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What is Canola Oil?

Description, properties, uses, and storage.


Canola Oil
Photo by ilovebutter [flickr]

Canola oil is one of the most popular cooking oils used in the United States. Although canola oil has been used as fuel since ancient times, it has only been used for cooking purposes since the middle of the 20th century. With it's high smoke point, low saturated fat, and balanced ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, canola oil has gained popularity throughout the past three decades.

It's All in the Name

Canola oil is the oil produced from the rapeseed plant. The name "rapeseed" is derived from the latin term "rapum" meaning turnip. Because the name is somewhat undesirable and food grade rapeseed oil is slightly different from regular rapeseed oil, the food grade version was given the name Canola Oil. Canola stands for Canadian Oil Low Acid. Low acid refers to the fact that food grade canola oil contains a lower amount of erucic acid, which has an undesirable flavor.

Cooking With Canola Oil

Canola oil has become a favorite cooking oil for many because of its unique properties and health benefits. From fried foods to baked goods, canola oil is an all-purpose cooking oil and can be used in a variety of dishes throughout the kitchen.

Canola has a light, neutral flavor that allows the flavor of other ingredients to shine through. Unlike heavy oils like extra-virgin olive oil or strongly flavored oils like sesame, canola oil can be used in a variety of dishes without drastically effecting the flavor or texture. Canola oil can be used for frying, baking sautéing, or mixing into sauces, marinades, and dressings.

Canola oil has a smoking point of approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit. This high smoke point makes canola oil great for frying. With saturated fat in the health spotlight, canola oil has become a popular low saturated fat alternative to frying with lard. Canola oil's low cost has also helped catapult it into popularity in the food service industry.

Not only is Canola oil extremely low in saturated fat, but it also contains a high amount of mono-unsaturated fats and the preferred ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids. Mono-unsaturated fats can help reduce bad cholesterol and omega-3 fatty acids are widely recognized as heart healthy. Multiple organizations, such as the American Dietetic Association and the Food and Drug Administration suggest cooking with healthy fats like canola oil instead of saturated fats or hydrogenated oils.

Purchasing and Storing Canola Oil

Although canola oil can be stored at room temperature, it is imperative to prevent exposure to high temperatures. Heat and prolonged exposure to oxygen can cause canola oil to become rancid, which causes undesirable flavors and aromas. When stored in a cool, dark place, canola oil will maintain its freshness for up to two years.

With that a in mind, only purchase canola oil in volumes that will be used within one to two years. Always store canola oil in a cabinet or other areas that are not exposed to sunlight. Make sure the container is tightly sealed after each use to prevent exposure to oxygen. If the oil becomes cloudy or acquires any rogue flavors or aromas, discard the oil immediately.

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