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Carrying canola forward

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Whether you’re coating a baking pan or sautéing squash, you’ll likely reach into your cabinet for a kitchen staple: cooking oil. One of the healthiest of these oils is canola oil, and now, a team of researchers has taken a new step in improving the oil’s source: the canola plant.

The researchers, whose home institutions span the globe, sequenced the genome of the canola plant, also known as Brassica napus, and published it in Science last week. The plant’s genome sequence is a valuable resource for researchers working to improve the plant and make increased production of this useful crop possible.

With the “hereditary blueprint” of canola in hand, researchers are no longer “working blindly” to improve canola, according to co-corresponding author and University of Georgia professor Andrew Paterson, who I communicated with via email. Knowledge of the canola genome can help researchers make the plant more resistant to disease, as well as improve a variety of its other traits.

Improving the plant’s traits will be useful for more than increasing production of cooking oil low in saturated fat and high in omega-3 fatty acids, however. That’s because once the oil is removed from the seed of the plant, the leftover portion of the seed is used as feed for livestock and poultry.

Does all this canola talk have you considering whipping out your pots and pans? Canola can reach high temperatures before it begins to break down, so the oil is useful with variety of cooking techniques, from stir-frying to baking. Try these brownies, made with canola oil instead of butter, for a sweet treat.

Julianne Wyrick About the Author: Julianne Wyrick has a bachelor’s in biochemistry and is currently a master’s student in the health and medical journalism program at the University of Georgia, where she also writes about science for the Office of Research Communications. Find her on the web at Follow on Twitter @juliannewyrick.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. greenhome123 4:25 pm 08/28/2014

    It is my understanding that Canola oil is processed using high heat, deodorization, and solvent hexane, which results in significant amounts of trans fats in the canola oil. I prefer avocado oil for high heat cooking or olive oil for low heat. Also, coconut oil and grass-fed butter are great too. Canola oil and soy oil are the two oils that I actively avoid. Nevertheless, I do agree with this article that canola has a lot of room for improvement.

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  2. 2. hkraznodar 3:57 pm 09/9/2014

    @greenhome123; I have done extensive reading from a wide variety of sources and they all say the same thing. Cold pressed canola oil has miniscule trans fats and solvent extraction adds only very tiny amounts of trans fats.

    Coconut oil has a 1 to 1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 oils where as canola oil has a 1 to 220 ratio. Since omega 6 is absorbed before omega 3, you want the best omega 3 ratio possible. Coconut isn’t as good as canola oil in that regard. Olive oil is a disaster in that regard with 174 to 1.

    Coconut oil is frequently hydrogenated and is mostly saturated fat. Somehow I don’t think you are as well informed as you think.

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