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Rapeseed oil booming in Britain, but has roots in Canadian soil

Critics say rapeseed oil tastes rancid, but fans say it's great in salads. (Thinkstock)The hottest new flavour in the kitchens of Britain's top chefs is also the most unfortunately named. Rapeseed oil is back with a vengeance, and its roots are firmly planted in Canadian prairie soil.

Rapeseed oil, which is derived from the yellow flowering rapeseed plant, has been around for eons — particularly in Alberta — but was modified slightly to be more palatable and easier to cook with and rebranded as canola oil in the late 70s by the Western Canadian Oilseed Crushers Association, reports the Guardian.

"It was deemed to be very difficult to work with because of the flavour and it had some other qualities that were undesirable in an oil that we use for cooking," says Ellie Scott, consulting chef at Whistler Cooks Catering. "A lot of oils don't do well when they're heated."

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But rapeseed oil — the word rape comes from the latin word rapum, meaning turnip — in its original form is making a comeback in Britain, reports the Telegraph, with Japanese tourists flocking to gawk at their fields of flowering plants and London chefs find new and interesting ways to work it into their dishes. This, despite criticisms the oil has a strong, cabbagey taste.

"The cold-pressed version, which is the version the chefs prefer, has been around in Canada for a number of years," says Eleanor Kane, co-founder of the Stratford Chef School. "There was a farm in Alberta that shipped it directly to us so that our students could do comparative tastings and the chefs that teach in our school could test the oil out. There was noting but positive feedback from them."

Kane says one of the benefits of cold-pressed rapeseed oil is its high smoke temperature, which means chefs can use it at a higher temperature than, say, olive oil. Rapeseed also has half the fat of its olive oil counterpart. And, despite one critic's suggestion that rapeseed oil tastes like "rancid walnuts and second-hand bookshops," Kane says her chefs find it to have a neutral flavour that blends well with other products.

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So how would you prepare a dish featuring rapeseed oil?

"You would use it the same way you'd use olive oil," says Kane. "So certainly in vinaigrettes. It's excellent in preparing cold salads using things like lentils and chick peas."

If you're looking for more ways to incorporate rapeseed oil into your cooking, the BBC has compiled a list of recipes from some of Britain's top chefs.

Watch the video below on how to make Spaghettini Scallop Arrabbiata.

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