Nearly everyone on earth knows that there is no such thing as a Leprechaun that isn’t actually that wee oaf Matt Roloff mugging about in a green top hat on St. Paddy’s Day; likewise, most folks understand that there is no creature called a pastrami and that King Canute did not command the tide to reverse in a fit of delusional arrogance, but instead to prove to his privy council that we all must bend to forces beyond our control: Duh.
However, hardly anyone knows that canola oil is not made from a canola plant.
‘Canola’ is, in fact, Canadian reductionary politics; it is an abbreviation for ‘CANadian Oil, Low Acid’.
But why not call a spade a spade? Because spades find it insulting, that’s why. And because, in this case, on the day that they were naming stuff, the dude in charge of Brassica napus L. apparently snuck one too many snorts of Canadian rye and decided to call it ‘rape’. Canola oil is a derivative of processed rapeseed, and it is generally understood that the term ‘Canola Oil’ was created as a way to avoid the obvious connotations of calling your product ‘Rape Oil’.
Now, if they can only come up with a replacement name for Peruvian Vehicular Homicide Oil and Monégasque Kiddie Porn Oil, we will have entered a brave, new world of political correctness.
What Does The Above Have To Do With Grapeseed Oil?
Nothing, except that rapeseed and grapeseed rhyme, and I have poetry inside my soul, my brothers and sisters.
Last week, the good folks at Napa’s Castello di Amorosa sent me a bottle of their latest waste-not-want-not innovation: Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Sangiovese Grapeseed Oil.
Made for Castello di Amorosa by Salute Santé, a Napa-based division of Food & Vine, Inc., a pretty good case can be made that grapeseed oil is the healthiest oil on the market. That pronouncement is made simply by stacking up stats against its nearest competitor, the imperious sexual-assault-seed oil from Western Canada. Try it, and you’ll see that they are barely in the same league.
And in the same side-by-side comparison, olive oil is still playing pee-wee t-ball with Uncle Dad on the grade-school playground.
First, a word on what we are supposed to like and what we are supposed to avoid in choosing a cooking oil, followed by a mano y mano percentage comparison.
Saturated Fatty Acid = Bad fat: Primarily found in animal products, this fat is often solid at room temperature. The white stuff that clots on the surface of your homemade stock when it cools down? That’s saturated fat. Chemists who haven’t yet discovered how to make blue methamphetamine and still work with food science will blather on about chains of carbon atoms saturated with hydrogen atoms until you realize that you actually do need to smoke a little meth to remain awake. Suffice to say, this stuff—found in meat, butter and mostly in tropical oils from coconuts, palm kernels and cocoa beans—increases LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and can kill you via heart disease.
Mono-Unsaturated Fatty Acids = Pretty good fat: If he were here, Bill Nye would sit you down and explain that mono-unsaturated fats have a single double bond (not an oxymoron, actually) in the fatty acid chain, allowing for a higher melting point than sister poly; chilled, they are semi-solid. Monos are said to reduce LDL cholesterol while increasing the high-density version—a consummation devoutly to be wished. Downside is that it is believed that mono fats may be linked to breast cancer when certain of the body’s enzymes start misbehaving; also, it is possible that mono-unsaturated fats may promote resistance to insulin. This fat family is found lurking inside nuts and seeds, and especially in high-fat fruits like olives and avocados.
Omega 6 Linoleac Acid = Somewhat bad fat: A charter member of the polyunsaturated fat family, Omega six—also written as ω−6 (ω is a baby Ω)—has a lipid number of 18:2(n-6), which you didn’t know, and to be effective, Omega six relies upon conversion to n-6 eicosanoids, then binding to receptors found in every tissue of the body, which you really didn’t know, and is also released by cockroaches upon their deaths to warn other cockroaches not to enter the area, which you really, really didn’t know. Anyway, in quantities balanced with ω−3, with an optimal level being 2:1, this double-bond-in-the-n-6 molecule proves beneficial for brain function and the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Vital to understand is that when the ratio is out of whack—and in most unhealthy American diets it is—the effects are not only counteracted, they are reversed, so that Omega six becomes associated with arthritis, inflammation, and cancer.
Found in high amounts in poultry and eggs, four major food oils are responsible for the bulk of the Omega six in our diets: Palm, soybean, canola and sunflower.
Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid = Good fat: Logic would tell you that if the monos have a single double-bond within their chemical backbone, the polys have more than one—and logic would tell you correctly. Such oils tend to dry and harden upon exposure to air, which is why you squeeze, rather than pour oil paint from the Grumbacher tube. In terms of health, this fat is fundamental in supplying energy for the muscles, heart and other organs; it is believed to reduce low-density cholesterol levels (a good thing) while raising the high-density levels (a better thing). It is a vital dietary component for pregnant women as it critical to fetal development; it is also positively associated with cognitive and behavioral performance, thus proving out the old axiom that fish is brain food: Polyunsaturated fats can be found in high concentrations in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, trout and sardines. In terms of food oil, grapeseed leads the fishing expedition, while much-heralded olive and canola oils are barely relegated to the status of also-rans.
Smoke Point: For cooks—even unhealthy ones—among grapeseed oil’s biggest advantages is the extremely high temperatures it can reach before it hits smoke point—the point at which a cooking oil begins to break down and produce smoke. The moment that happens, flavor and nutritional value begin to degrade, so in deep-fry applications, smoke point dictates precisely what you can accomplish with a particular oil.
Here are some common smoke points:
Butter: 250 ° F
Corn: 410 ° F
Olive: 280 ° F
Canola: 400 ° F
Grapeseed: 485 ° F
No real need to mention trans fat among polite society, is there? I mean, it’s created in the lab by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil, and we all pretty much agree than this is the kind of diabolical, artery-clogging, heart-disease inspiring, inflammation inciting, cholesterol-concocting provender that Satan devours when he stops by for tea ‘n’ crumpets—(using his left hand exclusively)—as narrated in the Hadiths on the authority of Jabir b. Abdullah.
In any case, I have no information about how much trans fat grapeseed oil contains, but I am betting that it ain’t much.
Then the Other Shoe Drops…
As the health and functional pluses mount in favor of grapeseed oil, you knew there just had to be some reason why you wouldn’t be using it going forward, didn’t you. That’s life—and life sucks the whopping whale weenie.
And here it is: The stuff is expensive. How expensive? Parmagiani Bugatti diamond-studded wristwatch expensive. 1929 supercharged Blower Bentley single-seater expensive. Fill a Fabergé egg, c. 1897, with Terra Nera ‘Kopi Luwak’ coffee beans, see what you can get for it at Sotheby and you will get a vague idea of how much they charge for grapeseed oil.
Not That They Can’t Justify It…
Figure that a ton of pressed grapes is about ¼ pomace—pomace being everything about a grape that isn’t grape juice. From this, you can harvest 68 lbs. of grape seeds that, when processed, yields three liters of oil.
The oil sent me by Castello di Amorosa was pressed from 100% sangiovese seed, and in 2011, if you wanted to purchase a ton of California sangiovese grapes, you had to shell out $800.
Granted, the seeds and pomace are by-catch, but still, that’s a $266 cash outlay for each liter of grapeseed oil in raw material alone; then you have to figure in the state-of-the-art equipment, which CdA stresses is ‘Engineered in Germany’—like if the Germans are so good, how did they manage to lose two wars in succession?—and the Food & Vine people indicate that the oil is pressed under a newly patented process especially designed for grapeseeds, allowing the oil to flow at temperatures less than 98.6ºF and into settle tanks without filtering out biologically active substances—and from there into special, light protective glass bottles.
So, assuming that I pay about thirty dollars for three liters of good (not great) quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, equating (obviously) to a penny per milliliter, the 100 ml. bottle of Castello di Amorosa cold-pressed extra virgin grapeseed oil, which sells for $10, is ten times as expensive.
The leftover pomace, by the way, is dried into ‘press cakes’ and used to make grape flour. Nothing wasted. Good God, these Castello di Amorosans are like the Inuit with their caribou.
And speaking of the castle dwellers, I believe they greased my palm with the oil less to see a review about that, but as incentive to do an in-depth review of the wines they also shipped. I’ll give it my best shot!:
Other than that, alas, I am out of column inches.
Castello di Amorosa Extra Virgin Cold Pressed Sangiovese Grapeseed Oil, around $10 (100ml.): You could probably guzzle a growler of olive oil and not identify the taste of olives, but this oil is so unmistakably grape-based that you can smell the fruit from a yard away. The taste is even more pronounced: I rolled around a quarter ounce in my mouth, and it was grappa made manifest. Despite its pronounced and commendable loyalty to species, the oil is light and buttery with faint overtone of walnuts. The oil makers and oil hawkers keep pushing the high smoke point, but frankly it wouldn’t occur to me to cook with this delicate ambrosia—not yet anyhow. The most outrageous thing I have done up to now is dip in a crusty chunk of Ciabatta and drizzle some over baby spinach leaves. Anything else is a bit heretical for my [substantial] money.