"Rapeseed oil" is a name for oil pressed from the ripened seeds of the rapeseed or rape plant, Brassica rapens, and other species of the Brassica genus. Rapeseed (a close relative of turnips and mustard greens) has been cultivated for oil by humans going back thousands of years. There is evidence that in India about 4000 years ago, and in China and Japan about 2000 years ago, rapeseed oil was used in cooking. It was certainly used for oil lamps in Europe by 1300 AD. In Asia until World War II or later, local peddlers sold oil freshly ground between stones. Only since recently has refined rapeseed oil been available world-wide.
The names for rabe, rapeseed or broccoli raab all come from the Roman or Latin word for turnip. If you ever said out loud "oh, good, kohlrabi again?!" then you must have known that kohl is like cabbage or cole slaw and rabi is more like turnips, and you were very nearly speaking of rapeseed!
By WWII, rapeseed oil use in Europe and North America had largely been replaced by other less smelly oils. Its use was limited to that of a lubricant in WWII, since oil from Brassica spp. clung to metal better than other available oils for use in steam engines. By the end of WWII, Canada had vastly increased its production of oil from Brassica seeds but had no market.
The refined oil available at the beginning of the post-war period had an offensive appearance, taste and smell, due to the presence of a high amount of erucic acid and glucosinolates. The glucosinolates and erucic acids are what give greens like collard, mustard and kale their sharply pungent taste.
Then growers in Canada developed, through conventional (slow and painstaking) means of selective breeding, a hybrid cultivar of Brassica rapus and B. napa which had a more acceptable taste and smell.
Development of Canola
In 1978, the group of Canadians growing this new oilseed decided to name it "Canola," to distinguish it from other rapeseed oils. Canola comes from Can for Canadian + the suffix -ola, like cola, Victrola™ or Mazola™, according to Canolainfo.org. "Canola" was definied as any true breeding oilseed with a certain chemical profile. Unrefined rapeseed oil has 30-60% erucic acid, but canola oil has less than 2%.
Canola as a word or brand name is only used in North America. In Europe, Great Britain and Asia, rapeseed oil for human consumption is called Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed, or LEAR. I guess it's only we delicate North Americans who can't stomach an oil named "rape."
More About Canola
The seeds are pressed to produce Canola oil (or canola oil; in 1982 canola became a non-licensed, non-capitalized word), which is then refined. If you object to the pressing and refining process, and many do, buy your canola oil at a healthfood store or from the organic aisle or look for the words "cold pressed" or "expeller pressed" which indcate the processing temperatures were low enough to maintain the fragile oil molecules.
After the seeds have yielded their over 40% oil, the remainder is used as a high-protein feed for poultry, cattle or swine. Rapeseed meal actually turns out to be helpful for lactating cows, an often misunderstood group.
A Healthy Oil?
Is Canola oil the healthiest oil out there? Whether it is or not, it now accounts for one-third all oils sold in the whole world. Canola is often described as the world's healthiest oil. Let me make one thing perfectly clear: oil is oil is oil.
According to the USDA Economic Research Service report on canola and other oilseeds from July, 2014, canola is the third most widely consumed oil in the world, with soybean oil and palm oil being first and second, respectively.
products made with oil
I'm sure you've noticed that greasy-colored spots on light-colored clothing cause bad, bad stains. Red, greasy pizza sauce on a white, cotton T-shirt? Grease from a hamburger with bright orange greasy cheese and bright red ketchup? Just imagine! Consequently, it makes sense that oils (any oils, organic, mineral, coconut or olive) would be wonderful at making pigments and dyes that last, and in fact they are. Look for canola (and other familiar) oils in lipstick, paint and dyes.
Mineral oils or petroleum-based oils are slowly being replaced by canola oil, which is being promoted as a safer and eco-friendly alternative for lubricating machinery like chainsaws. Repeated exposure to petroleum-based oils can cause rashes and hypersensitivities in users, not to mention damage to natural areas from accidental unavoidable spills.
Canola oil is also being used as a bio-fuel. Reducing pollution from fossil fuels, and leaving the environment cleaner--sounds great, right? Doubters hush up, because the net change in the carbon costs from biofuels, including canola and rapeseed oil, show that it's a win-win. Less dependence on foreign oils, more jobs in our country, any way you do the math, more canola oil is a good thing for North Americans. Buses are rolling across the continent fueled by mustard greens.
Butterflies and bees love canola's intensely yellow flowers. Plant canola (or other oilseeds, turnips and mustards) in your butterfly gardens, and let them flower. And read even some of this information and make up your own mind about canola oil.