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Where Does Canola Oil Come From? Hint: Not the Canola Plant

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Here's how ConAgra, the company behind Wesson, describes canola:

* Canola oil is lowest in cholesterol-raising saturated fats – even lower than olive oil

* Canola oil may promote heart health by decreasing LDL or "bad" cholesterol

* Canola oil provides essential fatty acids that may promote healthy skin, hair and nails

* Canola oil contains polyphenols, a group of powerful antioxidants

* Wesson Oils contain zero grams of trans fat per serving and are naturally cholesterol-free

* USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that most fats in a balanced diet should come from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts and vegetable oils like canola oil.

You'll find plenty of it at any Kroger, Whole Foods, or Wal-Mart. But what you may not know is that there's no such thing as a canola plant.

What we call canola oil is, in fact, low-erucic acid rapeseed oil that was crossbred by a scientist in Saskatoon named Richard Keith Downey. The name canola is derived from Canadian Oil, Low Acidity.

The USDA's Economic Research Service explains that "[t]he dramatic success of the canola brand in North America has caused the word "canola" to become synonymous with edible rapeseed in much the same way the word 'Xerox' is understood to be a photocopy."

A little history from the ERS:

"During WWII, inedible rapeseed oil was used as a high-temperature lubricant on steam ships, but with the switch to diesel engines in the following decade, industrial demand declined. Initially, consumer demand for rapeseed oil was negligible because it naturally contains high amounts of erucic acid. Erucic acid was enough of a concern that in 1956, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned rapeseed oil for human consumption. In addition, demand for rapeseed meal was low due to high levels of glucosinolates, a compound that at high doses depresses animal growth rates.

"By the early 1970s, plant breeders developed low-erucic acid rapeseed (LEAR) varieties that also had low glucosinolate content. In 1978, the Western Canadian Oilseed Crushers Association registered these varieties with the name 'canola' for marketing reasons. Over the next 10 years, European seed producers also developed LEAR varieties, which they dubbed 'double-zero' or 'canola-equivalent.'"

And that's it in a nutshell. Now, did you also know that the kiwi fruit you ate last night is actually a Chinese gooseberry?

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