Camelina Oil, the Super-Powered Vegan Source of Omega 3

Camelina oil is extracted from Camelina sativa seeds, which contain greater than 50 percent polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), of which 35 to 40 percent is the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid (ALA).1 It originated in parts of northern Europe and central Asia. It is a non-genetically modified organism (non-GMO) oil seed that is now also grown in my home province of Saskatchewan. In contrast with all the other food and cooking oils I describe, camelina oil contains high levels of ALA and has a favorable ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 as it contains about 15 percent of the omega-6 LA. 

In addition to having an excellent balance of beneficial fatty acids, camelina oil contains high levels of tocopherols (vitamin E), which confer good oxidative stability. Scientists in 1995 showed that camelina and sunflower contained 17.40 and 13.29 mg per 100 g seed, respectively, with the notable difference that camelina had a high content of beta-tocotrienol/gamma-tocopherol (14.28 mg/100 g seed), whereas sunflower was higher in alpha-tocopherol (12.89 mg/100 g seed). In the past, we thought that levels of ALA were the most critical factor in determining an oil’s stability during frying, but we now know that the other side to the story is the content and composition of minor components such as tocopherols, sterols, and pigments.

Camelina oil is an important functional-food ingredient, providing beneficial omega-3 fatty acids without the instability problems associated with other plant omega-3 sources, such as flaxseed oil, and fish oils. From a health-benefit perspective, camelina oil increased the proportion of ALA, EPA, and DHA in fatty acids of blood lipids and also reduced LDL cholesterol in people with mild to moderately high cholesterol levels, as well as reduced their triglyceride levels. 

There is demand in the functional food market for omega-3 oils; however, the oxidative deterioration (rate of rancidity) of the omega-3s, which results in undesirable flavors, the development of degradation products such as polymers and cyclic fatty acids, and the loss of nutritional benefits. 

Therefore, incorporating an oil such as camelina into a range of cooking applications becomes very important from a quality and health-benefit perspective. 

Smoke Point: 475°F / 246°C (it has a shelf life of 12 to 15 months without refrigeration) 

Best Applications: Camelina oil carries a light, earthy fragrance and tastes slightly nutty on the palate. Other words used to describe the taste are “fresh,” “green,” “asparagus-like,” “hint of cauliflower,” and “incredibly unique.” Camelina is a culinary oil. It can be used for cold applications, such as spreads, dips, marinades, and dressings. It can also be used at moderate- to high-heat levels because of its high smoke point.