Oilseed Farming in the U.S.
A few of the so-called “big ideas” of the past decade or so have included health and nutrition trends – keto/paleo diets, farm-to-table dining, intermittent fasting and “clean” eating, for instance – and climate change, which has become an even hotter topic as we have continued to place more and more needs on our evolving planet. Another area of growing interest is sustainable, regenerative crop production, which is tied into global warming and a variety of environmental, economic and social issues as our planet gets warmer and warmer.
The oilseed industry, based on the cultivation of a number of crops grown for their edible oil (extracted from the seed of a plant rather than the plant itself, however) is one area that is well worth taking a look at from all perspectives.
What is Oilseed?
Oilseed is a seed or a crop grown commercially, mainly for the oil it produces. Oilseed crops such as sunflowers, cottonseed or rapeseed contain an amount of oil – 20% for soybeans, for instance, and over 40% for sunflowers – that make them ideal for oil production. The oils that are extracted are used for both edible and industrial purposes.
How Oilseed Oils Are Used
The most common use for oils extracted from oilseeds are, of course, in cooking and enhancing the taste of foods for both humans and livestock. However, certain oilseeds are also used in renewable fuels, and as ingredients in paints, pharmaceuticals, cleaners, printing inks and plastics. Rapeseed and soybean oils were the first types of seed oil used in the production of biodiesel, and they remain so until today; the process of extracting oil from rapeseed or soybeans – what are known as biodiesel feedstocks – through chemical extraction creates an eco-friendly fuel that is valued for its low impact to the environment.
Cold-Pressed Vs. Refined Oil Extraction
There is more than one process of extracting oil from oilseeds, including the centuries-old process of crushing raw seeds and slowly pressing them under a low temperature (120 degrees Fahrenheit or less) in a machine such as an oilseed press. Cold-pressed oils tend to be rich in oleic acid, vitamin E and antioxidants, as this method is free from the use of chemicals. Cold-pressed oils have a low smoke point, meaning they are more suited to salad dressings and other food items than cooking.
Oilseeds going through a refined process of oil extraction, on the other hand, are crushed, mixed with a liquid solvent, and then heated in a step that dissolves the solvent. Although these oils are virtually free from impurities, they are refined to such a degree that many of the health benefits – vitamins, etc. – are lost. Some refined oils go through another entire process of hydrogenation which gives them a longer shelf life, but the trans-fats that develop during this process can be hazardous to the health.
Important Oil Seed Crops
In the U.S., the largest oilseed crops are rapeseed, canola, peanuts, soybeans, sunflower and cottonseed; soybeans make up the lion’s share of this production.
- Soybeans account for about 90% of the nation’s oilseed output. Soybean oil has been shown to boost health in a variety of ways, including lowering blood sugar and blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, improving bone health and improving heart health.
- Originally harvested as a food crop during the colonial years of the U.S., peanuts (or groundnuts, in some parts of the world) became an important oilseed crop in the early 1900s when it was demonstrated that it might be able to fuel a diesel engine. Some of peanut oil’s more important health benefits include a high degree of unsaturated (good) fats and heart-healthy antioxidants such as vitamin E.
- Sunflower seed oil has a higher smoking point than vegetable oils, meaning it’s ideal for frying foods, and is an excellent ingredient in various skin care products as an emollient. As it is low in saturated fat and higher in oleic and linoleic acids, it is considered a relatively healthy oil, although it does contain omega-6 fatty acids, which can be harmful.
- Cottonseed is similar to the sunflower seed in that the seed itself is surrounded by a hard outer hull. The smoke point of the cottonseed is fairly high, which means the oil is perfect for frying, but the oil is also used in some products as a remedy for skin conditions and in a variety of insecticides, cosmetics and detergents.
- The rapeseed plant, a yellow flowering plant belonging to the Brassica plant family – the same family as Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, broccoli and mustard – produces a very pure oil out tiny pods (a tenth of a millimeter in diameter!) containing about 45% oil. Rapeseed oil is often used in industrial applications.
- Although canola and rapeseed are often thought to be the same, they are not. Canola is a genetically modified version of the rapeseed plant that lacks potentially harmful glucosinolates and erucic acid. Most vegetable oil we use for cooking is canola oil because of its mild, light taste, but it is also used in food products such as crackers and chips and in the production of biodiesel. The solid parts of the seed are often ground into canola meal, which is used in animal feed. Canola is another oil that is full of healthy, monounsaturated fats. It also lowers cholesterol and can be used to relieve inflammation.
Natures Crops International
One locally based grower of oilseed crops and producer of specialty oils is Natures Crops International, a company dedicated to growing oilseed crops worldwide in the healthiest, most sustainable environments possible. Using a mechanical cold-press method to process those oils, and in small batches that ensure freshness, the company also uses the co-products to increase soil fertility and for other purposes sustainable purposes.
Beyond leaving no negative impact on the environment, the processes used by Natures Crops are regenerative, meaning they focus on the health of the entire ecosystem rather than the crop itself. Water management guidelines are followed, as are certain practices to protect the soil from erosion and any sort of chemical impact and to create habitats for pollinators, earthworms and enriching soil microorganisms.
Find out more about Natures Crops International here, including how the company’s 100% plant-based specialty oils are used in health and beauty products of the highest purity and functionality from the most exceptional crops.
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