Non-GMO Canola Oil Myths & Truths

Posted by Hannah Broaddus

There’s so much misinformation about canola oil out there. Part of the problem is that the issues people find with it are only sometimes true. To understand the full story, you have to know when the claims about canola oil are actually true and when they are false.

Today, I’ll be tackling some myths and truths about non-gmo canola oil in particular, and how they relate to their conventional and organic counterparts.


MYTH: It’s not possible for canola oil to be non-gmo, because it is made from a plant that was genetically modified from a rapeseed plant. 


FACT: This is a common misunderstanding, and is not true. Non-GMO Canola Oil is made from canola seeds which were produced using traditional breeding methods, before canola was ever genetically modified. 


This history of the canola is important: the above is a common misunderstanding and can be easily understood when you look at the history of canola oil, the timeline of events and what occurred.

The canola plant is a “distant younger cousin” of the rapeseed plant. The rapeseed plant was originally grown to make meal for cows in the latter half of the 20th century. Rapeseed plants naturally had mid-to-high levels of eurcic acid, which is a component of each fat molecule. A ruminant cow can easily ingest this eurcic acid in its 4 stomachs, but the human digestion can’t take much of it.

Don’t think of eurcic acid as a bad thing just because of the word “acid” — all oils come with many different kinds of fatty acids. Oleic acid, for example, is another term for healthy monounsaturated fats that are found in olive oil and avocados.

In the 70’s, scientists and farmers worked to produce a similar plant that had much lower levels of eurcic acid for people to use and eat. This new low-eurcic acid plant, they renamed canola oil (because, let’s be real, who would have chosen the name “rapeseed” to begin with? To me, it’s an unfortunate choice). The new name came from the acronym CANadian Oil Low Acid (because it was mostly grown in Canada, and this new variety was low in eurcic acid). Hence the name: CAN-O-L-A.

This new canola plant was developed using traditional breeding methods (think Gregor Mendel’s pea plant experiment). Another way to look at it is by looking at other traditional breeding methods, like the way animals and humans pass traits through generations. In this example, if you breed a brown chicken with a white one, you can create a speckled white and brown chick. Then you breed that speckled brown & white chicken, once grown, to a white chicken to a create an even-more-white-speckled chicken. Aka, it’s selective breeding but done naturally. However, it’s important to not that genetic modification wasn’t extensively used yet at this point back in the 70s!

For the next few decades, the use of canola oil and meal grew throughout the US and Canada. Then, in the 90s, genetic modification became a very popular new thing. Farmers wanted higher yields and they took these seeds (already canola seeds at this point) and genetically modified them to make them resistant to RoundUp. Soon almost all of the canola in the US was genetically modified; in recent years, over 96% of canola crops were GM — this number is now slowly dropping.

However, there were still those original seeds floating around, produced through traditional breeding back in the 70s that were never touched by genetic modification.

These seeds became the mainstay used for non-gmo and organic canola oil production today. Non-GMO Canola Oil uses the original seeds from the 70s, while conventional canola uses the newer genetically modified versions.



MYTH: All canola oil is produced using a chemical solvent called hexane. 


FACT: Conventional canola oil is usually produced using hexane, but Non-GMO Canola Oil is almost always expeller pressed. 


Conventional canola oil is by far the most common type of canola oil. It’s what is used for frying in restaurants, universities and hotels around the country. In fact, in recent years, over 96% of canola crops were genetically modified. That said, this number is now slowly dropping as non-gmo canola oil is in greater and greater demand from consumers and natural food manufacturers.

The reality is that any type of canola seeds (GMO, non-GMO or organic) could technically be solvent expelled and any could be expeller pressed -- the type of seeds used doesn’t have anything to do with how the oil is removed from the seeds.

That said, almost all conventional (GMO) canola oil uses solvent expelling (because it’s the cheapest option). There is a small amount of Expeller Pressed Canola Oil made from conventional (GMO) seeds available on the market — and Centra Foods even carries it.

Non-GMO Canola Oil, on the other hand, is almost always produced using expeller pressing. It’s not that it has to be — in fact, Non-GMO Soybean Oil is a common alternative to Non-GMO Canola Oil, and it is often solvent expelled. Non-GMO Canola Oil seems to be different though.

For some reason, almost all producing farms of Non-GMO Canola Oil are expeller pressing, and there is not any significant supplies of solvent-expelled Non-GMO Canola Oil available on the market. Here’s my theory as to why is this: because there is consumer demand for a healthier non-gmo oil, it is the same consumers that want expeller pressed oil and therefore these two features will often be found together.



MYTH: All canola is bad. 


FACT: Organic canola and non-gmo canola oil are very different than conventional canola oil, and are much healthier since they are naturally non-gmo and expeller pressed instead of being solvent expelled. 



MYTH: All Non-GMO Canola Oil is also organic. 


FACT: False, but close: you’ve just got it backwards. All Organic Canola Oil is naturally non-gmo, but not all Non-GMO Canola Oil is organic.


It is a part of the requirements for organic oils that they can only be made with non-gmo seeds. Therefore, all Organic Canola Oil has to be made with non-GMO seeds. That said, it is still subject to issues of cross-contamination from nearby fields, so most suppliers like Centra Foods now offer a Non-GMO Project Verification seal on their Organic Canola Oil as well.

On the other hand, not all Non-GMO Canola Oil is naturally organic. Non-GMO Canola Oil doesn’t go through the extra organic certification process and the seeds are not grown using organic farming practices.



MYTH: Olive oil is better. 


FACT: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is better. I will agree with you there. 


Extra Virgin Olive Oil is uniquely above every other oil in my book, because it brings unique health and healing properties (like polyphenols) to the table. Literally. For more information, I suggest reading these articles:

The Health Benefits of Extra Virgin Olive Oil 

What Makes Extra Virgin Olive Oil So Healthy?

But Non-GMO Canola is also great — without the many downsides of conventional canola oil — and it has it’s place in certain recipes.

You see, Extra Virgin Olive Oil doesn’t fit for all foods and purposes. It brings it’s own flavor profile that can greatly affect a product, for better or for worse. For example, I don’t bake with Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Instead, I bake with a neutral tasting Non-GMO Expeller Pressed Canola Oil for any muffins, cookies, or other sweet goods.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil will, unfortunately, change the taste of your sweet breads and cookies into something that doesn’t taste quite as good in the end.

Topics: Canola Oil



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