So Glad You Asked! What is Canola Oil?

I'm starting a new feature here, a series called "So Glad You Asked!" - I want to hear from you. I'll tackle topics like ingredients you're curious about, techniques, recipe revisions or whatever piques your culinary curiosity...for example:

  • What coriander is? How to use it?
  • Wondering about a new cuisine and looking for a starter recipe?
  • Curious about an ingredient?
  • Pros and Cons of the latest fad or trend?

All are fair game. Simply drop a comment with your question. If you're curious, you know lots of other people are, too. I'm going to get the ball rolling by answering a question one of my private cooking clients asked about.

What is Canola Oil? 

Some people have shied away from canola oil because they don't know where it comes from. We know peanut oil comes from peanuts. Olive oil from olives. Corn oil from corn. But what the heck is a "canola" anyway?

Turns out - nothing! It's actually a made up name for rapeseed oil, originated by the Canadian rapeseed oil marketers to get around the unfortunate association we have with the word "rape" in English. Rapeseed is from the rape plant -brassica napum -from the Latin rāpum turnip. It's a member of the mustard family - see the color of the flowers below? What does that remind you of? Think of "broccoli rabe"  or "rape" ("rah-pay"), rapini. These are all derived from the same plant and name. In fact broccoli rabe is cime di rape which is "head of the turnip" in Italian. So this whole turnip/mustard/brassicacae plant family - it's one you need to know. First, because, well, brassicas = YUM. Second, they're really healthy. Third, they're easier to incorporate than you may think. Try blanching and freezing in a muffin tin. Then you've got portions ready to go into a soup, stew or smoothie.

Did you know?

Another superfood we all love today goes by a new name, it used to be called Colewort. Do you know what this is? Kale!

In fact, the Colewort family includes kale, collards, cabbages, broccoli, kolrabi ...

rapeseed oil AKA Canola

 

But what about that nasty "scientific" report I heard about? 

There is no shortage of misinformation on this product but I urge you to look at Snopes.com for a handy analysis of this silliness. One of the oft-cited "dangers" goes back to the historic uses of rapeseed oil in China. Taking what was grown primarily for livestock feed (a common purpose for the plant to this day) the seeds were pressed into oil but not refined. Today's Canola oil is refined. What difference does this make? Nutritionally the older version of unrefined rapeseed oil was not healthy for high heat cooking. It contained potentially unhealthy levels of erucic acid. Some animal studies in the 1970s showed ill effects from erucic acid.

Today's Canola oil is a different product. The composition is actually a very healthy oil. Canola oil contains more oleic acid and alpha linoleic acid than erucic.

From WebMD

  • Canola oil has 7% saturated fat, compared to 12% for sunflower oil, 13% for corn oil, and 15% for olive oil. There's solid evidence low fat is not the answer, it's the type of fat we should be concerned about.
  • It is very high in healthier unsaturated fats. It's higher in the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) than any other oil except flaxseed oil.

canola

Uses for Canola oil

Rapeseed oil has a light, neutral flavor and high smoke point. It's a great choice for dishes when you don't want the flavor of olive oil or peanut oil. It can be used in salads, stir fries, even baking.

Look at this gorgeous Chiffon Cake made with Canola oil in place of butter.

  • Canola oil has the lowest saturated fat
  • is trans-fat free
  • is a good plant-based source of Omega 3 fatty acids

More info on Omega 3s.

And if you have food allergies, as I do, you need to know what oil your restaurant is using. "Vegetable oil" can be problematic if you have soy allergy, for example. Here's a great post by Amy (Adventures of an Allergic Foodie) that covers some of the fine points. Food Allergies and Vegetable Oil: What You Need to Know. From what I've read, there's some room for disagreement on whether highly refined oils contain enough particles to trigger a reaction. As Amy discovered, you may have to learn what your body will tolerate. Hopefully you can avoid trauma in the education process.

 

So Glad You Asked about Canola Oil. 

Now, what other culinary questions do you have?