Culinary experts throughout the province recently got their hands on a few samples of an innovative new canola product, straight out of the product development department at Portage’s Food Development Centre.
The Manitoba Canola Growers Association in collaboration with the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network Inc. (MAHRN) have started cold pressing canola to develop virgin canola oil.
“Last year in conjunction with the MCGA, we decided we would look at canola as it is clearly a large commodity in Manitoba,” said Lee Anne Murphy, executive director with MAHRN. “There are several different ways to press canola seed, but we wanted to look at one that would allow us to feature that craft, artisanal-type of product.”
“I think we are really just on the cusp of this project and it is quite interesting to be involved. The MCGA was excited to partner with the MAHRN and I can’t wait to see where this project is going to take us,” said Ellen Pruden, education and promotions manager with the MCGA.
In the initial stages of the project, MCGA located grower members who had grown the same variety of canola in three different areas throughout the province.
“Just like wine, how the same variety grown in different regions often results in differing flavours, we wanted to see if we could apply that concept to canola,” said Pruden.
This past winter, the MCGA acquired canola seed from grower members in Winkler, Grandview and East Selkirk.
“If you look at these locations on a map, they pretty much represent the north to south reaches of where canola is grown in Manitoba,” said Murphy. “We weren’t sure what kind of end result we were going to come out with. We then used a cold-pressing system that is not expensive, keeping in mind the future possibility of transferring it to an on-farm enterprise.”
The conventional process of canola crushing uses solvents to extract oil from the seed, whereas the cold-pressing process uses only mechanical expellers, resulting in a higher oil and high meal as its byproduct.
The cold-press technique does not require solvent, bleach, deodorization or chemical degumming, which helps the oil retain its natural colour and omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids.
“Cold pressing is exactly what it sounds like. It is a low-temperature pressing of an oilseed to extract as virgin of oil as you can get out of it,” said Murphy. “There is very minimal processing, beyond prepping and a little bit of natural settling.”
Conventionally processed canola oil is generally a light-yellow colour with a neutral taste, while, cold-pressed canola results in a more pronounced colour, taste and odour and because of the ability to retain antioxidant levels, it boasts an extended shelf life.
“We anticipated the results to be different as there are a number of differences in the land but then to see how the finished product is so different is really quite unique,” said Pruden.
“You can certainly see the difference between the different locations in taste and appearance. Biochemically, one of them has a little bit more iron than the other one and one has a slightly different vitamin profile,” said Murphy. “We contribute this all back to the growing conditions because the only difference between them was the location. They were all the same variety, same growing season and same processing method.”
Most recently, the organizations distributed samples of the virgin canola oil to various culinary operations and food writers throughout the province to gain feedback from the industry.
“The MCGA and the MAHRN have sent out these samples to a number of places and we were lucky enough to get some,” said Bryan Hendricks, culinary arts instructor at the Manitoba Institute of Culinary Arts. “They are asking for us to give them a review on how we used it and what we think.”
“We went to our network of culinary contacts and the Manitoba Culinary Institute is one of them. The Canola Growers proudly sponsors their culinary kitchen as well as offers a number of scholarships. Samples were also dispersed to Red River College, Louis Riel school division, the culinary school in Winkler, as well as a number of local chefs,” said Pruden.
Response from these parties will be key in determining if cold-pressed virgin canola oil can be a viable commercial product and possibly a new revenue stream for farms looking to sell consumer-ready products.
“I am going to take some time and play with it. Some oils get bitter when you whip them in a blender or by hand. Heating it up can also change the flavour,” said Hendricks. “I am looking forward to working with it and seeing how it will react to different mediums and then giving my feedback. I believe they are eventually planning to take this to market and I personally think there will definitely be a market for this.”
The project bottled the oil in both 500-ml bottles as well as four-litre jugs for distribution to food-service venues.
“We don’t expect it will be used as a frying oil as there is a lot of good canola oil around for that. This is more geared towards that higher-end recipe development,” said Murphy. “We are really looking to generate some support and excitement with the chef community and local food supporters.”
As feedback is gathered, the organizations will move into the second phase of the project, which focuses on adding value to all components of the seed, expanding crop sources next year to compare and contrast the product results and determining the best path to move the process on farm.
“The ultimate goal is that this will go beyond the associations that are working together on the project and see this really as a farm enterprise. It will really leverage into that local, know your grower, artisanal market and will hold a high value,” said Murphy.