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It's that time of year when fields across Britain glow dandelion-yellow with rapeseed, the fragrant and familiar crop that is an irritant to hay fever sufferers and farmers alike. What was once grown merely as a "break" crop – used to suppress weeds and improve soil quality in fallow times, and fit only for animal feed – is now gaining a certain culinary respectability.

 Rapeseed oil

When cold-pressed, rapeseed provides a cooking oil with a grassy, "green" taste. Thanks to some eye-catching health properties, it also makes for a fitter fry-up. Little wonder, then, that homegrown rapeseed has been dubbed "the British olive oil". Apart from its local provenance, rapeseed oil's big selling point, say converts, is its health-giving properties.

As with olive oil, rapeseed oil contains Omegas 3, 6 and 9, essential fatty acids known to reduce cholesterol and maintain heart health, joint mobility and brain function. It is also a rich, natural source of vitamin E. High in mono-unsaturated fats, it is one of the few unblended oils that can be heated to deep-frying temperature without its antioxidants, character, colour and flavour spoiling. In short, it is one of best "good" oils.

 "Rapeseed oil has about half the saturated fat found in olive oil, and a fraction of that in palm oil," says Kay Weijers of Border Fields, whose premium rapeseed oil – cold-pressed from crops grown in the Scottish Borders and Northumberland. While the French use rapeseed oil for dressings and dips only, Weijers argues it can be used in the same way as extra virgin olive oil. "Because it's got a high flash point, it's good for roasting potatoes, vegetables, and as a butter replacement in crumble mixes, Yorkshire puddings and mashed potato." It heats well in a wok, and can be used as a table condiment for dipping bread.

So could an alternative challenge olive oil as our healthy fat of choice? Elizabeth David first popularised the Mediterranean diet in the 1960s. Since then, olive oil (as well as lots of fruit, vegetables and fish) has been increasingly key to our ideas about healthy eating. "There is a real culture around olive oil, and choosing your oil is a bit like choosing your wine," says Ian Marber, the nutritionist known as The Food Doctor. Rapeseed, on the other hand, is still off-radar. As a 'healthy' oil, it's perfectly comparable to olive oil."

Grapeseed oil

Low in saturated fats and extracted from pressed grape seeds, this has a nutty flavour and is used widely across Europe for deep-frying. With a clean, fresh aroma, it can also be added to a bath or used as a base for aromatherapy massage oils.

Hempseed oil

Often considered the most nutritionally balanced oil, with the highest and most complete profile of essential fatty acids. Rich in omega-3 as well as anti-inflammatory omega-6, it is intensely flavoured. But with a low smoke point, it cannot be used for cooking, as heat destroys its nutrients.

Pumpkin seed oil

A strong, dark-green oil with several medicinal properties. A keen anti-inflammatory, it is also said to help reduce cholesterol levels, encourage prostate health, and ease irritable bowel syndrome. Drizzle it over salads or potatoes or use it as a dip for bread.

Avocado oil

Produced in New Zealand and pressed from the fleshy pulp surrounding the avocado pip, this has a high enough smoke point (255°C) to be used like extra virgin olive oil. High in mono-unsaturated fats and vitamin E, it is a popular regenerative for the skin.

Rice bran oil

Extracted from the germ and inner husk of rice, this oil's very high smoke point (254°C) makes it suitable for high-temperature cooking. Mild in flavour, it is largely monounsaturated, and rich in vitamin E and phytosterols, which are believed to lower cholesterol.

 
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