Many of my favorite meals begin with just three ingredients: garlic, onion and olive oil. Close your eyes and concentrate and Iâ€™ll bet you can conjure up the smell of these sautÃ©ing. Itâ€™s heavenly. Unless I have completely missed it though, this trifecta falls one part short of local. Without an cold-hearty olive tree, Iâ€™ve had to find a substitute for olive oil that functions the same without fundamentally changing the flavor of the recipe. Answer: Sunflower Oil.
Minnesota is one of the largest sunflower producing states in the nation, ranked closely with North and South Dakota. In most cases the seeds are cold-expeller pressed in to oil, a process by which the oil is extracted from the seed a high pressures, but kept below 120Â° to avoid tainting the flavor. (Read more here.) Most producers also label their sunflower oil as high in Vitamin E and high oleic (think healthier monounsaturated fat and not the unhealthy saturated fat). The National Sunflower Association can tell you anything you ever wanted to know about sunflower production.
I’ll admit I donâ€™t deep-fry enough to know how it performs under high heat, but have easily substituted it for olive and vegetable oil in dressings, baking, or sautÃ©ing vegetables. It adds a subtle nutty flavor without drifting far from olive oil. One caveat: Unlike olive oil which can hang out on the counter sunflower oil will turn rancid much quicker and should be refrigerated after opening. Itâ€™s cheaper to purchase in bulk quantities but be sure thereâ€™s space in the fridge.
Smude Sunflower Oil
Located in Pierz, MN roughly 105 miles northwest from St. Paul, this sunflower oil can be purchased online in sizes up to 2.5 gallons. Their list of retailers and restaurants around the state is also impressive. The entire process including, growing, cold-pressing, and bottling is completed on the farm.
Driftless Organics Organic Sunflower Oil
Located in Soldiers Grove, WI roughly 200 miles southeast from St. Paul, this was our first brand of sunflower oil. Available at Mississippi Market and a number of co-ops in the Metro it is also labeled high oleic, organic, and high in Vitamin E.