A company in Milbank has come up with a new way for you to get your daily dose of omega threes. Stengel Oil is taking flaxseeds, known for numerous health benefits, and turning them into salad dressing.
Cal Stengel sits at his desk in his office at Stengel Oil. Behind him the wall is covered with a large map of northwest Washington State. Stengel is originally from Milbank but he and his family lived in the Pacific Northwest for about seven years while he worked at a company that pressed flaxseed into oil. It was during that time that he got an idea.
“It dawned on me that, why are we trucking all this flaxseed from the Dakotas out to Washington and pressing it for the oil, then bringing it back,” Stengel says. “All of the transportation costs when we could just as easily do it here in the Dakotas. And so that was the basis of the start of the business and it’s been going very well since then.”
Stengel moved back to his hometown in 2005 and began his business in what is known as the old Flannerys building. Flannerys was a meat packing and sausage making facility in Milbank, and prior to Stengel moving in the structure had stood empty for a decade or two. Stengel says parts of the building are over 100 years old.
“So here you’ve got this big brick building, and it’s going to cost way too much to tip over or to implode or whatever you want to do with it, and structurally it’s sound,” Stengel says. “So we fixed up a bunch of the roofs on the building and came in and fixed up a bunch of the rooms and improved the building and got it up to food grade standard, cleaned the building up from top to bottom, so you’ve got this brick building that still has life left in it.”
The facility may be in an old building. You can see the imprint of old machinery in places on the concrete floors. But Stengel’s company is producing a product that is relatively new, and rare. Stengel says his is one of only a few operations making flax oil based salad dressing. He says flaxseed oil is very high in omega threes, and beneficial to both humans and animals. But he says most people don’t like the idea of taking a spoonful of oil.
“And so we got to looking at the salad dressings and realized they’re being made with soybean oil and canola oil and who knows what other oils, they’ll just say a vegetable oil there,” Stengel says. “And we said, well let’s replace the flax oil into that and then you get an omega three product, which is what’s needed, and then you also have a good tasting product too that’s usable and can be used in a lot of forms then as well.”
The salad dressing starts out as tiny brown flaxseeds. Outside, three bins each hold a semi load of the seeds.
“The seed comes in from outside, drops down by gravity, and gets run through these presses,” Stengel says.
Near the ceiling in one of the many rooms, several bins hold flaxseed. Stengel says screws on the presses below the bins are turning 24 hours a day, seven days a week, squeezing oil from the tiny seeds.
“Here’s the screw right there that’s just turning,” Stengel says. “And this is the head that normally the seed would stop against that and be crushed, and then the oil drips down into the pan and drips down into the tank there.”
The oil is piped into another room and filtered to remove all impurities.
“And then in the background you see there, there’s ten of these 800 gallon tanks of oil,” Stengel says.
Some of that oil goes to the kitchen where a handful of other ingredients are added: honey, mustard, onion, sea salt and a little pepper for example, to make a salad dressing rich in omega threes. But Stengel says the flaxseeds that run through the presses are used for so much more than salads. After the oil is pressed, a flaxseed meal is left behind. Stengel says that’s used for animal feed.
“I guess the biggest surprise was when I got the business with the omega three eggs,” Stengel says. “Because I wasn’t expecting that one at all, that the flax oil could go through the chicken and get an egg, and you also get the meat then from the chicken as well as an omega three egg. So the uses of this omega three or the flax oil has really surprised me. We’ve got it going into chickens, we’ve got it going into cows to give an omega three product there, I’ve got a customer that was taking it for his turkeys and getting an omega three turkey meat there.”
Stengel says customers also use the flaxseed oil and meal for horses, cats, dogs, and bees. But it’s human food that Stengel and his company have been focused on for the past few months. He says the new salad dressing just arrived on local store shelves a few weeks ago, and he’s working on getting the product in Hy-Vee and other grocery stores in eastern South Dakota soon.