Cultivated as long ago as the Bronze Age, Camelina sativa, the flowering plant from which the oil is derived, fell out of favor in the modern American agricultural economy, mainly because it couldn't be made into margarine. But camelina is making a comeback, thanks to its unique properties and adventurous farmers like the Greenwalt Family in Ritzville, Wash.
"The composition of the oil is such that you're looking at 35 percent Omega-3s [compared] to about 3 to 5 percent in olive oil," says Curt Greenwalt, who along with his wife Lynn first started growing the plant five years ago at the urging of his son. "The biggest benefit is the amount of vitamin E. There's about 12 times the amount in camelina as there is in olive oil, and six times as in canola.
"When you cook with it, that vitamin E also acts as an antioxidant and helps protect the oil from producing free radicals," says Greenwalt. That means the oil better withstands high temperature, which is why his son was initially researching it for potential use as a biofuel. "It doesn't sound good to eat, I know," he laughs, "but the health benefits for human use are much better."
The high vitamin E content makes it equally ideal for topical use. Some of Greenwalt's customers have used it to treat dry skin. So it might not be long before camelina finds its way into cosmetic products.
But many return to camelina because of its nutritional value — and let's not forget taste. Camelina is a member of the brassica family, so it shares flavor characteristics with broccoli. There are also hints of butter and asparagus. That makes it perfect for frying veggies as well as potatoes, fish and chicken.
The Greenwalts currently grow, press and bottle on their 32-acre, state-inspected facility. The oil sells for $14 per 17-oz. bottle — "We've priced it so we're in the middle of the extra virgin olive oil range," he explains — and is available from grocery retailers like the Main Market Co-op, Huckleberry's and Rocket Market. More info is at www.camelinagold.com