Crack­ing the oil in­dus­try

The Orchardist - - Profile - By Anne Hardie

Who would have thought you could squeeze oil from tiny ki­wifruit seeds, black­cur­rant seeds and co­rian­der seeds?

Twenty years ago Jenny and Mal­colm Hor­well wouldn’t have con­tem­plated it ei­ther, yet to­day those tiny seeds are part of a multi-faceted busi­ness in Marl­bor­ough that turns nuts and seeds into award-win­ning oils un­der the brand Un­cle Joe’s.

It all be­gan with two el­derly wal­nut trees on their farm­let near Blen­heim that pro­duced a large crop of nuts each year. They scooped them up and de­liv­ered them to a man in Nel­son with a hand-cracker ma­chine who would shell the nuts while watch­ing rugby with his Un­cle Joe, then sell the final shelled nuts at the Nel­son mar­ket un­der Un­cle Joe’s name.

When Jenny and Mal­colm bought the hand-cracker ma­chine, the name stuck, and as they bought nuts from other grow­ers, their busi­ness grew. Hand-crack­ing ma­chines still re­quire a bit of mus­cle, so it wasn’t long be­fore it was re­placed with a sub­stan­tial au­to­matic cracker that had air-sep­a­rat­ing sys­tems to re­move the shells from the ker­nels. Along the way they’d planted a hazel­nut or­chard, which prompted a sep­a­rate ma­chine us­ing rollers to crack the shell. At the end of crack­ing wal­nuts and hazel­nuts, there’s all the lit­tle pieces that can’t be pack­aged, so that led to oils, and now they are de­vel­op­ing spreads.

“The oils are all cold pressed and have a sed­i­ment at the bot­tom of the oil that was a tasty spread,” Jenny ex­plains.

It was good luck that a press was owned by Garth Neal just down the road and they are now in part­ner­ship with him to press a range of prod­ucts. When oil is pressed from nuts and seeds, the re­main­ing fibre is pressed into a pel­let that is then ground into flour which is ideal for gluten-free di­ets as well pro­vid­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent in a recipe. Hence the recipes on their web­site for ideas about us­ing the prod­ucts.

An im­pres­sive ar­ray of prod­ucts is now on of­fer un­der Un­cle Joe’s brand in­clud­ing oils pressed from the seeds of grapes, co­rian­der, pump­kin, mus­tard, hemp, black­cur­rant, ki­wifruit and flax as well as the wal­nut and hazel­nut. Add to that the meal from the nuts and flour from many of the oth­ers – in­clud­ing bright green pump­kin seed flour and dark pur­ple black­cur­rant flour – and the re­sult is a wide range of prod­ucts on of­fer. The bulk is sold around the coun­try or on­line and just a small amount is sold over­seas.

“We try to keep it 100% nat­u­ral, so we don’t add any­thing to any­thing, which means peo­ple are get­ting all the good­ness

and health ben­e­fits with­out the ad­di­tives. When you’re cold press­ing, you’re press­ing be­low 30 de­grees (cel­sius) so don’t af­fect the good fats and vi­ta­mins which re­main in the oil. Ki­wifruit seed and hazel­nut have high vi­ta­min E, so we don’t de­stroy any of it.”

Oil ex­perts have recog­nised the qual­ity of Un­cle Joe’s range of oils, with sev­eral win­ning medals at the NZ Gourmet Oil Awards last year. Both wal­nut and hazel­nut won gold medals and the hazel­nut scooped the class cham­pion award. Since 2007, their wal­nut oil has won eight gold medals in New Zealand and their oils have had in­ter­na­tional suc­cess as well, with medals at the AVPA (Agency for the Valoriza­tion of Agri­cul­tural Prod­ucts) In­ter­na­tional Gourmet Awards in Paris.

Ki­wifruit seed pro­duces a beau­ti­ful oil, Jenny says, but it takes a lot of seed to pro­duce a lit­tle oil, and like­wise co­rian­der seed has only a 2% ex­trac­tion rate for oil, so 400kg of co­rian­der seed pro­duces less than 10kg of oil. For­tu­nately, nuts pro­duce good quan­ti­ties of oil and re­tain their dis­tinc­tive in­di­vid­ual nut flavours. All the oils are rich in ei­ther omega 3, 6 or 9, with the first two be­ing polyun­sat­u­rated fats for the diet and omega 9 be­ing a mo­noun­sat­u­rated fat.

Most are edible oils, though the black­cur­rant and ki­wifruit have been pro­duced for cos­metic pur­poses. In the case of black­cur­rants, the juice is ex­tracted first as a prod­uct and the left­over marc con­tains the seed for press­ing.

Their en­tire range of prod­ucts are grown in New Zealand, with most pur­chased from in­di­vid­ual grow­ers, in­clud­ing hemp from Hawke’s Bay, sau­vi­gnon blanc grapes from a lo­cal Marl­bor­ough vine­yard, and Garth Neal grows a range of seed crops. Jenny says the oil from sau­vi­gnon blanc seeds is quite dif­fer­ent from other grape oils as it has a spe­cial aroma in the oil that gives ex­tra strength in flavour.

Wal­nuts are sourced from a range of grow­ers in­clud­ing Marl­bor­ough’s in­di­vid­ual gi­ants that are a land­mark from past gen­er­a­tions, to younger or­chards in Can­ter­bury. They’d like to see more hazel­nut or­chards es­tab­lished, as grapes have re­placed some that once added di­ver­sity to the Marl­bor­ough land­scape.

Jenny says the home­grown story is very much in de­mand now in New Zealand as con­sumers look for prod­ucts that have been grown and pack­aged here. “I think New Zealand grown is be­com­ing very pop­u­lar and peo­ple are start­ing to look for that,” Jenny says. “They’re say­ing the nuts taste bet­ter and that’s be­cause they’re lo­cal and re­ally fresh.”

Nuts punch well above their weight when it comes to nu­tri­tion and Jenny says a hand­ful of dif­fer­ent nuts a day will pro­vide ev­ery vi­ta­min and min­eral the body needs, as well as pro­vid­ing pro­tein, fibre and es­sen­tial fats.

Nuts keep bet­ter in their shells, so are usu­ally cracked to or­der, in­clud­ing bulk or­ders of wal­nuts or hazel­nuts for restau­rants. Keep­ing nuts in the freezer pro­tects the good fats and Jenny says they can be used straight from the freezer and they will be as fresh as when they went into it.

It’s im­por­tant to har­vest the nuts as soon as they have dropped, then dry and store them well. In their own 400-tree hazel­nut or­chard, the nuts are picked up im­me­di­ately to avoid the risk of mould from the damp grass. They planted En­nis which is an Ore­gon ta­ble nut with good flavour and grows into a well-shaped tree.

“A cou­ple of years ago we pruned them hard to get more light in the tree struc­ture be­cause they were drop­ping off pro­duc­tion. Our crop in­creased in size from one tonne to six tonnes.”

Hazel­nuts are a bi­en­nial crop, so it dropped back to 2.5 tonnes this har­vest, with 6 tonnes ex­pected next year.The good thing about hazel­nuts, be­cause of their monosat­u­rated fats they can be stored for more than 12 months. Whereas wal­nuts are bet­ter only stored up to 12 months.

All the nuts and seeds are pro­cessed through a small fa­cil­ity be­side their house on the edge of Blen­heim where they em­ploy a small staff to grade and pack­age the di­verse as­sort­ment of prod­ucts.

“It’s very hands-on be­cause we do a lot of hand sort­ing over the nuts and all the oils have to be bot­tled and then there’s spreads and nut meals to be made.

“I think we’ve prob­a­bly reached our limit now!”

Hazel­nuts are cracked through a ma­chine us­ing rollers. Jenny and Mal­colm Hor­well in their Marl­bor­ough hazel­nut or­chard. Left: Nuts and seeds form the ba­sis for Jenny and Mal­colm’s di­verse range of prod­ucts.

Staff sort through nuts in Un­cle Joe’s food fa­cil­ity on the edge of Blen­heim. Right: A se­lec­tion of the oils cre­ated at Un­cle Joe’s.

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