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Oilseed Processing for Small-Scale Producers
Al Kurki , Janet Bachmann and Holly Hill
NCAT Agriculture Specialists
Lakeitha Ruffin and Byrhonda Lyons, NCAT Interns
Matt Rudolf, Piedmont Biofuels Cooperative
© NCAT 2008
Safflower oil.
Photo courtesy Sustainable Systems, LLC.

There are many varieties of seeds and nuts that can produce oils for food, nutraceuticals, skincare products, aromatherapies, fuels and industrial lubricants. This publication describes the basic processes involved in oil processing including seed cleaning, extraction, clarification, packaging and storage. Sources for more information and equipment are included in the References and Resources sections at the end of the publication.

Table of Contents Introduction Getting started Basic processing steps Oilseed by-products: Meal and hulls Adding value adds costs References Resources Introduction

Farmers and small business owners are asking if it is possible and profitable to add value to their seeds and nuts by extracting the oil. This is not an easy question to answer because there are so many variables, some of which are noted in the following sections of this publication.

Culinary oils include olive, sesame, safflower, sunflower, grape seed, canola, apricot kernel, coconut, hazelnut, peanut, pumpkin and walnut oils. Advertisements for these culinary oils tout their health benefits and unique flavors. Some of these plant-derived oils can be used to make soap, body and hair oils, detergents and paints. Some can also be used to make industrial lubricants. A wide range of oilseeds and other oil-producing plants are high-quality feedstocks for biodiesel. Oilseed processing expands the use of crops such as sunflowers and brings value to grape seeds, which are usually waste products.

Most oil processing in the United States is done on a large industrial scale. Small-scale oil extraction is more commonplace in other parts of the world. As a result, many of the useful resource materials and much of the appropriate-scale machinery come from other countries. However, interest in small- to intermediate-scale oilseed processing on the part of farmers and others in the United States grew dramatically in the past five years. This publication describes the basic processes of oilseed production, with extensive sources for additional information and equipment.

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Getting started

Culinary oil businessman and consultant E. Peter Matthies, now living in Germany, suggests that you ask yourself the following questions before starting oil processing:

Why do I want to start oil processing? Will it be a hobby or a new economic enterprise? How big will the operation be? How many different products will be made, including both oil and the press cake left after the oil is pressed out of the raw seeds or nuts? Do I want to target mass markets or specialty markets? What geographical area do I want to cover?

The first question is important because it affects the answers to all the other questions. It even affects how you read this publication. If you crush oilseeds for biodiesel or straight vegetable oil fuel production, you need to pay special attention to several specific processing steps.

For culinary oils, there are several more processing steps and technologies to consider and possibly add to your plan. You may forego some of the more complex, costly steps for exclusively personal-use cooking oil or biofuel.

Later in this publication, Matthies describes how he got into this new oil business after retiring from the petroleum business.

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Basic processing steps Seed cleaning

Preparation of the raw material often includes removing husks or seed coats from the seeds and separating the seeds from the chaff. There are a wide variety of small- to intermediate-scale approaches to and technologies for effective seed cleaning. Approaches range from using various sizes of hardware cloth screens in tandem ( Clothier ) to using a compact fanning mill such as the Clipper Office Tester and a spiral separator for small farms ( Small Scale Grain and Pulse Production forum, 2008 ). See the Resources section for examples, types and sources of equipment.

Seed preparation and conditioning
This canola seed will need very little cleaning before crushing.
Photoby Holly Hill, NCAT.

For successful pressing, the seed must be:

Clean . Fine dust in the seed may clog the oil press hardware. Chaff left in the seed will absorb some of the oil and keep it from getting squeezed out of the expeller. Sand in the seed will wear out the press. Stones damage the oil press screw or piston.

Dry . Moist seed leads to low yields and clogs the screw or cage, a part of the press. Moist seed may also get moldy, as mold spores are present in all crops. A rule of thumb is that the moisture content of the seed should be close to 10 percent. The number varies considerably for specific oilseeds. For example, rapeseed should be dried to a 7-percent moisture content, camelina to about 6 percent and sunflower to 8.5 percent. Safflower needs only to be dried to 11 percent and soybean is safe for storage and processing at 12 percent ( Alam, 2007 ).

There are at least two methods of testing seed moisture levels. Hand-held moisture testers allow the user to simply place the seed in the tester, turn it on and select the type of seed to test. The tester provides an instant readout. These testers cost from $400 to $700. Brand names include DICKEY-johns mini GAC, the Graintec HE-50 and GE Sensing's Protimeter Grainmaster.

Here is a lower-tech, low-cost way of moisture testing: Weigh a sample of seed, and then heat the sample in an oven at 300 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour. Reweigh the sample. The weight lost in the oven is equal to the moisture content of the original sample. Calculate the percentage by dividing the weight lost by the original weight and multiplying the result by 100. Even dry seed can quickly get damp by being in contact with damp earth. Once the seed is dried and bagged, it must be carefully stored to keep it from absorbing moisture. Warm . Warm seed will yield the most oil for the least effort. The optimum heat range for oil extraction is from 100 to 160 degrees. There are several ways to preheat the seed in advance of extraction. For very small batches, heating the seed in an oven or double boiler works, as does concentrated sunlight in a solar food dryer or some other solar collector. For larger batches, a heating element in a hopper located between the seed storage facility and the oilseed press works well. Extraction by cold pressing

Oil can be extracted mechanically with a ram press, an expeller or even a wooden mortar and pestle, a traditional method that originated in India. Presses range from small, hand-driven models that an individual can build to power-driven commercial presses. The ram press uses a piston inside a cage to crush the seed and force out the oil ( Herz, 1997 ).

Expellers have a rotating screw inside a horizontal cylinder that is capped at one end. The screw forces the seeds or nuts through the cylinder with gradually increasing pressure.

The seed is heated by friction and electric heaters or a combination of the two. Once the cap is removed, the oil escapes from the cylinder through small holes or slots and the press cake, or meal, emerges from the end of the cylinder. Both the pressure and temperature can be adjusted for different kinds of feedstock.

There are two distinct expeller press designs — a single cylinder press that expels the press cake out in pellet form and a traditional cage-style screw press that expels the meal out in large flakes.

Oil expellers

There are many manufacturers of single-cylinder presses. Most presses are sold in European countries and designed primarily for rapeseed, or canola. For example, the Täby Press is a screw press manufactured in Sweden. It is similar to the Komet Oil Expeller described below. Various models are available for cold pressing rapeseed, linseed, flaxseed, sunflower seed, sesame seed, peanut, groundnut, mustard seed, poppy seed, cotton seed, jojoba and more. All of the Täby line of screw presses are distributed in the United States by Magic Mill International. See the Resources section for more information.

Komet Vegetable Oil Expellers are manufactured by IBG Monforts in Germany. The company's range of products covers small hand-operated machines as well as industrial machines. According to product literature, Komet oil expellers feature a special cold pressing system with a single conveying screw to squeeze the oils from various oil-bearing seeds.

The machines operate on a gentle mechanical press principle that does not involve mixing and tearing the seeds. Virtually all oil-bearing seeds, nuts and kernels can be pressed with standard equipment and without adjusting the screws or oil outlet holes.

Sectional view of a Komet (single cylinder) oil expeller.

Some advantages and disadvantages of each type of press are:

Single cylinder:

Simple to use and adjust for multiple feedstocks Designed for continuous use Easier to unclog if it gets backed up, which happens occasionally Works quite well out of the box.


Not for use for large, industrial-scale presses due to the very large pressure generated on the press head Expensive

Cage style:

Less expensive for small and large electric- driven presses The expeller of choice for larger capacities of more than 3 tons per day


Difficult to adjust for different sizes of seeds Needs more constant monitoring

Note: Reports from farmers who bought certain imported Chinese models included lower than expected quality and considerable setup time. They may need new parts or motor upgrades to function properly.

This 1-ton press was too small and slow for what its owner planned.

If you want to process larger amounts of oilseed crops, a 3-ton to 10-ton per day cage press may be what you want. You can also link multiple cylinder presses in tandem to perform the same function. Another option is the Instapro press, which is a semi-industrial- scale press available in the 20-ton per day capacity.

Both cylinder and cage presses have significant electrical requirements. Any press with a capacity over 3 tons per day will likely require three-phase power and smaller presses require 220-volt power.

Choosing the correct size of press for what you intend to do is very important. For example, Montana farmers' experiences led to the conclusion that 1-ton per day presses are too small for what is needed to produce biodiesel or straight vegetable oil fuel on an average Montana grain farm.

Solvent extraction of oil

Oils can also be extracted with solvents, but solvent extraction is a complex and costly operation. Solvent extraction isn't suited for small-scale processing because of high capital and operating costs, risks due to fire and explosions from solvents, and the sheer complexity. Management of solvents such as hexane is a problem as well ( Principles of Oil Extraction ).


Clarification removes contaminants such as fine pulp, water and resins. You can clarify oil by allowing it to sit undisturbed for a few days and then removing the upper layer. If the oil needs further clarification, filter the oil through a fine filter cloth. Finally, you can heat the oil to drive off traces of water and destroy any bacteria. Very clean oil is important in all uses, including biodiesel.


Degumming is the process of removing the phospholipids from the oil. Many people advise that you allow the resulting oil to settle out the gums, or hydratables, over a period of one to two weeks. However, you need more chemical processing to make high-quality culinary oil or biodiesel feedstock.

The chemistry of degumming for biodiesel production

Degumming is a critically important process for oilseed processors who use their oil in a high-quality biodiesel or in straight vegetable oil fuel. These gums are similar to normal triglycerides; however, one gum chain is a phosphorus molecule. Most of the gums are hydratable with water, meaning that either a normal settling or a water wash followed by settling will get gums out. Some of the gums are non-hydratables, so the oil must be mixed with phosphoric or citric acid to cause the non-hydratable gums to swell up and come out of solution.

The amount of non-hydratable gums formed, as well as the acid content of the oil, will often depend on the oil extraction temperature. Within a certain temperature range, lipases, the enzymes that consume fats and oils, are active during oil extraction. These lipases can cause the free fatty acid (FFA) content or the amount of non-hydratable gums to increase. Higher gum levels and FFA levels are not good for biodiesel production. Getting the non-hydratable gums out may or may not be critical, depending on the application.

For instance, most of the hydratable gums will come out in the glycerin phase in biodiesel production, but the non-hydratable gums that are left over will cause the producer to miss on the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) phosphorus specification for their B100, or 100-percent biodiesel.
Refining, bleaching and deodorizing

The vegetable oil produced and processed to this point does not need refining, bleaching or deodorizing as long as the natural taste, smell and color are acceptable to the user. However, getting the oil to commercial food grade may be an important step in oilseed processing if your market demands it. For example, restaurants require oils that have a relatively high smoke temperature and may or may not want the taste of the natural oil. Getting the oil to food grade will add value and can make small-scale biodiesel from oilseeds more feasible for those who intend to use the oil in a manner similar to the full-cycle farming story at right.

The RBD process gets oil to commercial grade specifications.

The RBD process includes:

Refining. Refining usually consists of two steps. The first step is degumming, which is described above. The second step is neutralization, in which the free fatty acids (FFAs) in the crude oil are caustic-stripped with sodium hydroxide (NaOH) in an aqueous solution. The resulting soap stock is settled, filtered or centrifuged out ( Van Gerpen et al., 2006 ).

Bleaching. In this step, the oil is mixed with certain types of bleaching clays to absorb colors and some other contaminants such as soap, trace metals and sulfur compounds.

Deodorizing. This is a distillation process that occurs at high temperatures and low pressure ( Van Gerpen et al., 2006 ). The oil is put under a vacuum and heated with steam to remove any leftover taste or odors and FFAs. Deodorizing can also be achieved by treatment with activated charcoal ( Pilgeram, 2008 ).

RBD is not always beneficial to nutrition. Crude oil contains more vitamin E, trace elements, phytosterols and more. The trade-off is that crude oil is healthier but less stable ( Pilgeram, 2008 ).

Oil packaging and storage

Use clean, dry containers to package and store oils. Sealed glass or plastic bottles are adequate for small quantities. Colored containers in a dark box help increase shelf life. Steel or plastic tanks work well for large quantities. The shelf life of oil is usually six to 12 months if it is properly packaged and kept away from heat and sunlight ( Fellows and Hampton, 1992 ).

Keeping air away from oil is perhaps the most important step to prevent rancidity. Completely fill whatever size container you chose so there is no air space and then cap the container tightly ( Van Gerpen, 2008 ).

Shelf life of oil may vary depending on the type of oil as well as the storage conditions. For example, flax and grape seed have a shorter shelf life than canola or sunflower due to the large amount of polyunsaturates present.

If the stored vegetable oil does not reach sustained temperatures of 100° F or more, its vital components will be preserved. Therefore, vegetable oil is excellently suited for natural nutrition. As long as the oil is stored in a dark, cool place, it will have a long shelf life.

Full-cycle farming?

Everdale Organic Farm in Ontario, along with Piedmont Biofuels from North Carolina, came up with a novel way to use the same batch of oil for food and fuel. For example, a farmer could "rent the oil" by harvesting his canola, processing the oil seeds to food-grade standards and "renting" the oil to a restaurant for a price lower than the restaurant typically pays for their oil. After using the oil, the restaurant returns the oil to the farmer for conversion to biodiesel. This way there is no competition between food and fuel and the economics work out favorably for small-scale biodiesel production from oilseed crops. Back to top

Oilseed by-products: Meal and hulls
Camelina seed is very small compared to other oilseeds.
Photo courtesy Montana State University.

Soy hulls and sunflower shells removed before pressing are used as animal feed. Soy hulls are used as a replacement for corn or winter hay.

Seed meal is a valuable by-product of pressing oilseeds. Sesame seed cake is valuable as a human food. Sunflower seed cake is not suitable for people, but it makes a good addition to chicken, pig or cattle feed. It is quite high in crude protein, but contains very few carbohydrates. It should be used as a feed additive, not a feed by itself.

Canola, soy and safflower meal are also used as animal feed supplements. At the time of this writing, extensive camelina animal feeding trials are being conducted. Table 1 shows the nutrient levels of various oilseed meals.

What's in the meal?

Be clear on oil content of the oilseed and the cake. Crushing the whole seed rather than dehulling it before pressing increases the fiber levels. All of the numbers describing the various oilseeds on the next page are the oil, or fat, content of the meal. The words fat and oil are interchangeable.

Keep in mind that any variability in an oilseed crusher's efficiency and effectiveness in removing the oil will affect factors such as feed ration recommendations and shelf life. For example, canola seed is about 40 percent oil, based on methods that extract virtually all the oil, usually solvent extraction. However, if cold pressing canola gets only 70 percent of that 40 percent, the amount of oil left in the cake is more than what a processor that removes 85 percent of the oil would leave.

Meals of the oilseeds in the brassica family contain glucosinolates, which are organic compounds that function as natural pesticides and give brassicas their bitter taste. Glucosinolates have anti-nutritional qualities that block absorption of some nutrients. Mustard meal has very high levels of these compounds. Camelina and canola have much lower levels, making them far more suitable for feeding.

Soybeans contain trypsin inhibitors that need to be deactivated by cooking before animals can derive the full value of the protein in the meal ( Van Gerpen, 2008 ). There is a large body of literature on what meals are best suited for ruminant or monogastrics like swine and poultry animals. See the Resources section for a sample of those sources.
Table 1. Nutrient composition of various oilseed meals resulting from solvent or mechanical extraction
Source - Biodiesel benefits for Cattle Producers: Feeding Byproducts of Biodiesel Production , 2008, Greg Lardy. Dry matter basis   DM,
% CP,
% Fat,
% TDN,
% NEm, Mcal/lb NEg, Mcal/lb ADF,
% Ca,
% P,
% Camelina meal, mechanical extraction 91.5 36.5 14.1 88.6 .97 .64 19.2 .38 .77 Canola meal, mechanical extraction 90 41 7.4 76 .8 .52 16 .6 .94 Canola meal, mechanical extraction,
On-farm press 92.6 36.9 14.1 88 1.09 .77 NG .6 1.02 Canola meal, solvent extraction 90 43.6 1.2 69 .73 .45 18 .67 1 Mustard meal, mechanical extraction 93 34.5 5.5 73 .76 .48 NG NG NG Safflower meal, mechanical extraction 91.9 23.5 7.2 56.1 .55 .25 NG .26 .66 Safflower meal, solvent extraction 92 25.4 1.1 57 .55 .29 41 .37 .81 Soybean meal, mechanical extraction 90.7 46.7 5.2 84.9 .94 .62 NG .31 .65 Soybean meal, solvent extraction 89 49 1.2 84 .94 .64 NG .33 .71 Sunflower meal, mechanical extraction, On-farm press 93.1 23.6 19 90.5 1.13 .8 NG .43 .79 Sunflower meal, solvent extraction 90 38.9 1 64 .65 .35 28 .39 1.06 Abbreviations: DM = dry matter; TDN = total digestible nutrients; NEm = net energy for maintenance; NEg = net energy for gain; CP = crude protein; ADF = acid detergent fiber; Ca = calcium; P = phosphorus; NG = not given.

Just as with oilseeds, proper storage of seed cake is extremely important. Moldy seed cake is a twofold problem. First, moldy seed cake does not taste good to animals. Animals may not be willing to eat moldy feed. Worse, some kinds of mold make mycotoxins such as aflatoxin. These poisons can make people and animals sick. Some of the poisons from moldy seed will end up in the oil, but most remain in the seed cake. The toxins can also get into the meat, eggs and especially the milk of the animals that eat the cake.

Rancidity is another shelf-life issue for oilseed cake. Shelf life of meal is most affected by the content of unsaturated fatty acids and the content of antioxidants such as vitamin E and derivatives. Unsaturated fatty acids, such as omega-3s, decrease the shelf life. Antioxidants increase shelf life. Storage, temperature, humidity, moisture content and seed type are also important factors to consider. For example, camelina and flax both have high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids. However, camelina meal contains higher concentrations of vitamin E and subsequently has a longer shelf life than flax meal. Canola oil contains less unsaturated fat than camelina oil. Subsequently, canola meal is more stable ( Pilgeram, 2008 ).

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Adding value adds costs

Although value-added processing can be a way to increase a farmer's share of the farm product dollar, adding value doesn't come free. At each step, one is adding more work, buying additional equipment and supplies and using more energy. Information needs increase. Wholesaling or retailing culinary oil will require nutritional labeling. And depending upon the situation, liability insurance may become a must.

A key point to remember is that adding value to any foods by processing increases safety risks due to the increased handling. Therefore, rules and regulations are established by each state to protect public health. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration regulates products going out of state. Anyone considering processed foods as a value-added business should contact their state health department before proceeding.

One (bio)oilman's story E. Peter Matthies has been involved with pressing oil from seeds and nuts for more than 15 years. The following is from a communication Matthias sent to one of the authors of this publication and serves to illustrate one man's experience with oilseed production.

"Upon my retirement I started to ranch (and) raise cattle in western Colorado. A professor at Colorado State University suggested that I plant alfalfa and rotate it with canola rather than other small grains. With a press, I would get some oil and the by-product (press cake) would also have economic value.

When I found the special cold press equipment in Germany, I purchased a couple of presses and got started. I learned from the equipment company representatives about other oils from hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, sesame, sunflower, hemp, Saw palmetto and others and started to make oils. I also tried some very special oils, like coffee oil and oil from dried orange peels. I went to some of the big shows and met marketing and distributing people. I furnished them with samples and received substantial orders. I shipped anywhere from 1-gallon containers to 55-gallon drums. A local cattle feed lot sent their truck twice a month to pick up any press cake that I didn't use for my own horses and cattle.

Slowly my name became known by word-of-mouth. People sent me different seeds or nuts to test for oil content and for the taste and value of such oils. Through a Web page I attracted universities and other companies.

Some people who bought the special Komet presses from me concentrated on special markets, such as hemp seed oil in Canada or grape seed oils from wineries or certain immigrant groups who like special oils they were used to from their home country.

Later I became known for the special quality of the truly cold pressed oil (less than 90 degrees) and I was asked to test various varieties of certain products, such as grape seed oil from different grapes, like an oil "a la merlot" or "a la pinot noir." I produced oil on contract for several companies until they had established their own markets, at which point they acquired their own production plants.

Small-scale operators, who consider oils as a sideline, might be able to sell to local shops and restaurants. Health spas are always in need of special oils. Make sure you have a good name for your product and present the oils in appealing containers.

In regard to pricing, find out what other people charge and see if you can live with that. Or concentrate on high price markets like certified organic stores or Kosher (markets). Prices for the same oil are different in different parts of the country. Can you be competitive at those rates? Can you sell just under those rates and still be economical? Certified organic and Kosher (products) cost extra for inspection in addition to the installation and operation of the plant. Is the market large enough to pay for the higher costs?

I believe there is no sure-fire way (to sell oils) in all parts of the country. But one thing is necessary wherever you are: You've got to go out and toot your horn!" ( Matthies, 2004 ) Back to top


Alam, M.S. November 2007. Basic of fats and Oils Chemistry: Factors Affecting Crude Oil Quality. Presented to the Vegetable Oils Extraction Short Course, Texas A&M Food Protein R&D Center, College Station, Texas.

Clothier, Tom. Seeds .

Fellows, Peter, and Ann Hampton (eds.). 1992. Small-Scale Food Processing: A Guide to Appropriate Equipment. Practical Action Publishing - formerly the Intermediate Technology Development Group. 158 p. (A second edition was published in 2003. See Resources for ordering information.)

Herz, Jonathan. 1997. Using and Maintaining the Ram Press. Enterprise Works Worldwide. Washington, DC. 42 p.

Lardy, Greg. 2008. Biodiesel Benefits for Cattle Producers: Feeding Byproducts of Biodiesel Production. Western Organizations of Resource Councils, Billings, MT. 28 p.

Matthies, E. Peter. 2004. Personal communication. See the Resources section for contact information.

Pilgeram, Alice. July 2008. Correspondence with author.

Principles of Oil Extraction. Practical Action Publishing (formerly the Intermediate Technology Group), Colchester, Essex, UK.

Small Scale Grain and Pulse Production forum . May 17, 2008. Cleaning Up. Small Scale Grain and Pulse Production: A Forum for Information on Grain and Pulse Production for Food.

Van Gerpen, Jon. July 2008. Correspondence with author.

Van Gerpen, Jon, et al. Building a Successful Biodiesel Business.