What Exactly Is a “Canola”? (Hint: It’s not a vegetable…)

Canola oil is often advertised as being as good as, or even healthier than, olive oil, but I’m not buying it (seriously, I’m not buying it). Olive oil is cleanly pressed. Canola oil, like all the other “vegetable” oils, is extremely chemically processed.
But my biggest question is: what’s a canola? I never heard of a vegetable called canola. Or a grain either. Turns out that’s because there isn’t one. It’s a made-up word!

Canola is, no joke, the combination of the words “Canada” and “oil.” Can + oil = Canola. Great, but what the heck is Canada oil?

In the 1960s, looking for a cheap way to grow and process cooking oil, Canadian scientists messed around with the rapeseed plant (which is poisonous to just about every living creature) to try and get it to grow without all its poisonous acids. It worked, sort of, and they got a rapeseed plant with “low acid.” They figured out that no one in America would want to buy “rape oil” (even though that’s what they call it in Europe), so they decided to make up a name for it.
My friend Jodie didn’t believe me when I told her canola wasn’t a real plant, so she called the 800 number on a bottle of canola oil that will remain nameless. The customer service agent told her that canola was a pretty yellow flower (that’s what rapeseed is). Jodie’s feisty like me, and asked why she’d never seen or heard of a canola plant before, and the lady told her that you could “only find them in Canada” because of the “special soil” up there. Hilarious (and untrue; they grow it in America, too).

Here’s what I know: the rapeseed plant and the canola plant have the same scientific name, Brassica napus. “Canola” is just the nicer new nickname for an unpleasant-sounding plant. Hopefully there’s not enough poison in rapeseed/canola anymore to hurt humans, but since it’s a new invention and since it’s processed, I’m going to wait this one out. I’ll stick to the juice from real fruit (olives) that’s been used for thousands of years.

P.S. In Italian, cavolo means “crap.” Interesting, no?

SkinnyItal-cover – From Skinny Italian
by Teresa Giudice with Heather Maclean



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2 responses to “What Exactly Is a “Canola”? (Hint: It’s not a vegetable…)”

  1. Sissy Avatar

    So funny! I always wondered what a canola was ! I thought it was a plant like wheat.

  2. Matt Avatar

    I was just at Walmart wondering “what the heck is a canola?!” Thanks for the story!

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