BARNEVELD — Think of cotton and a comfortable shirt or sweater often comes to mind. Few would think of food, but a Barneveld couple are expecting that to change.
Sarah and Peter Botham, owners of Botham Vineyards & Winery here, just introduced a new line of flavor-infused cooking oils made from cottonseed that they think could change the way we cook and prepare different kinds of food.
"People will ask why they should buy it. But once they taste it, it's an easy sell," said Sarah Botham of the five-flavored oils — garlic, chipotle, cilantro, jalapeno-lime and habanero — as well as pure unflavored cottonseed oil. The oils are being launched by Botham Brands, which is the parent company of Botham Vineyards & Winery.
Sarah Botham said the oils, sold under the brand name Acala Farms, are the only flavored cottonseed cooking oils available to consumers and she hopes they will grab a share of the growing boutique cooking and dipping oil market.
"Our tagline is sizzle, drizzle, sample and eat," said Sarah Botham, who added that several more flavors will be available soon.
The sizzle comes from using the oils as a base for frying, searing, sauteing and stir frying. "You can fry your eggs in them. I use them a lot to brown meat and then you don't have to add salt," said Sarah Botham. She said cooks like the oils' purity, lightweight body and high smoke point that makes them nearly impossible to burn or scorch in a pan.
The oils can be drizzled on pasta, vegetables, popcorn and salads. They also can be used as dipping oils in the same fashion as olive oil. "It adds flavor to everything you can think of. It's a great dipping oil. All of the flavors are wonderful for dipping with bread," Sarah Botham said.
Steenbock's a fan
Michael Pruett, executive chef at Steenbock's on Orchard, is using Acala Farms' pure cottonseed oil to prepare all his seafood dishes and vegetables. He also plans to incorporate it into dressings.
"I like its high smoke point, I like that it's healthier oil than normal and I like that it doesn't have that olive flavor to it and, if I do add flavor to it, I won't have that residual oil flavor," Pruett said.
"It works well with searing clean fish where you don't want a lot of flavor added to it and the high sear lets the fish get really crispy," Pruett added.
The oils are the brainchild of a researcher at Cotton Inc. in Cary, N.C., and are manufactured near there, but Sarah Botham said the operation will eventually move to the Barneveld area.
Botham Brands got involved because Sarah Botham has done public relations work for Cotton Inc.'s agricultural and marketing research division, which has been directed to find a way to reintroduce cotton as a food. She saw it as an opportunity to combine her marketing and manufacturing skills honed at Botham Vineyards & Winery.
"It seemed like a natural fit for us," she said. "People who love wine love food typically. We have a lot of very food-oriented people who come here."
Cottonseed oil has been used in the mass production of foods like mayonnaise, salad dressing, ice cream, potato chips and hot dogs. Crisco is an acronym for crystallized cottonseed oil. But before the development of Acala Farms' flavored oils, it had become a forgotten commodity among consumers. That bothered cotton manufacturers looking for new revenue streams.
Tom Wedegaertner, director of cottonseed research and marketing for Cotton Inc., came up with the idea. He said he had a "light bulb moment" when he started comparing cottonseed oil to its more popular rivals like olive oil, corn oil, soybean oil and others. Adding flavoring developed at Oregon State University "seemed to be a natural progression of the thought process," he said.
Wedegaertner believes cottonseed might produce the best multipurpose oil. He said it is rich in antioxidants and has zero trans fat and no cholesterol. Also, a natural toxin called gossypol that some claim cause fertility issues is removed during the processing.
Cottonseed oil has its critics. The most quoted is integrative medicine expert Andrew Weil, who said it's too high in some fats, too low in others and may have high levels of pesticide residue.
But other experts refute those claims. Wedegaertner said cotton is defined as a food crop and is grown under the same federal guidelines as corn and soybeans.
He added that anyone who thinks pesticides are still a problem isn't aware that the boll weevil was all but eradicated decades ago.
UW-Madison animal science professor Mark Cook, who is an expert on lipids, said he thinks the fat levels in cottonseed oil are healthy and give it a unique cooking property that sets it apart from popular cooking oils like corn and canola.
"It has superior cooking qualities," Cook said.
Sarah Botham certainly won't disagree.
"These oils," she said with a smile, "are something special."