Pot Luck

Healthy But Flavorless Pecan Oil

I shelled out almost $13 for this bottle of pecan oil at Whole Foods. It doesn't taste like pecans--the manufacturer says that's a good thing. They were doing a demonstration at the store using the pecan oil to fry fish. The fish tasted fine, but I wondered why no flavor was a benefit. They lady said the oil was healthy and you could sprinkle toasted pecans over the fish if you wanted pecan flavor. I asked the lady if this pecan oil went rancid quickly. She said yes and that the manufacturer recommended you store it in the refrigerator after the bottle is open. Oddly, the bottle is very tall and very skinny. You'd think it would come in a container better designed to fit in the refrigerator if that's where you have to keep it.

I was a little disappointed, but not at all surprised by this flavorless oil. I have been thinking about pecan oil for over a decade. While I was traveling in the Perigord region of France, I saw a lot of tiny walnut oil presses on farms and fell in love with the flavor of the walnut oil salad dressings they produced. In France, there are two kinds of walnut oil, the kind made by the older method, called hot pressing, is darker and extremely flavorful. Cold-pressed oil is lighter in color and higher in antioxidants and nutrients. I brought some back--and discovered they both go rancid quickly.

Back in Texas, I started fantasizing about pecan oil. What if you imported one of those French walnut oil presses and used it to make a similar salad oil out of local pecans? In a fit of entrepreneurial zeal, I went so far as to contact an extension agent at Texas A&M. My bright idea wasn't exactly original, it turned out. It was well established that you could make an excellent oil from pecans, but it went bad very quickly and pecans were expensive, the agent told me. An article in the October, 1929 issue of the Journal of the American Oil Chemists' Society raved about what an excellent salad oil pecans made and suggested broken fragments collected at shelling plants might provide an inexpensive source of oil. (That's a lot of pecan fragments.)

The oil in my refrigerator comes from Kinloch Plantation in Louisiana. The founders worked with Oklahoma State University on their pecan oil product. They ended up with an exceptionally healthy refined oil with 9.5 percent saturated fat (compared to 13.5 percent for olive oil) and a very high smoke point of 470 degrees (versus 440 degrees for peanut oil). How did they do that? "Kinloch Pecan Oil has been deodorized to provide for a neutral flavor and has been winterized so that it can be stored..." according to the company's statements. The good news is that these two refining processes remove the solids that cause pecan oil to go bad--the bad news is they also remove the taste of pecans.

Close, but no cigar. My latest pecan oil fantasy involves buying a home press so I can squeeze one cup at a time when I'm making salad.

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Robb Walsh
Contact: Robb Walsh