Canola is a genetic variation of rapeseed developed by Canadian plant breeders specifically for its nutritional qualities, particularly its low level of saturated fat. In 1956 the nutritional aspects of rapeseed oil were questioned, especially concerning the high eicosenoic and erucic fatty acid contents.
In the early 1960’s, Canadian plant breeders isolated rapeseed plants with low eicosenoic and erucic acid contents. The Health and Welfare Department recommended conversion to the production of low erucic acid varieties of rapeseed. Industry responded with a voluntary agreement to limit erucic acid content to five percent in food products, effective December 1, 1973.
In 1974, Dr. Baldur Stefansson, a University of Manitoba plant breeder, developed the first ‘double low’ variety, which reduced both erucic, and glucosinolate levels. This Brassica napus variety, Tower, was the first variety to meet the specific quality requirements used to identify a greatly improved crop known as Canola.
Each canola plant produces yellow flowers that, in turn, produce pods, similar in shape to pea pods about 1/5th the size. Within the pods are tiny round seeds that are crushed to obtain canola oil. Each seed contains approximately 40 per cent oil. The remainder of the seed is processed into canola meal, which is used as a high protein livestock feed.
Because it is perceived as a “healthy” oil, its use is rising steadily both as a cooking oil and in processed foods. The consumption of canola oil is expected to surpass corn and cottonseed oils, becoming second only to soybean oil. It is low in saturates, high in monounsaturates, and contains a high level of oleic acid. Many people prefer the light color and mild taste of canola oil over olive oil, the other readily available oil high in monounsaturates.