For decades, canola oil has been touted as a heart-healthy cooking oil because it’s low in saturated fats and high in “good” polyunsaturated fats such as omega-3s. But since there is no plant, animal or mineral named “canola,” savvy consumers may wonder from what creature is canola oil expressed. The answer to that question is rapeseed, or more specifically a rapeseed hybrid that also goes by the name of “low erucic acid rapeseed” or LEAR. If an unfortunate name were the worst thing that could be said about canola/rapeseed oil, this post would stop here…
But it doesn’t.
Promoted by the Rapeseed Association of Canada in the 1970s, a name change was the first step taken to get the oil of the toxic rapeseed into the shopping carts of housewives everywhere. The term “canola” comes from Canada (Can) plus ola which means oil. Viola, Canola! The second step was promoting canola oil’s positives while sweeping its many negatives under the rug.
How Rapeseed Oil is Made
After the rapeseeds are heated and crushed to express their oil, the product is refined by using hexane, the same chemical constituent of gasoline that’s also used in shoe glue and for making cleansing and degreasing solvents. Yum! The oil is then bleached and deodorized with a high-heat steam process. Extra yum.
The reason canola needs to be deodorized is because the heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids present in the raw product turn rancid during the first heating process when the oil is expressed. Sadly, the process of refinement transforms those original omega-3s into very unhealthy oxidized trans fats. Unrefined canola oil retains the good qualities consumers want, but most canola oil on the market is refined. And even more importantly, few consumers know the difference.
Read Your Labels
The same concerns about high-heat processing could be applied to many kinds of culinary oil, including our favorite superfood, extra virgin coconut oil. Heat processing may not only destroy the benefits of good-for-you foods fats but in some cases, it can turn a healthy product into a veritable toxic sludge. Look for oils that are unrefined or refined without the use of high heat. Labels may say “cold-expressed,” “cold-pressed,” “Absolutely No Heat (ANH)” or “raw.”
When it comes to seed, fruit and nut oils, turns out “unrefined” is a much finer thing to be.