True Cellular Formulas Team - August 22, 2023

Understanding Canola Oil

Myths, Methods, and More

Understanding Canola Oil

Canola oil, a kitchen staple found in households and restaurants across the globe, has often been lauded for its versatility and low cost. But the story of canola oil is more intricate and complex than it might appear at first glance. Born from the rapeseed plant and transformed through traditional breeding methods into the canola we know today, this oil has a rich, somewhat complex history. From genetic modifications to various extraction methods, the nuances of canola oil are vast and multifaceted.

In this blog post, we'll delve into the world of canola oil, addressing misconceptions and unearthing truths. By understanding the complexities of canola, including the impact of heat, we'll journey beyond the superficial knowledge and gain insight into what truly sets canola oil apart. Whether you're a culinary enthusiast or simply someone concerned about healthy eating, join us as we explore the intriguing story of canola oil and how it fits into the contemporary culinary landscape.

The Evolution of Canola Oil: Rapeseed to Modern Varieties

The canola plant, referred to as the "distant younger cousin" of the rapeseed plant, has an interesting evolution. Originally grown to make meal for cows in the latter half of the 20th century, rapeseed plants were rich in erucic acid. While cows could digest this erucic acid, human digestion couldn't tolerate much of it.[1]

But don't let the term "acid" deter you. In the context of oils, fatty acids are quite common. Take oleic acid, for instance, a healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil and avocados.

In the 1970s, scientists and farmers embarked on a mission to produce a similar plant with lower levels of eurcic acid for human consumption. The newly christened "canola oil" was born, with its name derived from "Canadian Oil Low Acid." This new canola plant was developed using traditional breeding methods, akin to selective breeding done naturally.[2]

Fast forward a few decades, and the world witnessed the rise of genetic modification. The original canola seeds were then genetically modified to make them resistant to certain chemicals. This led to an overwhelming majority of canola in the US being genetically modified.[3]

Interestingly, the original seeds from the '70s, untouched by genetic modification, became the mainstay for non-GMO and organic canola oil production today. They spawned three distinct varieties: conventional (or GMO) canola, Non-GMO canola, and Organic canola.

These varieties have sparked debates and given rise to myths. Is non-GMO canola oil actually possible? What's the difference between organic and non-GMO canola? The answers lie in understanding the intricate processes and classifications that define the canola market.

In the next section, we'll uncover the truth behind the extraction processes of canola oil and shed light on how heat plays a crucial role in determining the quality of the oil.

Extraction Processes and the Role of Heat

Canola oil, like many other edible oils, can be extracted through various methods. These processes range from conventional solvent expelling to expeller pressing, each with its own set of characteristics and implications.

Conventional Solvent Expelling

Conventional canola oil is usually produced using a chemical solvent called hexane. This method is prevalent among genetically modified canola, as it's the most economical choice for mass production. The downside? Solvent expelling often involves high levels of heat, which can degrade the quality of the oil.[4]

Expeller Pressing

Contrary to conventional solvent expelling, non-GMO canola oil is almost always produced using expeller pressing. It's a more natural process that physically squeezes the oil from the seeds without the need for chemical solvents. However, even expeller pressing can sometimes involve heat, which, as we will see, has its drawbacks. Although the heat isn’t directly applied, it is created through the friction that occurs when the seeds are pressed.[5]

The Heat Factor

Heat may seem like an essential part of extracting oil, but it can be detrimental to oils like canola. Heat causes seed oils to become rancid, diminishing their nutritional value and altering their flavor profile.[6] While expeller pressing is generally considered a healthier option compared to solvent expelling, the heat involved in both methods can be problematic.

In the pursuit of healthier non-GMO oils, consumers have embraced expeller-pressed canola. But the underlying issue of heat remains largely unaddressed. Understanding how heat impacts the quality of canola oil opens up a new perspective on what truly defines a "good" oil.

Understanding Different Types of Canola Oil

Canola oil has undergone several variations since its inception, ranging from conventional GMO to non-GMO and organic types. Let's delve into these different categories to appreciate their individual characteristics and their place in today's market.

Prevalence of GMO Canola Oil

Most of the world's canola oil production is GMO. In recent years, over 95% of canola crops were genetically modified.[3] This shift towards GMO canola has made it the norm in many parts of the world, leading to a situation where consumers should assume that canola oil is GMO unless it's certified otherwise.

Non-GMO Canola Oil – A Minority

Despite the dominance of GMO canola, there still exists a small percentage of non-GMO canola oil produced from the original seeds that were never genetically modified. These seeds were cultivated through traditional breeding methods back in the 70s and remain the basis for non-GMO and organic canola oil production today.[7]

Organic vs. Non-GMO Canola – Distinct Categories

While all organic canola oil is necessarily non-GMO, the reverse is not true. Organic canola oil undergoes additional certification and follows organic farming practices, whereas non-GMO canola oil doesn't require these standards. Given the prevalence of GMO canola, it's safe to assume that any canola oil not certified as organic is likely GMO.

Summary: The Complexity of Canola Oil – Making Informed Choices

Canola oil is a multifaceted product with variations that span from GMO to non-GMO and organic categories. Its production has evolved over the years, and the type of canola oil one chooses can have significant implications for health and culinary applications.

  1. Understanding the Landscape: Most of the world's canola oil is genetically modified. Non-GMO and organic canola oils exist but are less common. Understanding these distinctions is vital for making informed choices.
  2. Production Methods Matter: Conventional canola oil often relies on chemical solvents, while non-GMO canola typically uses expeller pressing. However, the application of heat in these processes can lead to rancidity, impacting the oil's quality.
  3. Consider Alternatives: Given the prevalence of GMO canola and the potential negative effects of heat on canola oil, consumers may wish to explore other options. Heat-stable cooking oils like coconut oil or animal fats could be better suited for certain cooking needs.
  4. Making Informed Decisions: Ultimately, the choice between different types of canola oil and other cooking oils comes down to personal preferences, culinary needs, and health considerations. Knowledge of the nuances between different canola oil types and production methods can guide more informed, health-conscious decisions.

The world of canola oil is complex and filled with nuances that can affect the end product's flavor, nutritional content, and suitability for different culinary tasks. With this understanding, consumers are empowered to make choices that align with their values, needs, and preferences, whether opting for specific canola oil types or considering alternative oils.

  1. Russo, Marco et al. “Erucic acid concentration of rapeseed (Brassica napus L.) oils on the German food retail market.” Food Science & Nutrition, vol. 9, no. 7, 2021, pp. 3664-3672, doi:10.1002/fsn3.2327.
  2. Canola Council. "History of Canola Seed Development." Canola Council of Canada,
  3. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. "GMO Crops, Animal Food, and Beyond." FDA,
  4. Centra Foods. "The Truth About Organic Canola Oil." Centra Foods Blog,
  5. Penn State Extension. "Oilseed Presses." Pennsylvania State University,
  6. IntechOpen. "Heat Treatment of Edible Oils." IntechOpen,
  7. Non-GMO Project. "GMO Feature: Canola." Non-GMO Project Blog,

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