What is it about a field of sunflowers that makes people happy?
We got to experience some of that joy and learn about making sunflower oil on a (literal) field trip with Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we met at what was supposed to be a secret location, but as you can imagine, it’s hard to hide a field full of sunflowers.
Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oils is a family affair based in Pleasant Valley. Jeff, whose brother Kevin started the business, showed us around the field and explained how the flowers produce the seeds that are used for oil. Although all sunflowers are edible, they use a special variety, whose seeds produce more oil.
As Jeff broke off one of the flowers, he showed us where the seeds were being formed. Then he handed us some smaller bits to taste. They tasted like a milder version of the seeds you usually eat.
We even nibbled on some of the petals, which were more about looking good, than providing real taste or sustenance. Nice to know you could sprinkle a few on salads or whatever to impress your friends.
His brother Kevin originally got into making sunflower oil as an alternative to diesel fuel, when prices were high. Sunflowers are easy to grow, drought resistant and have a high yield. Brother Jeff, a CIA trained chef, tried the oil, said “you can’t turn this into diesel” and that’s how Hudson Valley Cold Pressed Oil went from bio-diesel to bottles.
Seeds are harvested and run through a sorter. From there, they go to a press where the oil is extracted and the remains are compressed into what looks like thick black spaghetti. The “spaghetti” is used for animal feed, so there is almost no waste in the oil-making process. The oil goes on to get filtered and bottled.
The oil is lovely, tasting like pure sunflower seeds, light and slightly nutty. You could use it in place of olive oil, and if you’re someone who likes a more mellow, smooth olive oil, this might be just what you’re looking for.
Two other advantages sunflower oil has over olive oil—a higher smoke point, which means you can cook with it at higher heats, in this case up to 380° before it starts to smoke and/or burn. You also know that you’re getting 100% sunflower oil (locally produced), whereas with olive oil, even when you’re paying top dollar for it, you can never be sure it’s really what it’s supposed to be.
At the farm that doubles as their headquarters, we got to taste the oil in various uses. The first, and my favorite, was hummus where the oil replaced traditional olive oil and tahini. It was lighter than traditional hummus and just as delicious. Click here for the recipe.
That was followed by a salad dressed with a raspberry vinaigrette. The raspberries complimented the nuttiness of the sunflower oil.
Jeff used the oil to fry up some pieces of zucchini from his garden and served them up with an basil aioli he had made with the oil. Once again, delicious!
Finally, some zucchini muffins with dark chocolate chips, a treat that Jeff says is the only way his kids will eat green vegetables and we could understand why!
If you’re interested in trying some of their oil, it’s available online, at local specialty stores like Taste of New York, Adam’s and Quattro’s and some local farmers’ markets and events. Check their website and Facebook page for up to date information.