Canola, a member of the Brassicaceae family (like mustard, cabbage and turnip), is an oilseed plant with bright yellow flowers developed in Canada in the 1970's, using selective breeding and hybridization of rapeseed. Rapeseed has been around for thousands of years, and was used in recent history as lamp oil, and during WWII as steam engine lubricant.
Canola's name is a shortened derivative of the abbreviation “Can.O., L-A.” (Canadian Oilseed, Low-Acid), and as the name suggests, it was developed to contain lower amounts of erucic acid which naturally occurs in rapeseed. This made it more palatable, and suitable as a food product.
Certain varieties of rapeseed leaves and stems are also edible and sold as greens, similar to related bok choy or kale.
There are some cultivars of rapeseed that have been genetically engineered to be resistant to certain herbicides (Roundup, in particular), but original canola was naturally developed through years of traditional breeding methods.
Canola oil is neutral flavoured, low in saturated fat and high in monounsaturated fat, making it a popular cooking oil for a healthier diet. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids (almost as much as flaxseed oil), which is healthy for your heart, and has been reported to reduce cholesterol levels, lower serum tryglyceride levels, and keep platelets from sticking together.
There are different ways of processing the oil; one is a more modern method of chemical extraction using solvents (commonly hexane), which is a quick and less expensive method. The other method is by mechanical extraction, a more traditional physical process. Oils produced this way are called 'expeller-pressed', and the Canola oil we use is natural, expeller-pressed.
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