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
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.
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.