Whether you realize it or not, canola is a very important crop to Canadians and to many countries all over the world. A study in 2013 showed that canola contributes $19.3 billion dollars to our economy annually—a contribution which has more than doubled in the last decade, making canola Canada’s most profitable crop. Contrary to what a new article on FoodBabe.com will tell you, you do not need to throw canola oil (or soybean, cottonseed, and corn oil) out of your pantries STAT, and this is why…
What is canola oil?
Once upon a time there was a plant called rapeseed. The oil extracted from this plant’s seeds was largely industrial, and in the 1970s Canadian scientists at the University of Manitoba wanted to create a high-quality, healthy, edible oil from a new plant bred from rapeseed. They succeeded using traditional plant breeding methods by removing the anti-nutritional components of rapeseed plants to create canola. Canola, broken down, comes from the words Canada and ola meaning oil.
How is canola oil made?
According to Food Babe, canola oil is “processed to death”, but it’s an oil that comes from a seed…it has to be processed to extract the oil from the seed and refined for stability of the oil. Let me take some time to tell you very briefly how it’s actually done.
- Seed is cleaned
- Seed is flaked—the objective is to rupture as many cell walls as possible without damaging the quality of the oil.
- Seed is cooked
- Seed is pressed—the process removes 50-60% of the oil while avoiding excessive pressure and temperature.
- Solvent extraction—treated with hexane made specifically for vegetable oil industry to remove the remaining oil from pressing
- Oil refining—to ensure shelf-life and stability of the oil
For a more in-depth explanation of this process, please read here.
What the hex is hexane?
Food Babe has waved her red flag and tells us that hexane is toxic. She’s actually correct, but remember—the dose and the purpose of the chemical makes the poison! As history shows us, she is notorious for misunderstanding that chemicals have multiple uses and effects for many different things. The hexane used in the processing of vegetable oil is made specifically for use in the food industry, and it is safe and different from hexane used for other purposes. Of course when you hear someone say that hexane is a byproduct of gasoline, one might think “eww! Why are they using a fuel product in my food?” Well, that’s why she says it, because she wants to scare you. Don’t buy that canola oil made with toxic gasoline, buy her organic coconut and palm oils instead!
Hexane extraction of oilseeds was introduced in the 1930s and there is no evidence to substantiate any risk or danger to consumer health when foods containing trace residual concentrations of hexane are ingested. Hexane extraction of oil from soybeans is established as a safe and efficient process. No evidence exists to associate health risks or dangers from eating soyfoods exposed to hexane extraction processes. – Dr. Barry Swanson (emphasis mine)
Fear not, consumers! Our food is actually regulated and rigorously tested for safety. Yes, this quote was specific to soybeans and soybean oil, but it can be applied to canola oil too. According to Environment Canada “hexane is considered as a substance that is not entering the environment in a quantity or concentration or under conditions that constitute or may constitute a danger in Canada to human life or health.”
By the way, coconut oil can use hexane as a solvent too, but when organically grown this process isn’t allowed and is also a less efficient and more costly means of making coconut oil.
Is all canola research & development industry funded?
Food Babe alludes that all research and development regarding canola oil is industry funded and largely biased, and this is simply not true. The original breeding of rapeseed into canola, and more recently the research-intensive activity around canola, is a combination of funding from public, not-for-profit organizations and it is privately-directed.
I emailed with Bill Boland, PhD, and he told me that from the 1940s to the mid-1980s, innovation in canola was primarily a public venture occurring across public research agencies and universities in Canada. During this formative period, the primary actor in the funding and management of research and development activities was Agriculture and Agri-food Canada (AAFC), the dominant public agricultural agency in Canada. However, with the introduction of intellectual property rights regimes, such as plant breeders’ rights, it led to the beginning of the privatization of canola innovation. Due to the complexities and the financial risks and costs associated with developing a game-changing transgenic crop, public-private partnerships (PPPs) were created to provide producers with control over the innovation process.
I’m Still Pro-Food Choice
I’m not here to discredit any other vegetable oils, even though I could with science-based evidence. I’ve already touched on coconut oil on my blog and I don’t feel the need to dive into it further. I’m not here to slander any other production methods or companies either, even though Food Babe sees no fault in pinning farmers, production methods and brands against each other. I don’t like speaking of a person in a negative light—but if people in agriculture don’t counter the misinformation that Food Babe shares, people will take it as gospel.
I don’t benefit personally whatsoever if you buy canola oil. I’m a proud canola grower’s wife, I have been supported by the Manitoba Canola Growers—I make that very transparent, but I’m also not making money by attacking a product to sell you a competitor’s brand that sponsors me. What am I talking about? This, a screen shot taken from FoodBabe.com and edited by me:
I’m sorry, but I’m calling it like it is. It seems really disingenuous to tell lies about our food (as we know she does for a living), to make money selling a competitor’s product. You will also notice, in small italicized letter at the very bottom of her post she discloses:
Posts may contain affiliate links for products Food Babe has approved and researched herself. If you purchase a product through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same (or at a discount if a special code is offered) and Food Babe will automatically receive a small referral fee. Your support is crucial because it helps fund this blog and helps us continue to spread the word. Thank you.
I’m not against affiliate links, I’m an Amazon affiliate myself and I have some links spread throughout my blog, BUT I feel that I do this in a genuine way and don’t lead you astray using fear and pseudoscience to buy products through my affiliate links.
We need fats in our diet, so use whatever oil or fat you want. They are all safe to use to cook our food with, to use in salad dressings, baking and so on—it’s a personal preference and some are absolutely more healthy for you and some are less healthy for you. I choose to support Albertan and Canadian agriculture and I buy locally grown and processed canola oil. I also have some coconut oil in my pantry, as I like it to make my popcorn with (but will not be buying more when it runs out) and I also have sesame oil for the little bit of Asian cooking I do. I do not have olive oil because I cannot stand the taste and don’t feel the need to have ‘all the oils’ in my pantry—it’s all a personal preference.
Oh, and most importantly in conclusion—don’t listen to the Food Babe. If you do, pretty soon you won’t have anything left to eat.
References & Further Reading
Canada’s Canola Industry Adding Billions to Canada’s Economy
Lin, L., Allemekinders H., Dansby, A., Campbell, L., Durance-Tod, S., Berger, A., and Jones, P. Evidence of health benefits of canola oil
Canola Council of Canada The History of Canola Oil
EPA Vegetable Oil Processing
Swanson, B. Hexane extraction in soyfood processing
Environment Canada Screening Assessment for the Challenge Hexane
Phillips, P. Managing Knowledge-based Agri-food Development
Health Canada Fats: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Boland, W.P., Phillips, P., Ryan, C. and McPhee-Knowles, S. Collaboration and the generation of new knowledge in networked innovation systems: a bibliometric analysis