By Steve Sarin, Public Relations Intern, Slow Food Denver
Colorado Mills, founded in 1999, prides itself on supporting local farmers and sustainably producing superior-quality sunflower oil.
Ninety percent of the of the 30 million pounds of sunflowers it processes are grown in Colorado. The remaining ten percent come from regional farms in Kansas and the Texas panhandle. Thirty million pounds of sunflowers fills 27 square miles, or an area slightly larger than the city of Boulder, Colorado.
“We are supporting 120 farmers on average,” Zac Kreider, a Colorado Mills employee in charge of business outreach and development, said. Many of the farmers Colorado Mills supports are third generation sunflower growers. “One of the farmers that we are supporting are on their fifth generation of family members who farm the land and continue that tradition,” Kreider said. “We want to know and have relationships with our end users, and we went our end users to know our farmers.”
The company produces the only edible oil in Colorado not running afoul of federal drug laws. “Outside of the cannabis industry Colorado Mills is the only vegetable oil producer, “ Kreider laughed.
The sunflower business is more than just oil, seeds and bouquets. “When we crush a sunflower seed, two-thirds of the weight is actually meal, and the rest is the oil,” Kreider said. “Two-thirds of our business continues to be livestock feed.”
“We squeeze the meal into pellets. Small ones for goats and larger pellets that are perfect for cattle,” he said. “Being a livestock feed company, it’s better to expeller press our crop. We want some of the oil to remain in the seed to benefit the animals.”
Other edible oil producers use chemical solvents to extract all the oil from the seed. The process is more efficient, but the use of solvents concerns Kreider.
“Those companies claim they can remove 100 percent of that solvent from the oil, but there is no standard and there is not a test to ensure that the solvent has been removed,” Kreider said. “These are hexane or petroleum solvents. It’s what a mechanic uses to clean off greasy, dirty components in their shop.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to hexane is associated with nerve damage, “a numbness in the extremities, muscular weakness, blurred vision, headache, and fatigue. Neurotoxic effects have also been exhibited in rats.”
Kreider said the chemical probably shouldn’t be consumed. “On its label is a skull and crossbones,” he said. “Your average person doesn’t realize that the vegetable oil on the grocery store shelf is solvent extracted most likely. The oil they use in that bag of potato chips you’re eating are likely going to be solvent extracted.”
Colorado Mills wants and requires a cleaner, more natural process Kreider said. “We see value in the seed and producing a premium, high-quality feed. We opt to use the cleanest process to produce oil,” he said. “We are refining the oil with organic matter and organic processes.”
The company also prides itself on being a zero-waste facility. “We send nothing to a landfill because everything that comes into our facility leaves as a product,” Kreider said. “The organic matter we use in the refining process has a lot of fat content, so we can put that right back into our feed products.”
Sunflower seed oil contains high amounts of oleic acid. Studies show diets rich in oleic acid can alleviate type 2 diabetes, reduce high blood pressure, protect cell membranes from free radicals, prevent ulcerative colitis and help the human body burn fat.
Sunflower seeds are the best whole food source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant for good health, according to the USDA Nutrient Database.
In addition to providing health benefits, sunflower oil provides an alternative to vegetable or canola oil when frying food. Sunflower oil has a high smoke point, unlike olive oil, and clean, light taste.
Sunflowers also use less water than corn or soybean plants. This helps reduce the need to use a valuable natural resource in a region suffering severe drought conditions.
Kreider said the company is in the early planning stages of a complete energy overhaul. Colorado Mills plans to install solar panels on site and become a totally off the grid enterprise.
Colorado Mills sells bottles of sunflower oil for home use and sells much larger quantities to restaurants and commercial food producers. “We package everything from small 750 milliliter bottle up to a 6,000-gallon semi tanker, or we’ll sell you a 25,000-gallon railroad car of oil,” Kreider said.
Those not looking to commit to a rail tanker full of Colorado Mills Sunflower Oil can purchase the smaller bottles at Whole Foods Market. The oil can also be purchased directly from the company’s website.
Find Colorado Mills sunflower oil in our Celebrate Local Harvest Basket!