06-04-2010, 10:10 AM
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Northern, you really should do some more research, dear. This is nothing but an urban legend.
What we have here is a bit of truth about a product's family history worked into a hysterical screed against the product itself. There is no earthly reason to give any credence to this rumor — Canola oil is not the horrifying product it's made it out to be, nor has the FDA turned loose on the American public a health scourge worthy of being named one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
An appreciation of what this scare is based upon begins with a better understanding of what canola oil is and how it came into being.
The rape plant (Brassica napus) is a member of the mustard family, as claimed. However, before associations between rape and mustard gas set in too strongly, it should be noted that turnip, cabbage, watercress, horseradish, and radish are also members of this family of plants.
Rapeseed oil has been used for cooking for centuries in Europe, India, China, and Japan. As modern science is finding out, its previous use wasn't necessarily a guarantee of safety. Cooking at high temperatures with unrefined rapeseed oil now appears to be related to an increased risk of lung cancer because at high temperatures cooking oil gives off chemicals capable of causing mutations in cells. Unrefined rapeseed oil is particularly notable for this, but other oils also have this association. Those intent upon doing large amounts of wok cooking with any sort of cooking oil should therefore lower their frying temperature from the 240°C to 280°C called for in Chinese cooking to 180°C.
Rapeseed oil naturally contains a high percentage (30-60%) of erucic acid, a substance associated with heart lesions in laboratory animals. For this reason rapeseed oil was not used for consumption in the United States prior to 1974, although it was used in other countries. (Americans chose to use it as a lubricant to maintain Allied naval and merchant ships during World War II.)
In 1974, rapeseed varieties with a low erucic content were introduced. Scientists had found a way to replace almost all of rapeseed's erucic acid with oleic acid, a type of monounsaturated fatty acid. (This change was accomplished through the cross-breeding of plants, not by the techniques commonly referred to as "genetic engineering.") By 1978, all Canadian rapeseed produced for food use contained less than 2% erucic acid. The Canadian seed oil industry rechristened the product "canola oil" (Canadian oil) in 1978 in an attempt to distance the product from negative associations with the word "rape." Canola was introduced to American consumers in 1986. By 1990, erucic acid levels in canola oil ranged from 0.5% to 1.0%, in compliance with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) standards.
This light, tasteless oil's popularity is due to the structure of its fats. It is lower in saturated fat (about 6%) than any other oil. Compare this to the high saturated fat content of peanut oil (about 18%) and palm oil (at an incredibly high 79%). It also contains more cholesterol-balancing monounsaturated fat than any oil except olive oil and has the distinction of containing Omega-3 fatty acids, a polyunsaturated fat reputed to not only lower both cholesterol and triglycerides, but also to contribute to brain growth and development.
In other words, it's a healthy oil. One shouldn't feel afraid to use it because of some Internet scare loosely based on half-truths and outright lies.