What’s a farmer to do with pounds of waste generated when his butternut squash is processed?
One New York farmer had a brainstorm: He contacted the New York State Food Venture Center (FVC) at Cornell University.
The result: a new, nutty-tasting butternut squash seed oil that’s perfect for salad dressings, marinades and sautéing.
It all started 2 years ago, when Dave Schwartz of John B. Martin and Sons Farm in Brockport, NY, contacted FVC, located at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva, asking for solutions to handling the copious squash waste his farm produces. The farm is one of the region’s largest growers of butternut squash. Workers harvest the squash, store it in refrigerated warehouses and process it for market as needed, generating a significant amount of waste, including seed.
The FVC evaluated options, using funding provided by the New York Farm Viability Institute’s Agriculture Innovation Center Program, which focuses on adding value to agricultural products.
“The farm sent 600 pounds of seeds and peels, and as a result of some trials we did, several potential products were developed,” says Herb Cooley, an FVC technician. “One of the trials involved separating the seed from the rest of the waste and drying it. We then tried roasting some of the seed and pressing that in our oil press, which yielded an excellent result.”
Cooley suggested that Schwartz contact the Stony Brook Cookie Co., located at Cornell’s Agriculture and Food Technology Park in Geneva, to see if the squash seed oil might have possibilities as an ingredient in the company’s cookie recipes.
“While the oil never did materialize as a cookie ingredient, we did recognize the opportunity to market it as a standalone product for the specialty-food market,” says Stony Brook co-owner Greg Woodworth. “The recent upsurge in gourmet cooking and dining, along with the growing appreciation of locally produced foods, made this a very timely idea. The sustainability factor was very attractive to us, as well.”
Working closely with the FVC, Woodworth was able to fine-tune oil production to yield consistent quality while maintaining the product’s unique flavor.
“The seeds are roasted before pressing,” he says, “which gives the oil a complex, nutty flavor, making it ideal for a variety of uses in food preparation.”
The company’s first customer? The executive chef at the governor’s mansion in Albany, who was looking to add some New York-produced ingredients to his menu.
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