It’s that time of year again, where blogs, facebook newsfeeds and twitter timelines are awash with pledges of new year’s resolutions. If you’ve made some and you keep them, good for you, but resolutions aren’t really for me. I’m rubbish at keeping them and just don’t really believe in them – they’re usually too contrived and too abstemious, akin to ‘soundbites from a government manifesto’ as Phil Kirby rather wonderfully put in his latest post for The Culture Vulture. Brilliant.
So rather than punish myself by making (and inevitably, breaking) arbitrary resolutions of denial and abstinence, I’m going to keep my goals for 2014 simple, picking up where I left off in 2013 in my attempts to get fitter and eat healthier. Spurred on by not collapsing during my second ever 10km run last year, I’ve lost my mind and signed up to the Liverpool Half Marathon (yikes), and I’m also thinking (note the non-committal ‘thinking’) about a Coast to Coast cycle.
That’s the fitness side covered, in theory, but healthier eating is trickier. Although I’ve never been a fast food fiend, I’m addicted to the three almighty Cs: cheese, chocolate and carbs. ALL the carbs. Cut one out and my life, and the lives of those around me, becomes unbearable. Seriously, it’s just not worth it. So instead of denying myself, I’m looking at the little tweaks I can make to my diet without compromising on taste, starting with reducing my reliance on cooking with olive oil. This might not sound like much, but for me it will be a big change. I graduated from the ‘Jamie Oliver School of Olive Oil Use’, going through at least a bottle every fortnight. When I first considered using alternatives, I almost dismissed it straight away. Cooking without olive oil? Pah! How would I roast, fry, grill or bake? My salads would be naked, my potatoes dry and unloved. I couldn’t possibly do without it.
Or could I?
Late last year, I was sent some samples of Wharfe Valley Farm‘s extra virgin rapeseed oil, a ‘healthy alternative’ to olive oil, and it got me thinking. I’ve convinced myself for years that olive oil is healthy, the staple of that Mediterranean diet that we’re all told is the healthiest diet in the world. That may be so, but there’s no escaping from the fact that olive oil is just fat. That’s all it is. It’s also reported to have a lower smoke point than other oils which, to science dunces like me, means that when it’s cooked over a high heat, all of those lovely reported health benefits start to fade away.
Enter, rapeseed oil. After reading about it on Wharfe Valley Farm’s website, I learnt that it has the lowest saturated fat of any culinary oil and less than half that of olive oil. It also has 10 times more Omega 3 than olive oil; an essential fatty acid that we all need, but can only get via food sources. Fish is the usual source of Omega 3, so rapeseed oil is good news for meat-shunners like me as it’s also completely suitable for vegetarian and vegan diets. Rapeseed oil also contains no artificial preservatives; is trans-fat and GM free; and is also safe to cook at high temperatures with a much higher burning point than olive oil.
The benefits of rapeseed oil were stacking up, but it wasn’t just its health credentials that turned my head. Like many, I love to support local producers, but this is difficult to do with olive oil that requires a more fortuitous climate than Yorkshire’s. Wharfe Valley Farm is just up t‘road and family run, which not only offers a chance to support our local producers, it also gives us an assurance of quality. As lovely as it would be, popping over to the Med to buy our olive oil isn’t really viable, meaning that we have no assurance that it is what it says it is. In fact, news stories in recent years have suggested that we’ve been duped, that our ‘extra virgin olive oil’ may actually be a blend of sunflower oil and olive oil. The horror! Sarcasm aside, when you buy from a local farm like Wharfe Valley that grows, harvests, presses, filters and bottles everything on one site, you can be pretty confident in what you’re buying.
Ok, ok. So rapeseed oil could be a viable alternative to olive oil. It was positively glowing on paper, but what about the taste? Donning my blue peter hat, I began with a good old fashioned taste test, tasting a drop of Wharfe Valley’s extra virgin rapeseed oil alongside an extra virgin olive oil that I picked up from a farm on a recent holiday in Andalucia. On taste alone, I preferred my old faithful extra virgin olive oil. Compared to the distinctive fruity flavour of the olive oil, rapeseed oil tasted very mild. It wasn’t unpleasant at all, it just lacked the edge that makes things like bread and oil some of life’s simplest, but greatest food pleasures.
It may not compete with olive oil on its own, but rapeseed oil’s mildness proved to be its making when it came to cooking. I’ve become slightly obsessed with this giant couscous, butternut and walnut recipe recently featured on The Guardian website, so I used the rapeseed oil to roast the squash. I adore olive oil roasted butternut squash, and rapeseed oil definitely proved itself as a worthy contender. Its mildness meant the flavour of the squash was untainted, but it still gave the squash that balance of crispy edges and a silky coating. The recipe also calls for a olive oil and lemon dressing, which I substituted for a drizzle of the Sicilian lemon rapeseed oil that Wharfe Valley also sent me. Wow. Where the rapeseed oil on its own was lacking in flavour, the infusion of lemon was intense and tangy, in a very GOOD way. I’ve since become slightly addicted to Sicilian lemon rapeseed oil, and will be posting more recipes as soon as I make something that I don’t devour immediately before forgetting to take a picture.
2014 may not be the year that I try to lose three stone, run ten marathons and survive on a diet of water and mung beans; but I am going to make tweaks to my diet so I eat a little healthier, and using rapeseed oil will definitely be one of them. Thanks again to the good folk at Wharfe Valley Farm for introducing me to the delights of rapeseed oil – find out more about them and where you can get yours at www.wharfevalleyfarms.co.uk
Over to you – what are your ‘non’ new year resolutions?
Heads up: Wharfe Valley Farm sent me free samples of their rapeseed oil, but all views expressed are my own – I wasn’t asked or expected to write a positive review.