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Canola oil (Recipe: spicy green beans) {gluten-free}


If olive oil comes from the pressing of olives, and sesame oil from the pressing of sesame seeds, does canola oil come from the pressing of canolas?

Ah... you're laughing, or groaning. After all, there's no such thing as a canola.

Or is there?

Canola -- an abbreviation of "Canadian Oil Low Acid" -- is a product of traditional plant breeding technology, genetic engineering, and clever marketing.

In the late 1960s, plant biologists created canola by crossing four varieties of rapeseed to reduce the levels of erucic acid (which makes oils go rancid quickly) and glucosinolate (which tastes bitter). The oil pressed from this new seed had a lower level of saturated fat, and a higher level of "good" fat, than other similar neutral-tasting oils like safflower and sunflower.

Marketed first to physicians as a heart-healthy alternative oil, canola raced to the top of the charts. However, scientists and growers in Canada (which produces the majority of canola worldwide, though the US, Australia and Europe also contribute) felt that a slight alteration would create a more viable crop. One protein gene was modified to make it tolerant to some herbicides, the use of which reduced the amount of chemical needed for weed control in the fields. As all proteins are removed from canola during processing, the oil made from genetically modified plants is the same as conventional canola oil; however, some countries have banned the sale of oil made from genetically modified seed.

For cooks watching their fat intake, canola oil offers many benefits. In addition to being the lowest in saturated fat, canola oil is high in monounsaturated ("good") fat, as well as omega-3 and linoleic acids.

With a smoke point of 435°F, canola oil is in the same range as olive oil, but not as good a choice for high-heat frying as safflower oil, which smokes at an impressive 510°F. Canola is a great all-purpose flavor-neutral oil for dishes that don't need the pronounced, fruity overtones of olive oil, like Asian-inspired chicken and pasta, roast turkey, breakfast hash, cod with quinoa, and cornbread. I use olive oil more often for everyday cooking, but with some flavor profiles (Asian and Southwestern in particular), you really want an oil that doesn't affect the flavor of the ingredients in the dish.

I'm not likely to add canola plants to my garden any time soon, but my pantry is seldom without canola oil.

Dona Hilda Gutarra's spicy green beans

My father used to make a Sunday breakfast dish he called “spit in the ocean"; he’d take a piece of bread, cut a hole in the center, and fry an egg inside. This main-course recipe, created by the Peruvian director of the old Boston City Hospital Food Pantry, reminds me of those breakfasts long ago. You'll see why. Serves 6.


1 lb ground beef or turkey
3 Tbsp canola oil
Pinch (1/8-1/4 tsp) each: cumin, paprika, mild chili powder
Hot sauce, to taste
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb fresh green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 eggs


In a large frying pan over medium heat, brown the meat. Remove meat from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to low, and add to the pan the oil, cumin, paprika, chili powder, hot sauce, and salt and pepper. Stir in the onions, and cook until onions are nearly browned. Stir in the garlic, and cook 1-2 minutes, until onions are brown. Return the meat to the pan, and stir in the green beans. Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes, uncovered, until the beans are tender but not mushy. Make a hole in the middle of the mixture in the pan, and crack one whole egg in; then, make holes around the pan, and crack each of the remaining eggs into one of the holes. Cover and cook until the eggs are cooked, 3-4 minutes. 

Serve with boiled white rice.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

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I don't use much oil at home but I always have both canola and corn oil in my pantry, Lydia. Like you, I prefer to use olive oil, but sometimes I reach for my canola bottle. :)

I only learned recently that what we call rapeseed oil here (well, we actually call it rapsiõli) is known as canola in Northern America. Thanks for all the extra information, Lydia!

I am with Pille! In Germany it's called Rapsoil - translated it means rapeseed oil. It was not until a few years ago that I realized it was the same as canola oil.
I use the same oils as you do Lydia for the same reasons and purposes. Mostly good organic olive oil on a daily basis, but for cuisines that do not require this flavor I turn to the canola oil.

hmmmm....I don't know how I feel about Canola oil. I have a love-hate relationship with it. I love that it has less saturated fat, but I hate that it is "created" by man.

Ha! I had no idea! But what I can tell you is that the prairies of Manitoba are simply spectacular garbed in yellow when the rapeseed is in bloom and especially when there's flax abloom in blue next afield.

Rapeseed is a big crop around here and, yes the fields are spectacular when they are blooming! The first rapeseed fields I ever saw, however, were in Norway.
I must have spent to much time in Andorra and Spain - I only use olive oil...even (gasp) for frying eggs!
Okay, Okay, I use canola oil in baking....

Oh my god, I NEVER stopped to even think about what Canola is!! I wish they were flowers, they'd have plastic screw top centers however... Thanks for the info.

Who would have known that there was such an interesting story inside that mild mannered plastic bottle? Great post!

Aha! I knew it was rapeseed, but I did NOT know where the name came from. You always educate me!

My everyday oil is canola mixed with olive to spread the benefits around. Look for non-GMO! Realize that hybreds play along with Mother Nature, genetic modification plays God.

Patricia, I love olive oil too, but sometimes the taste just doesn't go with a dish, so I keep the canola on hand.

Pille, back in the 1960s when they first developed this type of rapeseed, they felt the name "rapeseed" wouldn't sell, so they came up with "canola." Now we've come all the way around back to rapeseed again!

Meeta, it's great that we have so many choices of good olive oil these days. To me, all canola oil tastes the same, which is to say that it has almost no taste at all.

Steamy, I know that for many people, and for some countries, the genetic engineering aspect of this product is troublesome.

Alanna, I've seen photos of the "canola fields" in Canada and they look as beautiful as the fields of sunflowers in France. Hope to see this in person some day.

Katie, it makes sense that Norway would grow rapeseed, as it thrives in Canada's northern climate, too.

Callipygia, now I will not be able to get the image of flowers with plastic screw-top centers out of my head! I'm laughing....

TW, thank you! I'm always inspired by your posts, too.

Christine, I knew the name was made-up, but didn't know what it was an acronym for until I was researching this post.

Susan, great idea to mix the two oils. Is there a non-GMO brand of Canola that you'd recommend?

oh no no. Any oil other than olive is strictly forbidden at home. My olive-growing family even refer to butter as "the enemy fat". And they´re not talking about calories, but marketing.

ooo stop and shop.... really bringing back happy memories :D i'm scared of canola oil... but then again i use a lot of coconut oil and that gets bad press... it's had wonderful health benefits for me though (and i have regular blood profiles :) ) ... but yes. at home we basically stick to olive oil and coconut oil... occasionally soya as well but that is not so good either, cheap tho :(

Great info on canola oil. I had to laugh at the pressing of canolas! I agree it is a suitable oil if neutral flavor is required from the oil.

Lobster, if my family grew olives, I'd be so very happy to use our own olive oil. But butter as the enemy fat? It sounds so cruel!

Trini, I'm scared of coconut oil, though I know I've eaten dishes made with it, both in Trinidad and in local restaurants here. I'm glad to hear that it has been good for your health.

Veron, I can almost hear the little canolas screaming....

My mother-in-law buys her rapeseed oil directly from a farm and they are not clear like this. It has a darker colour than olive oil but it smells so good like pecan nut oil. It gives a very nice flavour to the salad dressing.

Wow, i had no idea what Canola meant - i learned something cool and new today - thanks!! I have a big bottle of it on my counter and I use that and grape seed oil for high heat frying.

Ninja, I'd love to taste rapeseed oil directly from the farm. Sounds wonderful.

Radish, I knew canola was a made-up name, but never knew exactly where it came from. It's so much fun to research my posts for this blog!

Thanks once again for this very informative post Lydia. It's a good substitute to olive oil which I've heard isn't good when it's overheated because it turns into polysaturated fat!
your dad's spit in the ocean sounds so cool! I'm gonna try that experiment too!:)

That's really interesting, I had no idea it was man-made, well engineered. I just thought it came from a natural crop. We have a lot of rape oil seed fields here, and I did wonder why I never saw the oil from them to buy!

Canola Oil is bad on so many levels

Valentina, I know there are people who use olive oil for everything, including high-heat frying, but I'm not one of them.

Kelly-Jane, canola oil is mostly a product of cross-breeding of the various types of rapeseed, with a bit of genetic modification thrown in. I think pure rapeseed oil is getting easier to find, though it's still not too common here.

Hudson, yes, there are issues surrounding the genetic modification of rapeseed, but there are also important health benefits to cooking with canola. As with all foods, it seems to be a balancing act.

Lydia et al, Spectrum Naturals uses only non- GE canola for their oils, whether organic or not. How sad that we must pay more for less (contamination). There is a nit-picky issue against using "GMO" -- you can Google this, involving CSPI and the FDA.

How interesting! I always have canola in my pantry for higher heat sautes. Course, my isn't from Stop n Shop anymore!

Susan G, thanks so much for ths info. My local supermarket now carries Spectrum Naturals products, so I'll look for this oil.

Susan, hope the Stop 'n Shop label reminds you a little bit of Rhode Island....

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