WHAT IS THIS?
Pretty yellow flowers? Yes. Pretty yellow canola flowers, that is. Yep, canola, as in canola oil that we’re all familiar with, comes from the seeds of these pretty yellow flowers. Canola is a newer crop, having been developed in the 1970’s by scientists at the University of Manitoba, Canada. Canola = “Can” for Canada, and “ola” for oil.
The parent to modern canola is rapeseed, an oilseed plant that has been used since ancient times for fuel and lubrication. Canola has lower levels of eruric acid than rapeseed, which may or may not cause heart problems, as well as lower levels of glucosinolates, which give rapeseed oil a bitter taste.
Canola was once considered a specialty crop in Canada, but now is a major crop for American farmers. About 1.5 million acres of canola are grown in the USA each year, predominately in North Dakota, and also in Idaho, Washington, Montana, and a few other states.
In 2012, 1.73 million acres of canola were harvested in the US. The yield was an average of 1,416 pounds of canola seed per acre, over 2.45 billion pounds total. It takes around 50 pounds of seeds to produce over 2.5 gallons of canola, so that’s a lot of canola oil!
Canola oil, seeds, and meal are exported all over the world. The main importers of canola seed are Japan, Mexico, China, and the EU, while the USA is a primary importer of canola oil and meal.
Canola seeds are over 40% oil, and the remaining seed pod is high in protein. Canola oil is made by heating and then crushing the seeds to extract the oil. The oil then goes through several steps to filter and refine it.
The leftover seed pods are ground into canola meal, which is used as animal feed. Canola meal is one of the most widely-used proteins in animal feed in the USA. It also has many amino acids, vitamins and minerals important for animal health. Studies have shown that including canola meal in dairy cow rations can increase milk production by one liter per cow per day.
Canola oil is the third most widely-consumed vegetable oil. It is low in saturated fat, and also contains heart-health omega acids. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized a qualified health claim for canola oil’s ability to reduce the risk of heart disease when used in place of saturated fat, like butter.
Other characteristics that make it such a popular cooking oil include it’s neutral taste, very light texture, and it’s high heat tolerance. It is used in thousands of dishes ranging from baking to stir-frying to deep frying or grilling.
Canola is consumed around the world by humans, but is also used in a variety of commercial products, including industrial lubricants, biofuels, lipstick, candles, and newspaper ink.
Canola is a cool-weather crop and grows well in areas where cool night temperatures allow it to recover from hot days and limited rainfall. Growing and harvesting canola requires the same machinery used in growing cereal crops (wheat, oats and barley). This allows farmers to switch to canola production without a large cash expenditure.
Growing canola requires careful management on the part of the farmer in order to make sure it doesn’t become diseased. Seedlings emerge four to ten days after planting. The flowering stage lasts 14 to 21 days and canola fields at this time are a sea of bright yellow flowers. The flowers of the Polish type canola (brown/yellow seeds) are fertilized by the wind and the Argentine type (black seeds) is self-fertilized. Bees also help pollinate the flowers by carrying pollen. Once the flowers are fertilized, the seed pods take 35 to 45 days to fill. The field is swathed when the farmer seeds that the seeds are ready. The swathed crop dries for approximately ten days and is then harvested, separating the tiny seeds from the rest of the plant.
For more information about canola oil, visit these websites: