02 Jun

UK Farmer goes for gold with rival to olive oil

By Sarah Brealey,

A Suffolk farmer’s produce is staking a claim to be the new olive oil.

The glass bottles of extra virgin cold-pressed rapeseed oil are now on sale in Tesco as it rapidly grows in popularity. It has been made by Sam Fairs at Hill Farm in Heveningham, near Halesworth, for the past three years, and yesterday it went on sale in 90 supermarkets in East Anglia.

In the last year demand has soared from 330 litres a week to 1,000, and the Tesco contract is expected to increase sales by another 30pc.

Mr Fairs said: “We just thought we would try it and see how it goes. We want to promote local food and Suffolk, as well as rapeseed oil, and the key to it is shelf space. So being able to work with Tesco in their local food area is great. It’s very exciting.”

Its fashionable credentials were underlined last month when celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, famed for his River Cottage series, sang its praises in the Guardian. He said: “The flavour is mild, grassy and sweet, and the colour a sensational golden yellow…it’s a really good all-rounder in the kitchen.”

He went on to provide a recipe for rapeseed mayonnaise, a potato salad dressed with the oil, and even for a variation on the famous Italian dish of spaghetti with garlic and olive oil.

Earlier this year Sam and Clare Fairs appeared as contestants on BBC2’s Ready Steady Cook and impressed the chefs with their product.

The family business started after they realised the “amazing qualities” of rapeseed oil, so they cold pressed it, filtered and then bottled their own.

Mr Fairs said: “We’re very proud of our product and believe that once the public weigh up the health benefits and the low food miles they will want to buy a British alternative to traditional olive and vegetable oils.”

Sam Nundy, Tesco senior buying manager for the East of England, said: “The increasing popularity in the UK of rapeseed oil as a substitute for olive and vegetable oils could be like striking gold for British farmers.

“Rapeseed is extremely easy to grow and now that there is an increasing awareness about its product as a healthier alternative to olive and vegetable oil more and more farmers could well be tempted to grow it.”

The oil has a completely different flavour to olive oil, and indeed to the mostly flavourless rapeseed oil which most people buy as vegetable oil. It is also popular for its health benefits, with the lowest saturated fat levels of any edible oil, and high levels of healthy monounsaturated fats. It contains vitamin E and omegas 3 and 6.

David Proudley, combinable crops adviser at the National Farmers’ Union, welcomed the push to promote rapeseed oil as a high-quality product. “Rapeseed oil hasn’t been marketed that strongly before as a quality oil. It is good news if that market is coming to the fore,” he said.

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