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The rediscovery of forgotten edible oils.. Are edible oils good for health?

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If sunflower, rapeseed or olive oils still dominate our diet, tastier, rarer, more “trendy” oils are invading our kitchens. Walnut oil, carnation, shuttle, squash, hemp… which one to choose? How are they produced and what interests do they have compared to “classic” oils?

An evolution in tastes and ways of consuming

Less butter, less oils consumed raw: this has been the trend since the 1980s. But with the explosion of processed dishes and consumption outside the home, the consumption of vegetable oils has in fact increased very sharply (13.1Kg / ha / year in 1998 against 16.4 ten years later). Rapeseed oil still dominates the market very strongly (almost 50% of production), followed by soybeans, sunflower, then palm oil.

However, there is a niche market for oils extracted from other plants (estimated at 3% of production) and it is growing strongly. It corresponds to a new consumer demand for tastier, rarer oils, produced by small local producers or craftsmen who work with plants that are sometimes forgotten like shuttle, flax, poppy, camelina… 

Oils that change table oils

If all vegetable oils are composed almost 100% of lipids and have the same caloric value (1 tablespoon represents approximately 90 calories), it is the nature of the fatty acids which compose them which differentiates the vegetable oils between them . Each oil has its own nutritional benefits, with sometimes very specific nutrients. These new oils are mainly known for these nutritional criteria, even though they were confined to the essential oils department and often intended more for cosmetology or medication than for food consumption!

These new oils are cold pressed like all quality oils but packaged in small volumes because of their cost, but also because of their sometimes more restricted use and their sometimes more delicate conservation. 

Oils rediscovered from our terroirs

All plants contain lipids in their seeds but in different contents. Extraction is therefore possible, but with more or less attractive yields. So, if walnut and hazelnut oils are fairly commonly used (even in Fast Food dressing recipes!), It is because the seeds are rich in lipids. But not all seeds are very pleasant to taste or too strong like that of almond which is de facto more used in cosmetics for its softening properties. But nothing prevents you from consuming it.

In the rediscovered oils, there is pumpkin seed oil . If the squash is rather known in France for its flesh, the oil extracted from its seeds is widely consumed in most European countries bordering the Adriatic. It is a thick oil with green to red reflections, with a fairly marked taste of quince and notes of white meat juice. 

Encouraging the cultivation of flax, hemp or camelina… stimulates the extraction of oils rich in flavor

Certain species which were very cultivated in the XIXth century had almost completely disappeared from the European agricultural landscape in the 60s. This is the case of hemp, flax or even camelina. These ecological and multi-purpose plants are gradually regaining their letters of nobility. The cultivated areas are generally very small in France, but allow to supply small oil extraction units.

Camelina is from the Brassicaceae family (formerly cruciferous). It looks like rapeseed, with a tall stem, yellow flowers and fruit clusters that contain oil-rich seeds. In the same family, we also rediscover the shuttle , the ancestor of rapeseed, which is cultivated for its seeds and as a fodder plant. The seed contains between 30 and 35% oil with the taste of cabbage and turnip.

The hemp , he is a cultivated plant species of the family Cannabaceae – cannabis, whose content of psychotropic substance is very low and controlled. Its seeds, also called hempseed, give very balanced oils. Carnation oil is produced from the seeds of the blue poppy. Pale yellow in color, sweet and pleasant, it has a taste close to that of fresh hazelnuts. On the nose, there are notes of violets, chopped herbs and a stick of liquorice.

Exotic oils acclaimed by consumers

Imported seeds have been processed for many years to produce oil used as ingredients in cosmetology or as essential oils. This is the case with sesame, pistachio, almonds and even grilled argan.

Sesame oil is a thick, amber oil used in many oriental pastries. Sesame is experiencing strong development in sub-Saharan countries because its oil is widely used in Asian cuisine.

Nicknamed “the happy almond” by the Chinese, the pistachio produces a rather green fluid oil. The taste of pistachio oil is mild, rather sweet.

Argan oil is made from the fruit of the argan tree, a small tree found only in southwest Morocco and western Algeria. It produces small yellow-brown fruits when ripe, containing a very hard nut, itself containing two to three almonds. They are the ones which, when roasted and pressed, give argan oil. This roasting phase gives argan oil a slightly toasty scent, between toasted sesame oil and hazelnut oil.  

Are they good for your health?

Most oils, too rich in omega 6, are capable of triggering cardiovascular and inflammatory disorders. However, the new oils most often contain a much more balanced ratio between omega 3 and omega 6, which allows them to claim beneficial effects for the health of the arteries and reduce the cholesterol levels in the blood.

Some of these oils are also rich in protein , minerals, vitamins and fiber and have antioxidant properties.

However, the consumption recommendations for oils such as essential oils are in the order of a tablespoon per day, in addition to other oils. First, because depending on the quality of the extraction method, certain allergenic proteins can be found in the oil. So watch out for people allergic to nuts or hazelnuts! Some oils – such as those of Argan or coconut – also have fairly poor fatty acid profiles, even harmful to health (see box).
Most importantly, no large-scale study for any of these oils has clinically confirmed the health claims.

Sometimes, even restrictions exist on oils very rich in omega 3 which oxidize very quickly like linseed oil which can neither be heated nor kept in the light and which must be consumed quickly opening of the bottle… These oils, like linseed oil (which contains 60% omega 3), camelina (which contains 35%), hemp (17%) or even seeds blackcurrants (13%) are difficult to keep and do not support cooking well. Under the action of light, open air or heat, omega 3 indeed fix oxygen, which causes their rancidity, responsible for an unpleasant smell and taste.

But why are they so fashionable?

These oils in fact respond to a demand from consumers for diversification. Each oil can bring a different touch to vegetables and dishes, and it is this touch of originality and more pronounced taste that seduces. These oils are often produced in small artisanal units which correspond to the desire to consume differently and to buy locally. Oils are often offered in a quarter liter or half liter, which makes them “luxury” products in the kitchen or “pleasure” moments accessible to everyone.

As none of the oils has an ideal nutritional composition, it is recommended to alternate them to guarantee an excellent balance between the different fatty acids and take advantage of the antioxidant properties of some. In short, for oils, as for all foods, diversity is the key to good health!

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