Focus on oils #1: five facts about rapeseed

Choosing which oils to have in the kitchen can be a tricky process, with so many factors to take into account. As a dietitian, I am interested in the oil’s nutritional composition, smoke point, versatility and, most importantly, flavour, are key considerations too. So, this introduces a mini-series of three blogs which might help to ease the process next time you are in the cooking oils aisle. Without further ado, here are five facts about one of my personal favourites, rapeseed oil:

1.  Rapeseed was originally used in the 19th century as a lubricant for steam engines, deemed unsuitable for human or animal consumption on account of its bitter taste. Fortunately, selective breeding has resulted in more palatable varieties of rapeseed, due to a reduced content of pungent chemicals called glucosinolates.

2.  In North America, rapeseed oil is instead known as canola oil. This term came into usage in the 1970s, although there is some disagreement over the precise etymology. Most sources state that ‘can’ refers to Canada and ‘ola’ to oil, but others suggest that canola refers to ‘can(ada)+o(il)+l(ow)+a(cid)’, relating to the oil’s reduced erucic acid content. Believe it or not, the basis for the name change is at least partially down to the negative connotations of rape.

3.  Fields of oilseed rape have a beautiful bright yellow colour, lighting up the British countryside. In fact, rapeseed production is on the increase here, due to its popularity as a human foodstuff, animal feed product, and as a biodiesel – all of which mean the price per tonne has been creeping up. I think this local provenance should be celebrated.

4.  Rapeseed oil is particularly versatile within the kitchen, too. From serious frying to salad dressings, clever mayonnaises to oily dips, it adds a unique, mellow flavour. Due to its high smoke point, rapeseed oil can be safely used to fry at high temperatures without the fat profile breaking down (and burning).

5.  Last, but certainly not least – let’s get to the nutritional and health benefits of rapeseed oil. Rapeseed oil contains less saturated fat than other cooking oils and fats (about half of that found in olive oil, for example). It is high in monounsaturated fats and the polyunsaturated fats omega-3, 6 and 9. This healthy lipid profile means that rapeseed oil may well be the healthy choice for reducing cholesterol and maintaining heart health and brain function (see my omega-3 blog for a little more info on this). It is also a rich natural source of vitamin E.

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