Canola oil has long been touted as an all-purpose, health promoting oil. Low in saturated fats, high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and much needed omega-3 fats and neutral in taste, it’s been the go-to oil for chefs and the health conscious alike. Even Whole Foods, the ostensible leader in healthy eating, proudly advertises that it uses canola oil for all of their foods produced in-house. But is it really all that they say?? You’re probably guessing the correct answer, but let’s explore the reasons why.
First, a bit of history. Canola oil comes from a descendent of the rapeseed plant, a member of the Brassica genus, along with some our favorite vegetables like broccoli, turnips, and cabbage. Rapeseed oil was used widely in the 13th century in Europe for fuel for lamps then as the lubricant in steam engines until after World War II. Rapeseed oil was put on the market for human consumption in the 1950s but failed due to its strong flavor and off-putting color. Scientists at the time began to discover that erucic acid, one of the major fatty acid components of the oil (over 50%), was damaging to heart tissue. Meanwhile, the benefits of the olive oil-laden Mediterranean diet were being touted. There was an empty niche in the market waiting to be filled, the one for an inexpensive, neutral-tasting, all-purpose oil that could be marketed as being salubrious.
Rapeseed oil was given a makeover. Some selective breeding and careful marketing unveiled a new low-erucic acid, high-oleic acid (just like heart healthy olive oil), high-omega-3 fat, neutral tasting oil with a new name…canola oil. The name comes from Canada, where much of the plant is grown, and ola, for oil and was renamed for well, obvious reasons.
I’ve explained in a previous post how vegetable oils are processed. (Remember? petrochemical solvents, high heat refining, degumming, bleaching, deodorizing, etc…) Canola oil is no different. Remember that omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats, which means they are extremely fragile. They are prone to oxidation and rancidity when exposed to heat and light, and boy is canola oil ever exposed to high heat in its processing! Ever wondered why flax seed oil must be kept in dark bottles in the refrigerated section of the supermarket but canola oil and its vegetable oil cousins can sit proudly in clear bottles out at room temperature?? Hmm…that doesn’t make much sense since both flax seed and canola oils are composed of over 90% fragile polyunsaturated fats. A significant portion of the beneficial fats in canola oil are already rancid before they even hit the shelf. Additionally, significant amounts of trans-fats, now widely recognized as being detrimental to cardiovascular health, are created in the process. Although the USDA requires canola oil to be less than 2% erucic acid, it can have a cumulative and harmful effect if consumed frequently.
Some of you are thinking, “But I only buy expeller-pressed canola oil!” While marginally better since no petrochemical solvents are used in the processing of the oil, the seeds are still subject to heat before and during pressing as a result of the immense pressure and friction involved. Heat=rancid, oxidized oil
So what’s the big deal about oxidized fats? Remember that each of your cell membranes and over 60% of your brain is composed of fats. Incorporation of oxidized fats contributes to inflammation and the onset of many degenerative diseases of the modern age.
So what oils should you use?
Lard, ghee, and coconut oil: Read this previous post to learn more about the health benefits of these delicious fats.
But I know, you need an oil that’s not so hard at room temperature…
Extra virgin olive oil: Read a previous post to make sure you’re getting the real thing and not getting duped.
Cold-pressed avocado oil: for a milder taste, when you don’t necessarily want that olive-y flavor
Don't miss out on the Asian Summer Cooking Series, the last cooking classes I will offer in 2015 and starting this Sunday!
In the first class of the series, Kimchi Explored, you will learn how to make this spicy, tangy, umami-rich condiment often cited as the key to health and longevity. You will also learn to make several recipes featuring this taste-bud tickling ingredient. Kimchi pancakes anyone?
Do you like mayonnaise and think you’re doing a good thing by buying organic olive oil mayonnaise? Spectrum Naturals, a quite reputable company, offers an Organic Mayonnaise with Olive Oil. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Here’s the ingredient list:
Organic expeller pressed soy and/or canola oil, organic whole eggs, organic egg yolks, organic extra virgin olive oil, filtered water, organic honey, organic distilled vinegar, sea salt, organic mustard (organic distilled vinegar, water, organic mustard seed, salt, organic spices), organic lemon juice concentrate.
You probably know that ingredients are listed in descending order according to their abundance in the product—look at the first ingredient!
Luckily, it’s easy to make your own with just a few ingredients, and you can rest assured that you use the best ingredients: unrefined, cold-pressed oils and pastured eggs. Now that I’m buying real, high quality olive oil with high antioxidant polyphenol content and often peppery, pungent, and bitter notes, I’m finding that mayonnaise made with all extra virgin olive oil can be a bit strong in taste. So here’s a recipe that includes some milder tasting avocado oil. You’ll never buy it from the store again…enjoy!
GIVE IT A TRY!
2 egg yolks
1 cup avocado oil
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs lemon juice, or more to taste
1 ½ tsp salt, or more to taste
Add the egg yolks to a food processor and run to combine. With the motor still running, add the oils very slowly at first, then in a thin stream once the mayonnaise begins to thicken. If you have a tubular insert with a hole in the bottom at the top of your food processor, you may pour all the oil in there and just let the oil drizzle in while the motor runs. Blend in the lemon juice and salt. The whole process should only take a couple of minutes.