Rapeseed oil has gathered fans for its health benefits, unique taste and distinctive golden colour. Russell Brown discovers how farmer Duncan Farrington brought the oil to market
Rapeseed oil has certainly come to the fore in recent years, emerging as a ‘healthy alternative’ to vegetable oils, with high levels of omega fatty acids and low in saturated fats.
Although it is now produced across the UK, Farrington Oils was a pioneer, producing England’s first ‘seed to bottle’ product, Mellow Yellow, in 2005. Owner Duncan Farrington is the fourth generation of his family to farm in Northamptonshire and he has seen the family business move away from traditional crops, such as cereals, to farming rapeseed.
Farrington studied agriculture at university and part of his thesis was on rapeseed – an area of interest he returned to after university when he joined his parents to work on the farm.
When Farrington proposed his idea for farming rapeseed oil, his family were behind the idea, but getting started wasn’t simple. The project was initially turned down for a government grant, but Farrington argued his case and the decision was reversed.
In 2005, Farrington and his mother pressed the first harvest, producing just 100 bottles of oil. Farrington loaded the bottles into the boot of his car and approached local retailers, farm shops and delicatessens. The oil sold, but when Farrington talked directly to his customers, the common question was: “What do we do with it?” Eli, Farrington’s wife, had been making a honey and mustard dressing from the oil, and they decided to take some to the next market for people to taste. Farrington admits that he didn’t pick up on this potential market at first, and instead told his customer that it was easy to make and gave them a verbal recipe. He then produced a recipe tag for the oil bottle before producing and selling the dressing to Eli’s recipe.
That first honey and mustard dressing has been joined by a classic vinaigrette, a balsamic dressing, mayonnaise, garlic mayonnaise and a chilli oil. All the products are free from additives and the ingredients are Leaf (Linking Environment And Farming) certified. Leaf is a charity that encourages farmers to look at the wider impact of their businesses and helps them to produce sustainable products, and the accreditation covers a wide area, including soil management and fertility, energy efficiency, landscape and nature conservation.
Rapeseed is an annual crop that is bred to produce a large quantity of oil. It has a mild, nutty taste with notes of raw sesame and cream. The oil can be bitter, but Farrington says his version isn’t because of the way the seed is handled, stored and processed – all reasons why Farrington’s do everything in-house. The seed itself is black with a yellow core, and it’s the coating that contains tannins that can give a bitter flavour. Duncan says: “When the seed is squeezed gently but quickly, the oil is released without mixing with the seed coating and oxidation is avoided.”
The business began with one small, food-grade oil press, but as the company has grown, rather than changing to bigger presses, they have increased the number of presses to 10.
Farrington’s supplies a number of products in larger formats aimed at the foodservice industry through wholesalers, although this sector was much harder to gain traction in than the retail market. The company was unable to compete with those offering 20-litre drums of vegetable oil for frying, so the strategy was to offer the rapeseed oil as a replacement for pomace oil – an oil obtained from olives after the first or virgin press.
When Farrington was introduced to Adam Gray, Michelin-starred executive chef at Bourne and Hollingsworth, at a student dinner held at Northampton College, he was able to convince him of the oil’s benefits and Farrington learned how to supply to the restaurant industry. Gray says: “I love using Farrington’s Mellow Yellow rapeseed oil in my kitchen. It has half the saturated fat of olive oil, is high in omega 3, is cost-effective and it has a distinctive nutty taste and amazing golden colour. It is also a privilege to support British farmers such as Duncan.”