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The Warsaw Voice » Special Sections » May 31, 2012
Regional and Traditional Products
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Olej Rydzowy/Camelina Oil
May 31, 2012   
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Camelina oil is the first and so far only Polish product listed as a European Union Traditional Specialty guaranteed in the oil and fats category. This cold pressed oil with an unusual flavor is made from Camelina sativa, also known as camelina, gold-of-pleasure or false flax, an oil plant that was traditionally grown especially in Wielkopolska where large plantations exist to this day. The oil owes its Polish name, olej rydzowy, to the regional name for camelina: rydz or ryżyk, a reference to the seeds’ reddish hue.

Camelina oil is transparent and its color can range from golden to reddish brown. It has a unique, slightly oniony or nutty flavor with a hint of bitterness, and a pungent aroma. It is one of few oils so easily identifiable by its unique smell and its taste of onion and mustard.

According to research by the National Food and Nutrition Institute in Warsaw, camelina oil can be stored for a much longer time than oils with a similar content of essential fatty acids. The composition of fatty acids in this oil is much more beneficial than many other varieties of vegetable oil, including olive oil, flax oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil. It contains a great amount—about 90 percent—of unsaturated fatty acids; these include linoleic acid, linolenic acid, eicosenoic acid and oleic acid. These fatty acids greatly benefit human health and are great to include in our diet. Camelina oil also includes vitamins A, E, the B group, lecithin as well as micro- and macro-elements.

The seeds of the plant used to press camelina oil were discovered at a Bronze Age archeological site in Strzegom ¦l±ski, which means they were about 3,000 years old. That camelina was grown such a long time ago is also proved by seeds from 2,500 years ago found in Biskupin. Over thousands of years camelina oil was used as a foodstuff and for industrial purposes. When other oil plants appeared, its importance began to wane. After World War II, up to 1955, it was the second-most popular oil plant processed to produce oil. After that, rapeseed completely ousted camelina. In the Szamotuły area in Wielkopolska province, camelina oil was popular as an edible oil, and its consumption would grow during times of fasting. It was cooked with onions, groats, rice, potatoes, herring, cheese and other products. Due to the fact that it has been absent from the oil market for 60 years, only people over 70 can say anything reliable about its smell and taste of old.

Production began again in the mid-1990s. It was a complete accident that a farmer from Gaj Mały (today in Szamotuły county) came to an oil pressing plant with some camelina seeds for pressing. Loving this particular oil, he and his father grew camelina on 25 ares for their own dietary needs. The oil pressing plant was his last hope of obtaining his oil because the last private pressing plant in the area was undergoing an overhaul and the Lenten fast was approaching. After testing at the National Food and Nutrition Institute in Warsaw, camelina oil was found to have a unique composition of unsaturated fatty acids and to contain a large quantity of vitamins (especially vitamin E) and micro- and macro-elements. The design of a company standard for the oil’s production for the market was commissioned. Slowly, the amount of oil sold grew because the older generation still remembered its special aroma and flavor. In the course of several years of cultivation, with the help of historical information as well, a micro-market of seed producers developed. Instructions for growing camelina were issued and a new method for conditioning the seeds for pressing was developed. In 2004 Prof. Czesław Mu¶nicki from what today is the Poznań University of Life Sciences introduced a new variety of winter-sown camelina to be studied at the Research Center for Cultivar Testing, an organization dealing with the registration and protection of plant varieties, thus supporting the measures to develop production of camelina oil. At present camelina is also gaining the fuel sector’s attention. The cold pressing method, meticulously recreated after such a long time, has enabled the market relaunch of an oil that almost disappeared 50 years ago.
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