Meadowfoam (Limnanthes alba) is a low-growing herbaceous winter annual that is adapted to poorly drained soils. The common name "meadowfoam" is due to the appearance, at full bloom, of the plant’s solid canopy of creamy white flowers that resembles, in the wind, sea foam on the surf. Meadowfoam grows to a height of 10 to 18 inches.
Meadowfoam is a native wildflower found along waterways in northern California, southern Oregon and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. It is mainly grown in Oregon. Research and development of meadowfoam began in the late 1950s as the result of a USDA search for plants that might provide a renewable source of raw materials for industry. Commercial development began in 1980 on an experimental farm in Oregon.
Meadowfoam seeds (nutlets) contain 20 to 30 percent oil. The oil from meadowfoam seed has unique chemical properties that make it one of the most stable vegetable oils known. The oil extracted from meadowfoam seeds is recognized for its outstanding oxidative stability and contains over 98 percent long-chain fatty acids. It has higher quality triglyceride levels compared to other vegetable oils. Meadowfoam oil contains three previously unknown long-chain fatty acids. The oil is most similar to high euric acid rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil is slightly more saturated than meadowfoam oil. In addition, meadowfoam oil is 20 times more stable than soybean oil, which means it does not deteriorate as readily when exposed to air (ARS).
After the oil is removed by crushing the seed and utilizing a solvent extraction process, the remaining meal may be used as a feed source. Meadowfoam meal fed to beef cattle at levels up to 25 percent of the total dietary intake has no negative impact on weight gain. Use of the meal for other livestock may require steam cooking or using a lower percentage of meal in the total feed supply due to a toxic glucosinolate fraction.
Meadowfoam oil is in direct competition with rapeseed oil for high-volume industrial oilseed markets. Penetration into these markets requires that meadowfoam oil be price competitive and in dependable supply. The price of meadowfoam oil was as high as $7.00 per pound in 2002. By 2017, online wholesale prices for meadowfoam oil were $16 to $17 per pound.
Product development that takes advantage of the unique long-chain fatty acids found in meadowfoam oil would tend to lead to a high-value, low-volume market that would accelerate the development of full-scale production and market systems. Meadowfoam oil is widely used in cosmetic and hair-care applications due to its stability, lubricity and ability to stay on the skin. Some examples of existing specialty applications include massage lotions, sun block creams and salon-quality hair-care products. Meadowfoam oil is highly resistant to oxidation and heat, and is a valuable material for personal-care products. The beneficial properties of the oil in these applications include moisturizing, ultraviolet protection (sunscreen applications), a non-greasy feel and excellent properties for blending with other cosmetic oils to enhance their function and reduce the cost of their use. Additionally, the oil is one of the most shelf-stable lipids known and remains liquid at room temperature despite its molecular weight. These characteristics make meadowfoam oil very stable, even when heated or exposed to the air. This outstanding stability can be conferred to other oils when meadowfoam oil is blended with them, making it ideal as a carrier in applications with less stable, but very high-value oils, for example, almond, borage, and evening primrose oil. For this reason, meadowfoam oil is a potentially very high value shelf-life extender for the cosmetics industry.
The oil’s long-chain fatty acids (20- and 22-carbon), unique due to very high levels of mono-unsaturation and very low levels of poly-unsaturation, although immediately recognized for cosmetic and other personal care applications, also makes them uniquely applicable to industrial products that include specialty lubricants, inks, detergents and plasticizers. Meadowfoam oil can be chemically transformed into a liquid wax ester that is an ideal substitute for sperm whale and jojoba oils. Additionally, the oil can be easily converted to a light-colored, premium-grade solid wax, as well as a sulfur-polymer factice potentially valuable to the rubber industry. Derivatives of meadowfoam oil such as estoloides and silicone esters have considerable potential as coatings, films and adhesives.
The various industrial applications for meadowfoam oil are currently being researched by USDA-ARS at the New Crops Research Center in Peoria, Illinois, with additional oil extraction and glucosinolate-removal research being conducted by the Center for Crops Utilization Research at Iowa State University, Ames. Due to the potential for high-value industrial applications, biotechnological research also is underway to transfer expression of meadowfoam oil to soybeans, an established agronomic system. To date, the oil has been expressed in soybean embryos.
- Farmer–university collaboration with meadowfoam research, Trends in New Crops and New Uses, Oregon State University, 2002.
- Meadowfoam, Alternative Field Crops Manual, College of Agricultural and Life Sciences and Cooperative Extension Service, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2000 - Synopsis of meadowfoam characteristics and current research from the Purdue University mirror page.
- Meadowfoam, Natural Plant Products and OMG Meadowfoam Oil Seed Growers Association - This vertically integrated agricultural enterprise is producer and stakeholder managed from its agricultural fields to its finished products.
- Meadowfoam Seed Enterprise Budget, Willamette Valley Region, Oregon State University, 2010.
- Meadowfoam in Virginia, Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses, updated 2001 - Synopsis of meadowfoam research in Virginia. Online version of a proceedings.
- Meadowfoam Fills a Niche, Ag Research Service (ARS), USDA, 1997.
- New Player Enters Meadowfoam Field, Capital Press, 2010.
- Technology Crops International - This company contracts with growers for meadowfoam production.
Links checked November 2017.