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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

What Is Canola Oil?

By January 9, 2011

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Did you think there was a canola plant? I never gave it much thought.

I mentioned in my biodiesel tutorial that oils which contain tocopherol (Vitamin E) have a longer shelf life than oils that do not contain this natural preservative. I noted that rapeseed oil contains tocopherol... what I didn't say was that canola oil is made from rapeseed. So why don't we just call it rapeseed oil? Blame Canada! I'm joking, but seriously, the word 'canola' was coined in 1978 from 'Canadian oil, low acid'. Canola oil comes from select rapeseed cultivars that produce low erucic acid rapeseed oil and low glucosinolate meal. These cultivars were developed in Canada in the 1970s by Keith Downey and Baldur Stefansson.

Though canola oil is derived from a type of rapeseed, there are some chemical differences. Your basic rapeseed oil is green-colored and has an undesirable flavor, so it isn't used for cooking. Since one of the potential negative health effects which might be associated with canola oil is vitamin E deficiency, I am going to guess either canola oil contains less tocopherol than rapeseed oil or else the tocopherol has a lower bioavailability. However, erucic acid also is associated with rancidity and canola oil contains less erucic acid than normal rapeseed oil.

So, in summary... canola oil is a type of rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil and biodiesel derived from rapeseed oil have a relatively long shelf life. I do not know for sure whether or not biodiesel from canola oil has a long shelf life.


June 19, 2008 at 3:16 am
(1) David Bradley says:

I must confess, I’d always assumed that the word canola was the Amercun synonym for what we Brits call rapeseed plants. Thanks for the enlightenment.

June 20, 2008 at 1:22 am
(2) Steve Withers says:

Is canola oil digestable? I’ve stopped eating it because as far as I can tell, it passes straight through and I do not like the result.

This does does not happen (for me) with olive, sunflower or rice bran oils.

It made me wonder if one of the reasons it’s “good” for our hearts is that we don’t actually digest it.

June 23, 2008 at 4:45 am
(3) seah says:

If canola oils contains tocopherol (Vitamin E) then we can say that it is good for the skin? am I right? I’m a bit confused…

June 23, 2008 at 5:26 am
(4) Les Fisher says:

The cookery world gets very confused in this area. The chemical part which is the oil is very similar in oils – what does differ are the natural impurities. These are the parts which give it its flavours and so care has to be taken when heating these oils not to decompose these and change them. For high temperature cooking refined oils obtainable usually as sunflower & soya here are the best choice. Others are best used raw ao at low remperature. These oils can be used for making paint but as a high temerature is needed for processing unrefined oils are useless.
I do not know if canola is refined or sold crude but if it has Vit E then I assume it is unfrefined. Your body is quite happy yo digest any or all of these oils.
In the case of biodiesel I don’t think the flavour is important but impurities could be a problem in treatment & use.

June 23, 2008 at 9:19 am
(5) Simone says:

Please review scientific studies on canola biodiesel on www.http://www.canola-council.org/biodiesel/ for those interested in knowing how effective canola oil is as a base material for making biodiesel.

March 18, 2010 at 11:03 pm
(6) Heather says:

Canola oil is nothing more then mass marketed poison. I don’t care what the “experts” say. I’ve had food poisoning before, and when I eat ANYTHING that has canola as an ingredient its like food poisoning all over again. All the nasty side effects that go with it.

So keep eating it if you want. But I will continue to pass.

September 1, 2010 at 2:43 pm
(7) G says:

I’m happy to pay a little extra for either Extra Virgin Olive Oil and/or Extra Virgin Coconut Oil. For my Essential Omega 3′s, I use molecularly distilled DHA supplements each day.

I don’t know why they claim Canola oil is the “best”. It can’t be used in baby formula the same way Coconut Oil can… I believe because it retards growth…. maybe slowing down the metabolism by its affect on the thyroid gland?

Anyway, my body depends on ME to take care of it, so I refrain from Canola Oil and other manufactured cooking oils.

March 9, 2011 at 10:11 pm
(8) Warren says:

G, no doubt you have excellent references for these pretty big claims.

Of course I am being ingenuous, there are no references because they are completely incorrect.

Molecularly distilled is also nonesense. Sorry but it is; distilled is distilled putting the molecular in front is just a semantic trick to make is look better.

November 6, 2011 at 9:30 pm
(9) Margo says:

I have food allergies and one of these allergies is to corn. My understanding is that tocopherol (vitamin E) is a corn derivative. I don’t know if all tocopherol is from corn, but wouldn’t this make canola oil something for those with corn allergies to watch out for?

November 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm
(10) Steve Bergman says:

“Did you think there was a canola plant?”

Yes. There is a Canola plant. The cultivar you mention is distinctly different from rapeseed. It’s probably of the same species, in that it can probably still cross-pollinate with rapeseed. Different breeds of dogs can interbreed. But you’d never consider calling a St. Bernard a Poodle. Similarly, one shouldn’t be inclined to call the canola plant a rapeseed plant. They’re just two different things.

At any rate, the info in the WP article was in error. (Whatever is was, its not there now.) You can check the “USDA Nutrient Datatbase” (just google) to see that canola oil is very rich in mixed tocopherols (vitamin e). 2.44mg of alpha-tocopherol (which is about 17% the RDA) per tablespoon. Which is considerably better than, say, olive oil (which everyone seems to think is high in antioxidants for some reason). Canola is also rich in gamma-tocopherol.

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