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Marshall Fine

Marshall Fine

Posted: July 16, 2010 09:19 AM

Sustainable, healthy, tasty cooking oil - from hemp?

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Movies? Well, yes, says Glynis Murray, she does dabble in producing them (most recently, Everybody's Fine, starring Robert De Niro).

"But that's not my regular day job," she says in a recent Skype interview. "Henry (Braham, her partner) is a director of photography and I'm a producer. We've been doing ads and documentaries forever and produced our first feature 10 years ago. But this is our real day job."

"This" is Good Oil, which is just being introduced into the American market. Good Oil is the first culinary oil made from the seed of hemp plants - and Murray and Braham are evangelists about both its flavor (for cooking and salads) and its health benefits.

"Initially we were growing hemp as a step toward sustainable farming," says Braham, cinematographer on such films as Waking Ned Devine, The Golden Compass and several others. "But we found that the seeds were nutty and tasty. So we started reading up about the oil and realized it had been out there for centuries."

Still, it took them 10 years to refine the process of turning hempseed into a hempseed oil that not only was beneficial to a human diet but appealing to a human palate.

"It's been sold for years in health stores," he says. "But you'd have to be pretty sick to want that taste. So we worked at developing it with an attention to detail that focused on it as food rather than medicine."

"Our challenge was how to capture the taste and make the oil in a time scale that made sense," Murray adds. "What we wanted was to find an alternative to olive oil - and we found one that was far more healthy."

As the Good Oil website points out, hempseed oil has 25 times the Omega-3s as olive oil - and half the saturated fat. And even olive oil is a relatively new innovation in home-cooking in northern Europe.

"Before olive oil, most recipes started with a slab of animal fat," Braham says. "That was the core, the start. It's only in the past 25 years that olive oil and other vegetable oils started being used. Now there's a mesmerizing array of oils to choose from. People are more interested in what they're cooking with."

Hemp, Braham says, is "a unique story. Nothing is wasted. It's the fastest-growing plant around, it's incredibly efficient at capturing carbon, it takes little cultivation and it doesn't use any chemicals or pesticides. We use the seed to make food with serious health benefits - and the rest goes into building products.

"We're always hearing tips about how to live a greener life. And here it is, in a bottle. It's a pretty exciting kind of story."

The pair has been farming for almost a decade and a half, having escaped from a full-time life in the film industry: "We both came from a farming background," Braham says. "We went off and made films, then reached a stage in our lives where we wanted to go back to our roots. We were looking for something sustainable, economical and environmental."

Good Oil is being marketed "in serious food stores in Paris and it's taken seriously by chefs as well as nutritionists," Braham says. In the U.S., the product is being sold at Whole Foods in the Pacific Northwest and the Northeast, with plans to expand its distribution.

And no, Murray and Braham point out, there are no psychotropic effects associated with hempseed oil.

"I think there's a huge awareness of the difference between hemp and cannabis," Braham says. "Still, there's this perception. That's one of the reason we market it as Good Oil, rather than hempseed oil."

"It's not like we're using Woody Harrelson as a spokesman," Murray adds. "In the United Kingdom, there's been no antipathy to it at all. Still, we put a number of health claims on the side of the bottle and one of the ones we used at first was 'good for the joints.' That shows you how naïve we are."

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