Canola (Can for Canada and OLA for oil, low acid) is made by crushing the seeds of the rapeseed plant (Brassica napus). It’s a neutral-tasting oil, which has made it popular for cooking, but is it the best oil for cooking? Or is it a good oil at all? Let’s go behind the scenes on this one.

Rapeseeds are high in oil, but contain a toxic compound called erucic acid, which cannot be safely consumed. Canadian scientists figured out how to remove this acid through targeted plant breeding and came up with the canola plant. Then along came genetic modification, and rapeseed that was genetically engineered to survive spraying with glyphosate (RoundUp-Ready) was introduced to Canada in 1995. By 2005 about 90% of the canola produced in the United states and Canada was genetically modified. Canada remains the world’s largest exporter of canola.

To make canola, the oil is extracted from the rapeseeds using hexane, a solvent. It is then refined using a water and organic acid process, then filtered (to remove colour), and steam distilled to deodorise it.

For cooking, canola is neutral in flavour, and can withstand high cooking temperatures without breaking down and burning. One tablespoon of the oil contains 2.4mg of vitamin E, and 10mcg of vitamin K.

The omega-3 level of canola is low, compared to omega-6. The ratio is roughly 1:2 (i.e., it has about twice as much omega-6), and it contains 0.1g of trans-fats per tablespoon of oil, which is something that best avoided.

Canola is used in an incredible range of products: as a cooking oil, as an ingredient in soap and margarine, . One form of the oil (colza) is used as a lamp fuel, heating oil, and as a lubricant for engines and can be made into biodiesel, especially in Europe. The seeds are also used as bird feed, and the seed residue after oil extraction is used for fodder. The plant is also grown as a cover crop and green manure.

One thing canola has going for it – it looks stunning when in flower!

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