Olive oil comes from olives. Peanut oil comes from peanuts. Coconut oil comes from coconuts. Did you ever stop to think where canola oil comes from? Is there any such thing as a canola plant?
The answer to that question is, “sort of.”
Let’s make this clearer. Today’s canola plant is a biologically modified cousin of the rapeseed plant, which is part of the mustard family. Rapeseed plants produce a substance called erucic acid that can be toxic in large amounts. So rapeseed oil is not actually fit for human or animal consumption. It is used, however, as a lubricant, fuel, soap and synthetic rubber base. It can also be found in insect repellents. The canola plant was developed in Canada during the 1960s and 70s in order to assure its safety for human consumption. That’s where the name comes from. It stands for Canadian Oil Low Acid.
So today there is a canola plant that exists because of the rapeseed plant, whose oil is inedible. The oil from the canola plant is not only edible, but, according to most sources, is better for consumption than many other available oils. It’s a good source of monounsaturated fats, the kind that, when used to replace saturated fats like butter and cheese, can help reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease. Canola oil is also a source of omega-3 fatty acids that have also been linked to heart health.
Still, there’s plenty of conflicting information out there. And because FoodFacts.com believes in consumer education, we thought it would be beneficial to report on the “other side” of canola oil.
Let’s begin with how the oil is extracted from the seeds of the canola plant. It appears that most canola oil is processed using hexane, which is a known carcinogen. The industry actually admits that trace amounts of hexane can be found in the finished product, but these amounts are insignificant. To be fair, many different vegetable oils, including soybean oil are processed the same way.
In addition to the use of hexane, the oil is removed using high temperature mechanical pressing. The presence of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in the oil cause it to become foul-smelling during this high-heat process. It then becomes necessary to deodorize the oil. Because of the high-heat involved, both processes remove much of the omega-3s by turning them into trans fatty acids. The Canadian government lists the trans fat content of canola at just .2 percent.
And to add more conflicting information into the discussion, there are further reports that heating canola oil above 120 degrees will cause the formation of more trans fatty acids, again because of the breakdown of the remaining omega-3s. Most cooking classes teach that in order to saute protein properly, fat should be introduced into a pan heated to at least 212 degrees, depending on the fat used. So if the reports about heating canola oil over 120 degrees causing the formation of trans fats are realistic, we’re consuming more trans fat every time we cook using the oil.
These are just a few of the arguments against canola oil and its current status as a healthy fat for cooking. There are plenty of arguments out there in its favor though. Regardless of those, FoodFacts.com does think it’s important to repeat that nature didn’t create a canola plant. People did. As the FDA is considering a ban on trans fat in the food supply, we certainly think we could all use more clarity here.