Canola Oil   -   [Lear Oil, Brassica campestris]
Flowers

Here we have yet another example of how an industrial product with a declining market was repositioned as "health food", backed by intensive promotion and inconclusive testing.

Rapeseed oil was long an important lubricant for machinery exposed to water and steam, so during World War II, when European and Asian supplies were cut off, large plantings were established in Canada. After the war, new markets needed to be found. Unfortunately rapeseed oil was considered unfit for human consumption, so that needed to be fixed, along with the name, before it could be sold as food.

"Canola" is an invented name (Canada + oil + low acid) for genetically modified rapeseed oil. Technically it is "low erucic acid, low glucosinolates rapeseed oil". Originally this modification was by breeding but recently it's by "engineering", with 80% of the crop now considered "GM". As with other GM crops, the power of money assures we cannot know if it is safe (C2, C3).

Rape is a member of the mustard / cabbage family. Stems of leaves are sold in Asian markets as Yu Choy, and it's a fine vegetable - but unmodified rapeseed oil is high in erucic acid, thought to cause of heart lesions in humans and animals. The FDA considers it unfit for food. The genetically modified Canola version has under 2% erucic acid and is listed by the FDA as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe), though it's rumored that listing cost Canada a bundle.

Canola is now intensively promoted by the seed oil industry as the healthiest of all cooking oils, pointing to it's high monounsaturated and Omega-3 fat contents. So successful has this promotion been that many food writers and cookbooks now list Canola oil by name in every recipe calling for cooking oil.

As usual with industry promotions, there's a lot of negative stuff swept under the carpet and locked in the closet. Some experts point to dangers and a few even call Canola unfit for human consumption - but those shrill Internet tracts about mustard gas are completely without merit.   Photo by Prazak distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution v3.0.
More on Oils.



Cooking:   The taste of Canola oil is unobtrusive so it can be used as a general purpose oil, like grapeseed oil or peanut oil. It's smoke point is 400°F/200°C which places it at the low end of the "deep fry" range, but its oxidation index is 5.5. That's better than corn oil's 6.2 and Soy oil's 7.0 but not as good as Peanut Oil's 3.7, and way worse than Olive Oil's 1.5. This means that, to avoid rancidity and resulting carcinogens, Canola oil should be used only for rather brief frying jobs.

Canola oil for food processing and "fast food" has an oxidation index of 1.3, but it's not available in your local market. Of course it's partially hydrogenated, so it's deadly trans fats, but commercial users can still call it "Canola Oil".

Health & Nutrition

Canola oil is claimed to be one of the more "heart friendly" oils, having a very high percentage of monounsaturated fats (though not as much as Olive Oil) and a very low percentage of saturated fats. It also has a high percentage of Omega-3 fatty acids, but comparisons to the Omega-3 in fish oil (a different form) may not be valid.

The high Omega-3 content may, in fact, be a problem. Omega-3 is a polyunsaturated fat, posing a rancidity problem, particularly at high temperatures.. Canola oil is mechanically pressed at high temperatures and extracted from mashed seeds with hexane solvents which are driven off by more high temperatures. By time this treatment is complete much of the polyunsaturated fat content is degraded and the oil stinks of rancidity. It is then "deodorized", which converts the Omega-3 to - yes, you guessed it - trans fats. Canola oil is officially 0.2% trans fats but actual measurements of commercial oils have shown up to 4.0%.

Some researchers suspect the Omega-3 content may be the cause of heart problems seen in laboratory rodents, particularly because high Omega-3 flaxseed oil produces similar problem, but this is far from certain. Others have found monounsaturated fats taken alone are sufficiently damaging. Researchers have found, though, that "evil" saturated fats apparently protect rodent hearts from damage caused by Canola oil.

These experiments may explain why in Asia regular "high erucic acid" rape oil has been used as cooking oil for centuries, yet heart lesion problems have been rare, appearing mainly in impoverished regions. Asian populations using rape oil also used plenty of coconut oil and butter ghee, both very high in protective saturated fats. Now that the American Heart Association's vendetta against saturated fats has reached Asia, users of rapeseed oil are at risk. Olive oil, incidentally, has twice as much saturated fat as Canola, and 1/3 the polyunsaturated fats.

Some tests show that Canola oil releases more toxins into the air in deep fry operations than olive oil, which may be the cause of discomfort and complaints from some food workers. More testing needs to be done on this

The "low glucosinolates" part of the Canola definition doesn't directly affect you - it just means the "cake" left after extracting the oil tastes better in cattle feed.

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