We reported earlier on cooking oil alternatives and the aronia berry, an antioxidant-rich native superfruit making a resurgence on farms in the Midwest. Similarly, another healthful newcomer, the cold-pressed oil of the camelina seed, has been getting attention for an impressive nutritional profile and all-around culinary versatility.
Omega Maiden's Kathleen Batalden Smith returned to her family's fifth-generation farm in Minnesota with some new ideas after working in agricultural development in West Africa. While camelina, a plant with ancient roots sometimes called "wild flax" or "gold of pleasure," has been grown in the U.S. for use as biofuel, the Batalden farm is among the first to exploit the seed as a food crop. Containing about 35 percent heart-healthy, anti-inflammatory linoleic acid, camelina oil is superior to olive oil and comparable to flaxseed oil in terms of Omega-3 fatty acid levels, but has the added benefit of higher vitamin E content and greater shelf-stability. Smith clued us in on camelina oil's optimized Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio. "Ideally, our bodies prefer if our diet includes about a 2-to-1 ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids," Smith says. "But the average Western diet has a ratio of about 10 or even 20 to 1, in large part because of the dominance of vegetable oils like canola, corn, soy, and cottonseed, as well as grain-fed meats." With its perfect ratio, camelina has the effect of "rebalancing our bodies," she adds.
Mild and nutty-flavored, unrefined camelina oil has a high smoke point of 475 degrees, making it a great choice for cooking and roasting. It also plays well in salad dressings, pesto, marinades, and on toast (or add a Omega-3-rich tablespoon to your juice or smoothie) and will keep in your pantry without going rancid for 18 months or longer. After first selling the product online and in food co-ops in Minnesota and the Midwest, Omega Maiden is expanding its distribution range; the bottles now appear in some Whole Foods Markets on the West Coast and may soon arrive on the East Coast.
While outsize health claims can't always be trusted, camelina oil's nutritional profile is backed by studies conducted by food scientists at the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. And Omega Maiden's certified-organic camelina gets further props as a low-input, sustainable crop, grown without irrigation, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or intensive tilling – meaning camelina is as good for the Earth as it is for your body. [$12.99, omegamaidenoils.com]