• Canola Oil: For a Healthier Kitchen

    Imagine driving down a rural highway past fields of brilliant yellow. Could that be mustard? Maybe. But if you're in Canada or North Dakota, it's probably canola, a crop responsible for one of the most important edible oils in the world.

    Like mustard, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower, canola is a crucifer — so called because its yellow flowers have the shape of a cross. To botanists, who prefer Latin, all of these plants belong to the Brassica family along with cabbage, kale and turnips. Most of these nourishing crops have been with us for centuries; only canola is a relative newbie.

    Canola first walked on stage in the mid-1970s to agriculture’s equivalent of thunderous applause. Canadian plant breeders had worked on developing it for years with rapeseed — another Brassica — as their starting point. From a dietary perspective, rapeseed oil has a significant flaw: undesirable amounts of erucic acid and glucosinolates (organic compounds). Using conventional breeding techniques — a slow and painstaking process — researchers developed an improved crucifer that yields a healthier oil, with low erucic acid and glucosinolates. They christened it canola, a contraction of "Canadian ola," with ola meaning "oil" in Latin.

    What a coup. The oil pressed from canola's seed has a stellar nutritional profile and impressive versatility in the kitchen. Predictably, the marketplace has responded. Today, Canada grows about 16 million acres of canola in the Prairie provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), British Columbia and southern Ontario. Canola is one of the top two crops for Canadian farmers and a big contributor to the economy. The United States grows about 1 million acres of canola, mainly in North Dakota. In just three decades, canola oil has become a household word in North America.

    For chefs and home cooks, canola oil delivers on two fronts. It offers undeniably good-for-you unsaturated fats (everybody needs some fat in their diet). And it excels as a cooking oil. So those North American carpets of yellow are an annual reminder of the plant breeders' smarts.
    Watch Chef Almir prepare Parsnip Vichyssoise with a canola oil-based garnish.

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