Canola oil is pressed from the seeds of a plant in the Brassica family, which includes mustard and cabbage plants. The plant is a specific type of Brassica napus, which is the rapeseed plant. The canola strain was developed to solve certain issues with rapeseed and rapeseed oil.
Rapeseed has been cultivated since the earliest part of human history for lamp oil and has been a significant crop in Europe since the 1200s. The standard variety of rapeseed has a short shelf life due to its high erucic acid content. The acid causes the oil to go rancid along with other problems, such as the fact that it may be a carcinogen.
Like other Brassicas, rapeseed oil contains glucosinolates. While the glucosinolates in mustard and other Brassica plants provide essential nutrients, they give rapeseed oil an unpleasant taste.
Rapeseed oil became a popular crop during World War II because of the lubricant it provided. Rapeseed oil adheres well to wet metal, which made it an excellent option for boat engines. Cultivation in Canada began during this time because America was cut off from European and Asian sources.
In the 1950s, Canadian scientists began working on strains of the rapeseed plant with reduced levels of erucic acid and glucosinolate. Baldur Stefansson, a professor at the University of Manitoba, came up with a variety of rapeseed that had very low levels of the two chemicals. It was given the name canola. The first four letters stand for Canadian oil, with the last two being short for low acid. Canola would replace rapeseed cultivation in Canada by the 1980s.
In parts of Europe, canola oil is still referred to as rapeseed or rape oil.
Today, Canada grows about 15 percent of the world’s canola, with the European Union growing about 17 percent. The United States produces only about 1 percent. Canola is the 5th most cultivated oilseed crop in the world.
Canola oil flavor profile
Canola oil has a very mild flavor, especially when you compare it to other popular cooking oils like extra virgin olive oil. The taste is mild to the point of being almost undetectable, which means that it is close to being a genuinely neutral oil. Cold-pressed canola oils are said to have a buttery flavor.
Health benefits of canola oil
Canola oil is generally considered to be a healthy cooking oil because it contains nutrients like:
- Polyunsaturated fatty acids: Canola oil is rich in both alpha-linolenic acid and linoleic acid.
- Vitamins: You can get both vitamins E and K from canola oil.
If you consume canola oil, you may be able to treat or prevent health issues like:
- Heart disease: The low level of saturated fat in canola oil can help to prevent the clogged arteries and high cholesterol that cause heart disease. Canola oil has the lowest level of saturated fat in any available cooking oil.
- Cancer: Canola oil may protect from colon cancer. Studies suggest that it may lessen the incidence of colon tumors and lower their size as well.
Canola oil is best used for deep frying, stir-frying and other applications where you don’t want the oil’s taste dominating other flavors in the dish. It has a high smoke point, so it is ideal for food that must be cooked hot and fast. Cold-pressed canola oil should be used in raw applications like salad dressings rather than for frying.