Is canola the same as rapeseed?
No. Canola was bred from rapeseed, but their chemical compositions and nutritional profiles are very different. Canola has much lower levels of glucosinolates (which give mustard and rapeseed their sharp taste) and licosenic and erucic acids (two fatty acids not essential for human growth).
To be called canola anywhere in the world, a plant must have 2% or less erucic acid in the oil and 30 micromoles per gram or less of the normally measured glucosinolates in the meal. Learn more.
What does canola look like?
If you've driven through the Canadian prairies in summer, you've probably seen fields of canola plants in bloom. The plants range from 2-6 feet in height and produce yellow flowers. The flowers produce seed pods about 2 inches long, which turn brown as they ripen. There are 15-35 seeds in each pod, and 60-100 pods per plant, depending on the type of canola and the growing conditions. See canola images.
How is canola grown?
Canola is a cool-season crop and grows particularly well on the prairies, where cool night temperatures allow it to recover from hot days and limited amounts of rainfall. The crop can be produced using the same machinery used to grow and harvest cereal crops (wheat, oats and barley). This allows farmers to switch to canola production without a large cash expenditure.
Two main types of canola are grown - the short growing season Polish type (Brassica rapa, a brown/yellow seed) and the longer season Argentine type (Brassica napus, a black seed). Fields are cultivated, seeded and fertilized. Herbicides/pesticides may be applied to control insects, weeds and diseases. Canola requires careful management, and the crop must be closely monitored for signs of disease.
Seedlings emerge 4-10 days after planting. From a taproot, bottom leaves form a rosette, which send up a flower stalk as the plant grows.
Prairie fields are a sea of brilliant yellow flowers during the flowering stage, which lasts 14-21 days. Flowers of the Polish type canola are fertilized by wind and the Argentine type is self-fertilized. Bees pollinate the flowers as they visit for nectar.
Once the flowers are fertilized, seed pods take 35-45 days to fill. The field is swathed when about half of the pods have turned from green to yellow or brown. The swathed crop dries for about 10 days and is then combined. Learn more.
What challenges does canola present to the farmer?
Canola seed is very fine - about the size of a radish or turnip seed - and it must be planted shallow in a moist seed bed so the seed can germinate.
Since canola is subject to attack by several diseases and insects, canola is grown only 1 year in 4 on the same field. Seed treatment is used to reduce seedling disease and early flea beetle attacks.
Herbicides are used to control weed growth. All chemicals used are registered with the federal government and assessed by the provincial government regarding application. The registration process is rigorous, takes years of approval and involves Health and Welfare Canada, Agriculture Canada, Environment Canada and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, as well as the chemical company.
Plant breeders continue to develop varieties with increased resistance to major diseases.
Where does canola go when it leaves the farm?
About 45% of canola production is trucked to the nearest processor, where the seed is crushed, oil is extracted and meal is processed into pellets or mash. Plants are located across Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. Learn more about processing.
Seed delivered to a processing plant is graded according to a strict grading standard established and maintained by the Canadian Grain Commission. Payment to the farmer is based on grade - Canada No. 1 Canola to a sample grade.
About 75% of canola seed, oil and meal produced in Canada is exported to destinations such as the United States, Japan, Mexico, and China. Learn more about markets.
Who uses canola oil and canola products?
Canadians are the largest per capita consumers of canola oil foodstuffs in the world. Canola oil is renowned for its nutritional and culinary qualities and is used in 80% of the salad oil market, 56% of the shortening market and 42% of the margarine market. Canola oil is also used in deep frying, baking, sandwich spreads, coffee whiteners and creamers. Consumer products containing canola carry the canola flower logo.
Canola oil is also used in cosmetics, printing inks, suntan oils, oiled fabrics, plasticizers, plastic wraps, pesticides and industrial lubricants. Research is underway to discover other uses such as diesel fuel and industrial oils.
Canola meal is used as a high quality protein ingredient for livestock, poultry and fish.
What is "solvent free" canola oil? What are its advantages and disadvantages, including health and cost aspects?
"Solvent free" canola oil is also known as Expeller, first press, or pure press oil. The solvent called hexane is not used during the extraction process. Learn more.
What is cold-pressed oil?
Cold-pressing is a traditional method of removing oil. The seeds are not heated before, during or after the pressing process. Instead, seeds are mechanically pressed at a slow pace to limit friction and avoid elevating temperatures above 60°C. The color, taste, and odour are much more pronounced. Learn more.
Cold-pressed oils are usually sold in health-food stores, and usually cost more than refined oils. They have a higher content of antioxidant (Vitamin E), which inhibits the absorption of cholesterol, and a significantly lower content of trans fatty acids.
Despite these definite benefits, no regulation protects the Canadian consumer against oils falsely labelled "cold-pressed."
How is canola oil extracted?
First the canola seeds are rolled or flaked to rupture the cells and make the oil easier to extract. Next the seeds are cooked and mildly pressed to remove some of the oil and compress the seeds into large chunks. The oil collected through this mechanical stage is marketed as expeller or first-press oil.
The oil extracted during each step is combined and then processed for different product uses. Different treatments are used to process salad oils, margarine and shortenings. Learn more.