Good oil from old plants

October 20, 2010 09:54

The plant camelina has a very high oil content, approaching 45%, and about 40% of its fatty acids are Omega 3. It can be found growing wild in Norway, but it is as yet an unexploited resource, reports with reference to Nofima.

The researchers into fats at Nofima and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences consider this a sad state of affairs. They are questioning why so little has been done to investigate the potential for cultivating oil-bearing crops in Norway. The only success story to have come from agriculture is the rapeseed oil Odelia, which has done well on the market.

Rich in Omega 3

For a long time, the researchers have been wanting to focus on plants that could be suitable for oil production in Norway and that have good health properties. The oil-bearing plant Camelina sativa (also known as linseed dodder) originated as a wild plant, but has in fact been cultivated in Scandinavia in former times. It has a particularly high content of the Omega 3 fatty acid alpha-linolen, as much as 40% in fact, or about four times as much as rapeseed oil. Camelina also contains other fat soluble components that can be beneficial to health, such as plant sterols and antioxidants. The plant sterols content can have a very beneficial effect on cholesterol levels, so it will be very interesting to see what camelina can offer. "The antioxidants in cold pressed camelina oil make it very stable against rancidity. We do not yet know what it is in the oil that protects it against oxidation, but this is one of the things the researchers want to find out," says Senior Research Scientist Bente Kirkhus.


Camelina is known to be a robust plant in cultivation, being quite easy to satisfy and having better disease resistance than the oil bearing plants rape and turnip rape. It is cultivated to a small extent in some European countries and the USA. Bioforsk has conducted some organic trials with camelina with promising results.

The researchers believe that camelina could be an interesting alternative to rape, because it can be cultivated over a wider area and with a shorter crop rotation period. The production of rape for food in Norway is currently limited to areas that provide a long growing period, and because of crop diseases the ground cannot be used to grow rape again for 4 to 6 years. There is a need to secure and increase the availability of oil seeds for Norwegian edible oil production.

The researchers say that growing camelina could be a very interesting opportunity for Norwegian agriculture, and they hope that agriculture will seize the chance and start working with the research centres to find out more about the plant. Perhaps we might see the first camelina fields in Norway in a couple of years? A very small amount is already being cultivated, but only as a curiosity.

Oats as an oil crop

Oats contain more oil than any other type of grain. The most common varieties contain 6-10%, but there are varieties with up to 18% oil. The oil contains some very special substances with potentially beneficial health effects and, like camelina, could be in demand as a raw material for human nutrition.

"There is a high content of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Oat oil also has emulsifying properties (that is it can mix with other liquids) and increases resistance to rancidity, which could provide value creation for the food industry. Today, practically all the oats grown in Norway go for animal feed," explains Kirkhus.

In other Nordic countries and the USA, we can see a new focus on oats. For example, they wish to develop new oat varieties with a higher oil content and particularly beneficial health effects. "We hope to see a greater focus on oats as an oil crop in Norway too," say the researchers. The oat needs a renaissance as a food grain. It is a very interesting plant and among our most nutritious and vitamin rich types of grain.

Looking to the marine sector

There has been a great deal of research into marine resources over the past 20 years, with a particular focus on the marine Omega 3 fatty acids and their health promoting effects. The development of marine Omega 3 products has brought good returns in a market showing steady growth. On the vegetable side, however, very little has happened - even though there may be great potential here too. So it would be very interesting to find out how profitable a focus on camelina, for example, might be.

"We can see the start of the development of new food oils within specific market segments. The researchers are forecasting that, as research reveals more of the positive properties of these oils, it will become possible to produce oils with very special qualities that bring added value to the market.

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