Since it was first given a name in 1978, canola oil has become one of Canada’s main exports. What you perhaps don’t know is that canola oil is produced from the seeds of one or more varieties of rapeseed, a plant that’s part of the cabbage family. Long before the term canola was even coined, there was a little something called rapeseed oil, and an important historical event had led to a boom in its production.
The Rise and Fall of Rapeseed Oil
By the early 1940s, rapeseed was massively produced in Asia and Europe. Because its properties allow it to stick to metal when it’s wet, rapeseed oil was used to make lubricants for steam engines and ships. When World War II broke out, the United States Navy started mass-producing ships to use in its war efforts. Plenty of rapeseed oil was needed to grease the ships, but with the war raging throughout Europe and Asia, all the major suppliers had been cut off.
Luckily, just north of the border, there was a small but well-functioning rapeseed industry. Rapeseed manufacturers from Canada stepped in to fill the void and supply the US Navy with much-needed oil. The increased demand caused a spike in rapeseed oil production. Before they knew it, the manufacturers had amassed small fortunes selling their product to the Americans.
However, as soon as World War II came to an end, the demand for rapeseed oil decreased. Not wanting to let go of what made them rich in the past few years, Canadian farmers decided to modify the oil in order to make it edible. They started growing a brand new kind of oilseed: it was bred from the original rapeseed, but contained a significantly lower percentage of erucic acid.
The Birth of Canola
After decades of failed attempts, Canadian farmers have finally come up with a product they could market to a whole new group of customer. In 1978, canola was born. Deriving its name from the words Canada (Can) and ola (meaning oil), canola oil proved incredibly popular as soon as it hit the shelves. This was largely because it was advertised as “heart-healthy” due to its high polyunsaturated oil content.
In the ensuing years, canola oil has gone on to become the third most consumed cooking oil in the world. Continuous studies have repeatedly shown its positive effects on human health, though some other, less favorable studies have sparked a lot of criticism in the public. In addition to mass-market consumption, the oil has also found use in the production of biodiesel throughout Europe.