What are the benefits of rapeseed oil? it is becoming more popular in as a substitute for olive oil and is being promoted as more eco-friendly. Here we take a look at the benefits of rapeseed and canola oil and try to sort out the hype from the truth.
Rapeseed oil - a modern success story
Rapeseed oil has been a popular product for some time now. From being almost unknown in the middle of the last century, rape is now one of the three main crops produced on British farms. Rape oil is found as a major ingredient in many of the vegetable oils on sale in Britain and around the world. In the USA canola is popular, which is a kind of rapeseed oil. It has been bred to reduce the slightly bitter taste.
Rape is a tall plant of the Brassica family (cabbages, mustards and turnips are all members) that produces rich oil bearing seeds. It has become popular with producers because it is a versatile crop that has been accepted for human and animal use. It has pale yellow flowers, which brighten the countryside in springtime.
It is increasingly used for biofuel production.
The oil from oil seed rape, is a light to medium yellow colour and it has a subtle, slightly nutty flavour.
So what’s so good about oils from oilseed rape?
Rape oil has an unusually high burning temperature, which means that you can cook foods using it without releasing chemicals that are bad for your health. Many fats release damaging fumes and combustion products when burnt. Some of these combustion products are carcinogenic i.e. they tend to lead to the formation of cancers when consumed over an extended period. (This is one of the reasons why fried food tends to be bad for your health.)
Rapeseed oil, on the other hand, is resistant to this kind of toxic by-product because of the high temperature at which it burns. In other words, you can fry foods using it with less danger of burning the oil as you cook.
(Nevertheless, rapeseed oil does contain some erucic acid – a type of fat – which may not be completely desirable as a food source. Canola is a type of rapeseed which contains a reduced amount of erucic acid. There are concerns that erucic acid may have a damaging effect upon heart tissue. In the US canola oil is accepted by the American Heart Association as providing significant health benefits.)
That’s not all. Rape oil also is exceptionally rich in Omega 3 and Omega 6, which have well-recognised benefits for our health. Omega 3 plays a role in fighting inflammation. Rapeseed oil also contains Omega 9, in the form of oleic acid. This is the same as is found in olive oil. It is a monounsaturated fatty acid which is not strictly speaking essential but which has health benefits. Erucic acid is also classed as Omega 9. Omega 9s may have a role in helping the immune system and cancer prevention.
There are claims that rapeseed oil will lower cholesterol. So far, these claims are unproven.
Rape oil has half the saturated fat of olive oil – which is often recommended for its health benefits.
Saturated fats are often slated as less beneficial than unsaturated fats. This subject is huge – and contentious. It is certainly clear that too many fats of all kinds, combined with processed foods and a couch-potato lifestyle will certainly lead to health problems.
However, low fat diets can be dangerous, as they do not provide enough natural vitamins. Vitamins A and E are carried by fats in the body – so if you don’t eat enough fat you are depriving yourself of these essential vitamins. As is so often the case, moderation is the key!
If you are keen to eat plant based and relatively locally produced fats as part of your diet, then rape oil is a probably a good choice. The best oils for health are undoubtedly cold-pressed organic oils, such as Farmer Brown’s from East Anglia, in England. Cold pressed oils are good because the nutritional content is not destroyed by heat or chemicals in the extraction process.
Expect to pay a little more for cold pressed and organic oils.
How eco-friendly most of these rapeseed products are depends upon the carbon footprint of the individual farm and the methods employed. Certainly most rapeseed oil is produced in ways that are heavily dependent upon fossil fuel inputs.
Canola is one of the biggest genetically modified crops in parts of Canada. If you want to avoid GM foods, it is probably wise to give most canola a miss.
Cooking with rapeseed oil
Potatoes can be fried in rape seed oil. Parboil the potatoes first and then add them – whole or cut into wedges – to a heated roasting tray with a spoonful or two of rape seed oil in the bottom. (The oil should be hot before you add the spuds). Your potatoes should get a nice rich crackly texture and you’ll be your family’s favourite cook!
You can also use rape seed oil for any other normal frying procedures. A little goes quite a long way.
Salad dressings such as vinaigrette can be made using rape seed oil. Just use the same recipes as for other oil dressings. Three times as much oil as vinegar is a good rule of thumb.