Rapeseed (Brassica napus, also referred to as oilseed rape or canola), is a plant that grows to about 5 feet tall, bearing bright yellow flowers with four petals. The plant is grown worldwide and cultivated mainly for its black seeds that are rich in oil. This oil, known as rapeseed oil or canola oil, is the third largest source of vegetable oil in the world.
Rapeseed was mainly used as a source of oil for fuel as early as in the 14th century. It gained popularity in the Americas during World War 2 as a source of lubricant for marine and steam engines.
Canola – the edible kind of rapeseed
Canola is developed through specific plant breeding techniques. The name “canola” is a combination of “Canada” and “oil low acid), and was first registered by the Canadian Oilseed Crushers Association in 1979. Because of the use of plant breeding techniques, the chemical and nutritional content of canola and rapeseed can be different.
Rapeseed oil contains erucic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. Studies on animals suggest that this acid may be harmful when taken in very high concentrations. However, canola oil contains less than 2% of erucic acid (as opposed to above 45% in the industrial variety). This explains the claim of canola as a type of oil with a low acid content, which is generally regarded as safe by health and food regulators. Today, the varieties of oil produced from edible rapeseed or canola are actually the “double low” type as they contain low levels of not just the bitter erucic acid, but also low levels of glucosinolate (a natural compound found in certain plants considered responsible for some digestive disorders).
Add some canola oil to your diet
Canola oil is a good source of ”good fats and oils” in our daily balanced diet, due to the following reasons:
- It is high in monounsaturated fats, thereby being responsible for producing lesser trans-fats.
- It has less unhealthy saturated fat content than other cooking oils and fats (as low as 50% lesser saturated fat content as compared to olive oil).
- It is one of the richest sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, thereby being of assistance in reducing the risk of heart diseases.
- It is a rich source of Vitamin E, which aids as a powerful anti-oxidant.
- It contains plant sterols, which are beneficial for reduction of cholesterol levels.
- It has a light texture and is an ideal oil for cooking at high temperatures, making it a preferred choice for baking, deep frying and stir-frying.
- It can be used in a variety of diets like vegetarian, non-vegetarian, gluten-free, halal and kosher.
Here is how you can put canola oil to great use:
- Different brands of oil have different tastes. It is best to try out various brands till the ideal one is found.
- Some of the oil brands also have flavored variants that can add to the taste.
- Due to the sensitivity of all oils to heat, light and oxygen; it is recommended to store them in a cool, dry and dark place with minimal exposure to air.
- Slowly substitute your usual cooking oil with canola oil in order to get used to its taste and enjoy the benefits of reduced saturated fat intake.
- Substitute butter with canola oil when baking to reduce your intake of saturated and trans-fats.
- Use canola oil as salad dressings, dips, marinades and vinaigrettes for enhanced taste and reduced fat intake.
- Last but not the least, use the oil within its “use by” date recommended on the packaging.
Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. Available at www.agmrc.org
McInnis A. (2004). The Transformation of Rapeseed into Canola: A Cinderella Story. Retrieved from http://www.wdm.ca/skteacherguide/WDMResearch/CanolaResearchPaper.pdf
Oplinger E.S. et. al. (1989). Canola (Rapeseed). Alternative Feed Crops Manual. Retrieved from www.hortpurdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/canola; accessed June 2015.
Wharfe Valley Farms. Available at www.wharfevalleyfarms.co.uk
Rapeseed Oil Benefits. Available at www.rapeseedoilbenefits.hgca.com