Quite some time ago I used to go restaurant to restaurant collecting their used kitchen grease to filter and use as fuel in my vintage diesel Mercedes. How fulfilling it was to go past gas stations on a daily basis while motoring down the road in a car with exhaust that smells like french fries. During this time of freedom from big oil I took some time to educate myself on food oil and how they are made. Here’s what I found and you can read lots more just by Googling the topic.
Scanning the food oil section at the store turns up an array of choices. Generally at the bottom of the stack is the large, very cheap vegetable oils and as you ascend the shelves the price rises. In the mix you will find Canola, Sunflower, Olive oil and many others. An olive oil label may say Virgin or Extra Virgin or 100% Virgin. Ah, the truth behind the lies. Did you know that olive oil on your typical grocers shelf actually has 10% or less Olive Oil in it? It’s vegetable oil from further down the selection with a dash of Olive Oil. According to the FDA though, you can label the oil as 100% Olive Oil if you used 100% Olive Oil as an ingredient.
I didn’t know the real tasted of Olive Oil until Mel and I visited a Artisan Oil store in Bar Harbor, ME. The real deal is far more robust and flavorful than the garbage touted as such at the grocery store. Fiore imports all of their oils direct from different regions of Italy and even some from different parts of the world. Their oil does not hit air until it is bottled fresh for you upon purchase. They also, sell real balsamic vinegar which is far from the nasty vinegar we here in ‘Merica dump on our fries [not me I think it's nasty]. Real fruit balsamic vinegar is delicious on ice cream, but I’ll save that for a different post.
Did you realize that most food oil purchase or consumed today is made via solvent extraction? What is that you ask? Well, essentially the oil seed is suspended in Hexane, a derivative of gasoline. The Hexane pulls the oil from the seed and due to different gravities the oil floats on top of the Hexane. [lesson: gravity is like when a bartender makes a real black and tan. Due to the different gravities of the Stout & Pale Ale, they separate] The Hexane is drained from below and the oil is water washed leaving residual amounts of gas on the oil, which is fine with the FDA.
So, when you are shopping for oil and if the Hexane concerns you, buy only oil that was expeller pressed. This is a process in which the seed is pressed between two metal surfaces under extreme pressure to extract the oil. A much cleaner and far better oil than solvent extracted. Here in North Central PA there happens to be a small Artisanal oil producer under the name of Susquehanna Mills.
Susquehanna Mills currently produces mostly Canola Oil done using the expeller extraction method. What is unique to them is there model. SM contracts area and regional farmers to grow their Canola. SM then takes all the Canola to their facility after harvest and presses the seed for bottling. Some of the product is distributed in consumer sized bottles and some is dispersed to local restaurants for frying oil. The restaurant oil is then collected by Susquehanna Smart Fuel, a division of Susquehanna Mills and made into biodiesel which is then sold or traded back to the farmers who grow the crops. It’s a full circle product, local product. Sure they aren’t big [food] oil and never will be, but for the discerning consumer such as myself, I’m delighted to have them in my area.
So, next time your shopping for food oil at the grocery store make sure your looking in the “crunchy-hippie” section for the real deal.