canola oil — also called XV canola, meaning extra virgin — a first for Manitoba.
That canola oil, like wine, could express “terroir” came as a bit of a surprise to them, say these growers.
Terroir is the concept in the wine industry, where growers know a grape varietal will produce widely differentiated wine depending on the geography, soil conditions and climate where it’s grown.
So will canola seed, it seems.
“That was quite a surprise and quite new to us,” says Bruce Dalgarno, Newdale canola grower and one of six shareholders to form CanFarm Foods Ltd.
“We’d never thought of it having different flavours depending on where it was grown.”
Thinking up just the right way to describe those differences proved interesting.
“There are subtle little differences,” said Ellen Pruden, director of the Canola Eat Well program for the Manitoba Canola Growers Association.
She uses words like ‘earthy’ and ‘nutty’ and ‘grassy’ and ‘the smell of the harvest’ as descriptors. It took some time to come up with words that distinguish and describe the oil’s flavours.
“Not a lot of language exists for this,” she said. “Olive oil has a lot more flavour descriptions to go with it. For canola this is a new venture, having consumers understand this diversity.”
It was her long-held fascination with how canola seed, like grapes, could produce this diversity of flavour and colour that got the ball rolling.
Pruden has hosted canola oil tastings for the industry over the years and differences of even everyday canola oil were always notable, she said.
“We’ve done different experiments, tasting all the different types of canola oil and they all tasted different,” she said. “We wondered why.”
Culinary professionals and chefs were keen when they heard about canola oil’s terroir, which eventually started the pursuit in 2014 of a made-in-Manitoba cold-pressed oil product.
The idea was initially pitched to canola growers that year and in time about 20 farms from various parts of the province contributed seed for test batches. That seed was cleaned at Ellis Seeds in Wawanesa then pressed at the Food Development Centre and Shape Foods in Brandon.
NuEats, a partnership with the University of Manitoba faculty of food science and the commercialization arm of the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network, was involved throughout the artisanal oil’s research and development.
CanFarm Foods Ltd. came together and the first products rolled off, or rather, poured out of, the press, in early summer.
They were bottling oil into 250-ml bottles at a commercial kitchen facility in Warren last month.
Brian Chorney, whose East Selkirk farm grows the seed for the Northern Lights batch of oil, sees real opportunity with these products.
“I’ve always thought that there was a premium market that we were missing for canola oil,” he said. “With a cold press and a distinct flavour from different regions, this is an opportunity to move it into that premium market.”
“My brother Jeff and I got interested in this as a way to add some value to the farm,” adds Starbuck farmer Keenan Wiebe. “And it kind of adds to the story of canola and to the local factor of the story as well.”
Just a tiny fraction of these farmers’ crops is needed to produce the three oils. Each of four participating farms have contributed what amounts to about an acre of their overall crop for it.
“When we needed 40 or 50 bushels for this, we just augered it out of the bin,” said Dalgarno.
There’s talk of twentyfold value added to canola streamed to this product. But how much value earned from those small volumes depends on how well Big Prairie Sky, Heartland and Northern Lights go over with consumers.
“As a farmer growing it we’re only going to get paid what we could sell it to the elevator for,” Dalgarno said. “The extra value is going to depend on how the company does in the future.”
All three regionally sourced vintage 2016 oils are now sold on the company’s website and Winnipeg-based Red River Co-op stores are also stocking them in these stores’ Buy Manitoba Section through a partnership forged with Food and Beverage Manitoba.
Discussions are underway with other food retailers and they hope to have more sales outlets soon.
Meanwhile, chefs are very excited about a distinct-flavoured Manitoba canola oil and word has started to spread. The December 2017 issue of Chatelaine features these made-in-Manitoba oils. The Toronto Star ran an article earlier this year.
Pruden has high hopes for these new artisan oils. They add another option in canola’s expanding product line, she said.
‘And it’s so fabulous to see a research project go from the idea stage into research and then to be commercialized. I hope it becomes the No. 1 oil for cold pressed and extra virgin in Canada.”
To learn more, visit the XV Canola Oil website.