You won’t be able to pick up cooking oils when the grocery store isn’t available. And, most of the meals we cook on a daily basis need some kind of oil. Those of us who raise or hunt animals, at least when SHTF, can render lard from tallow. But, there is another way to get your hands on cooking oil.
You can press cooking oils out of nuts, seeds, and fruits like olives, coconuts, and avocados. Vegetarians, vegans, and those who live off grid will be especially happy with this method. Plus, knowing how to make cooking oils would be a valuable skill, even if just for bartering, post SHTF.
There are all kinds of uses for the oils beyond cooking. Some can be put into soaps or beauty products, others are good lubricant or varnish. The excess pulp from oil making can be fed to animals or tossed into the compost pile. In a desperate situation, you could even eat the pulp yourself.
We’ll talk about how to make your own cooking oils in this article, including olive oil, coconut oil, seed oils, nut oils, and avocado oil.
How to Make Cooking Oils from Scratch
Understanding Hot Versus Cold Oil Pressing
The first choice is whether to cold or hot press your oil. Cold pressing is the easiest to do at home and produces a better tasting oil. Not all oils can be made though cold-press methods, but olive, coconut, sunflower, sesame, and canola (from rapeseed) can.
The cold pressed oils you get in stores may still be slightly heated, but at home, you can use as little heat as you like. Cold pressing oils will involve multiple stages of pressing, especially at home, in order to get the most oil out possible. This is where the term “virgin” olive oil comes from, such oil is from only the first press of the olive pulp and has the deepest color and the best flavor.
If you’re willing to hot press your oils you’ll be able to make more varieties and you will get a higher yield. You don’t need more of an investment in equipment, the hot press method can be done simply in the oven and then on the stove top. And, hot pressed oils will stand up better to later heating during cooking.
How to Make Olive Oil at Home
To cold press olives at home, you’ll want the freshest source of olives. Ideally, you’d pick your olives in their black stage and begin processing them right away. Using green olives is possible, but results in less oil and might be best left to commercial producers.
You have to wash and de-pit the olives, then mash them into a paste. How you do that is up to you, whether by hand, mortar and pestle, blender, or putting the olives in a bag and beating them with a rolling pin.
After that, the olive mash has to be stirred, slowly, for at least 45 minutes. Why? It gives time for the oil to reveal itself. Even in traditional commercial productions in Tuscany, the stirring step is done with simple paddles.
Though, commercial processes will then press the oil in an oxygen-free environment, which you probably can’t achieve at home. Instead, you can use a cheese style press, even a homemade one, to slowly press out the oil. Or, you could purchase oil press/extractor like the hand-powered Forkwin oil press or the Nutrichef Electronic Oil Press.
Afterward, you should filter the oil in a coffee filter or a series of cheesecloth, that is if you plan on heating it. In her Encyclopedia of Country Living, Carla Emery notes that she uses unfiltered oil as part of salad dressings and mayonnaise. Filtering oil will take some time, especially for cold-pressed oil. Olive oil should be stored in a dark glass container. Your home variety will spoil faster than commercially produced oils.
Making Seed Oils and Nut Oils
There are a few differences between making olive oil and making seed and nut oils. First, most seeds and nuts will need to be de-hulled before you turn them into a paste. You can buy a seed mill for this purpose, or you can do it by hand if you have a lot of time. Some seeds and nuts can be safely cracked in a blender without de-hulling and pressed from there. But many, like walnuts, peanuts, and hazelnuts, cannot be.
Second, not all varieties of seeds and nuts will make oil. For example, if you plan on making sunflower oil you will need to grow or buy black oil seeds (the kind in bird feed) not the kind humans eat or the kind that makes fancy flowers. Pumpkin, sesame, safflower and cotton seeds are popular for oil and most have varieties that are superior for oil making. Peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts are popular nut oils.
Each will give you a different oil yield, depending on the oil content of the seed and the method you use. The Echo Community lists the oil content of popular seeds and nuts as:
- tung nuts
- rapeseed (makes canola oil)
- pumpkin (up to 60 percent)
- poppy seed
- sesame seed
The third difference between olive oil production and nut and seed oil production is that most nuts and seeds are hot pressed. It’s harder to grow enough nuts to get substantial oil, so I suggest you hot press all of them.
How to Hot Press Oil at Home
Hot pressing uses heat twice. First, you dry your seed or nuts, and then you boil them, and both processes help to remove the most oil. If you’re using a press instead of making oil by hand, you’ll want a press that warms the pulp while it works.
You can dry your nuts and oils, or whatever else you’re pressing into oil, in the sun or in your oven. It’s very important not to burn them, or even over-dry them, as either will affect the oil flavor, or even lower your oil yield.
Unfortunately, the recipes for hot pressing oil are all over the place when it comes to drying time. For pumpkin seeds, Leaf TV suggests roasting at 140 F for only minutes. For sunflower seeds, WikiHow suggests a 300 F roast for 30 minutes “or until brown.” For macadamia nuts, the University of Hawaii suggests roasting at 275 F for 20 to 30 minutes. For peanuts, the EPA describes roasting at 800 F for 40 to 60 minutes.
On average, it seems that smaller seeds and nuts need to be roasted for less time (which, I suppose, just makes sense). You may need to experiment to find out what works best for your chosen seed or nut. I would start out on the lower end of the temperature scale.
After you’ve roasted your seeds or nuts you still need to make them into a pulp. Then, instead of beginning to stir them, you then put them in a stove pot, add some water, and boil them. Do not let the temperature get up to the oil’s smoke point– you’ll ruin the flavor. You can collect the oil in spoons as you go, putting it into a separate pot to boil off the water. Or in that separate bowl, you can just let the oil and water naturally separate while it cools, and then pour the water off the top.
This oil, like the cold pressed, should still be strained and then put in a dark glass container.
How to Make Your Own Coconut Oil
Coconut oil is popular in beauty products, but it’s edible too, and is an especially useful oil for anyone in the tropics. Making it requires almost the same process as the hot press method described above.
You have to husk the coconuts and shell out the meat of course. After that, you have to grate and dry the meat. I found a resource, “Improving the Small-Scale Extraction of Coconut Oil” that actually specifies when the coconut meat has been dried properly. If you squeeze the meat you should be able to draw out clear coconut milk. If the milk is creamy, the coconut has to dry more. If you can’t get any oil, it’s dried up too much.
Then, you go onto hot press the oil as described above. There is a plan for a screw press you can use in the link above too.
How to Make Your Own Avocado Oil
You can use the cold or the hot process to make avocado oil. Your press can be as simple as a cheesecloth bag and your hands, but because avocado is such a unique fruit, a few different methods have been developed to extract its oil.
The least labor-intensive process is to simply halve the avocado, remove the seed, and place it into an orange press. Seriously—it’s that simple.
The other unique oil extraction method is more complex. You hot process the avocados, but you skip the drying phase. Instead, you add in coconut cream or oil and blend the mixture. Then, you boil or press as normal. Oil is easier to extract when in large droplets, so the coconut oil mixing in with the avocado gets you a higher oil yield.
Re-using Your Homemade Oil
You’ll want to re-use oil that you made by hand, after all of this work you’ll want to get as much out of it as possible. This trick for clarifying the oil comes from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook (which I have gifted to every woman in my life at this point). Cunningham suggests you peel potato skins and drop them in the hot oil.
They absorb the flavors of whatever you just cooked. Remove the skin and strain the oil, through a cheesecloth. It should appear darker than before. Eventually, the oil will go bad, so store it separate from your unused oil and taste it before you try to use it again.
- ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture “Oil Seed Processing for Small-Scale Producers”
- Practical Action “Principles of Oil Extraction”
- Ursula Ferrigno “Oils: Using nature’s fruit, nut and see oils for cooking, dressings and marinades”
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