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Time to Give Canola Oil Some Love


Chris Amirault
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For years canola oil got bad press involving it's purported fishy smell and taste, and there are plenty of discussions out in the internet pushing the bad press. However, a food industry friend told me the other day that the production of virtually all canola oil has been rejiggered to isolate and remove that compound, meaning that a new bottle of canola oil is unlikely to have that problem.

So what's the science here? And if that problem no longer exists, isn't it time to give canola oil some love?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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When was it readjusted? My husband used canola oil to cook something last week (from a bottle purchased maybe a month ago). Despite the fact that I didn't see him pour oil into the pan I knew he used canola because of the overwhelming smell. It prompted a household ban by me, and I like fish.

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"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

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I stopped using Canola for frying because of the thick, sticky residue it leaves in the pan (sorry about the love, eh ?). Now the weather's warming up, though, it's coming into its own and I've twice used it this week to dress salad leaves, for which I think its neutrality (and cost-performance) are a good choice.

QUIET!  People are trying to pontificate.

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The price, neutrality, and availability is great, but the smell can be too much for me. Quite unfortunate. We'll finish off the bottle and then I'm going to look for a different go-to neutral flavored oil. (And Chris Amirault, in this case I'm fairly certain that the smell wasn't a result of rancidity. The bottle is pretty new. I could always be wrong, though.)

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

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Maybe I'm wrong. I mean, if you're the canola oil council, wouldn't you be telling people you've reconfigured the stuff to take care of the problem?

Does anyone have some science handy that we can use in this discussion?

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I'm wondering why canola oil smells fishy, when the (very unfortunately named) rapeseed oil, which is very commonly used in Scandinavia, for example, smells fine (since canola oil comes from a rapeseed cultivar).

Its very odd that Canola was THE specific type of Rapeseed that could be eaten without needing to have toxins removed, and that it has a taste-perception problem, while at the same time its very cheffy-trendy (at least in the UK and Europe) to use cold-pressed, unrefined, extra-virgin 'Rapeseed Oil' - not least because of its bland but pleasant taste!

One might almost think that there was another, newer, cultivar on the scene.

But not according to this article on the product in the Times (... of London.) http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/article1341694.ece

all rapeseed grown for culinary use is a strain containing very low levels of erucic acid (this was first bred in Canada, where, as in the US, it is known as canola

And the oil is specifically promoted for its flavour

http://www.rapeseedoil.co.uk/guide.php

The oil has delicious earthy, nutty taste - try it in dressings, stir fry, roasting, dunking.

ADDED - my conclusion is that the off-taste would be due to either a specific part of the mass-production process, or excessively long storage -- not the Canola/Rapeseed seeds themselves.

Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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"Dunking"? Does that mean what I think it means? :unsure:

Like you might with bread and olive oil.

Cold-pressed, extra-virgin, etc Rapeseed Oil really is the Michelin-starred Chefs' currently fashionable oil of choice ...

http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/search?keywords=rapeseed&x=0&y=0

Edit - corrected apostrophe position (unprompted).

Edited by dougal (log)

"If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch ... you must first invent the universe." - Carl Sagan

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I use Canola all the time, never noticed any fishy smell or taste. I just took a couple deep whiffs from my current bottle, safeway brand. There's a very very faint nutty smell, but nothing fishy. Strange.

I have a pretty good nose, I usually cook by smell more than by tasting, and my wife has some fishy taste super detectors, neither of us has ever noticed anything even close to fishy smell. I'd have thrown it out long ago.

Maybe it's one of those things that some people are sensitive to, most others not? I've never even heard of this before.

I use it >because< there is no smell and practically no taste at all. I use other oils if I want flavor.

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I haven't tried the virgin rapeseed oil, but my impression of Canola/rapeseed oil has always been that the main attraction is its low cost. It was the kind of cooking oil you could find easily in Eastern Europe in the era of late Communism. I've never thought of it as fishy, but that it didn't have any particularly interesting or sufficiently neutral flavor where neutrality would be desirable, and it does seem to gum up easily. I just don't care for it. For frying in oil (as opposed to rendered animal fat, butter, etc.) I usually like olive oil at lower temperatures or peanut oil at higher temperatures, preferably the cold pressed peanut oil from Hong Kong that tastes like peanuts.

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OliverB, just to be clear, the fishy smell is a phenomenon that occurs when heating the oil. It doesn't (or at least shouldn't) smell fishy in the bottle.

Edit: I should further clarify by saying that it happens when heating the oil to a high temperature, as with frying.

Edited by feedmec00kies (log)

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

- Gareth Blackstock (Lenny Henry), Chef!

eG Ethics Signatory

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hmm, I'll take a whiff next time I use it, at high heat I have the fan blowing, so might just not notice it. But I sure would have tasted a fishy taste on my chicken. I shall experiment! :biggrin:

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I would be curious if people who notice this problem notice it with all canola oil, whether mechanically or chemically extracted. FWIW, unless it's rancid, I never notice any off smell or taste in Canola oil. I do usually try to use mechanically extracted types when it's financially viable.

On another note, one good thing about Canola is its ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 - 3:1, which is one of the most balanced of the commonly used oils (olive oil, which is 12:1, is also not too bad). We do need more 6 than 3, but too much Omega-6 can completely prevent you from getting any benefit from Omega-3, no matter how much flaxseed or fish oil you gulp down.

Edited by Will (log)
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No love from me, sorry. I quit buying the stuff when, about half the time, the oil smelled awful immediately after opening. Whatever the "yuk" compound is, I can smell a whiff of it through a plate glass window.

Recently, I opened a bag of (my favorite) baked Kettle chips, and BLECH, there it was--the dreaded smell! I never noticed it before, so I checked the label, which listed a variety of different veg oils. Guess I've been lucky in the past and never encountered a canola-y bag before.

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I didn't notice funny smells in canola until a few yrs ago, when all of a sudden - wham! - I'm smelling & tasting funkiness in my food, from the canola. And no, it hadn't gone rancid. So I stopped buying canola and switched to corn oil for a couple extra dollars. It's more neutral-tasting to me anyway.

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Sunflower oil was my go-to oil in France. When I moved to the US a little over 10 years ago, I switched to canola oil as it was more readily available and was also neutral in taste.

I later did some reading about canola oil, and found out that the vast majority of it is genetically modified in the US. It might be a cultural difference, but I was not really comfortable with that idea, so I stopped using it altogether at that point and started using peanut or grapeseed oil instead as a neutral oil. Otherwise I use a lot of olive oil.

I occasionally used rapeseed oil in France ("colza") but never cared for the smell. As far as I know, genetically-modified canola oil is still banned in Europe.

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I'm not sure why anyone would want to use industrially produced oils. (canola is usually one of those) Most of these oils are produced using high heat methods that turn the oil rancid before it ever goes out for sale. It then has to be deodorized to even be salable. People who smell it's "fishiness" probably have sensitive noses. Even if you can't smell it, it likely is rancid.

I stick with stable oils like olive, coconut and rendered meat fats: tallow, pork, duck and goose. (higher in omega 3) I will buy cold pressed sunflower oil if I need something neutral and liquid to make a baked good or mayonnaise but only buy as needed because these type of oils (nut and seed) are very unstable and pretty unhealthy eaten regularly.(too high in omega 6)

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Ciao. Just for the record, a field of canola flowers in the spring is gorgeous. In April, in Umbria, there are massive fields of deep, deep yellow flowers. I use it for frying and have never noticed an off smell or taste.

I have a contact a Canolo oil and have asked her if she could clear up or explain some of the issues various people are experiencing.

Laura415, I agree that I'd rather be using extra virgin olive oil or some good goose or pork fat. But, high heat does not cause rancidity. Rancidity in oil is the decomposition of fatty acids. Synthetic antioxidants can be added to oils to retard the oxidation process.

When harvesting olives, you must handle the olives very gently as bruised olives will rot, and if pressed, will contaminate the entire batch of oil and you will quickly wind up with rancid or moldy oil; however these are separate flaws. So extra virgin olive, cold pressed, is not more or less stable than a chemically refined oil.

In olive oil, heat and chemical processing is used for extracting oil from the sludgy remains of the first cold press or if there are inferior grade olives.

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Years ago I occasionally smelled a fishy smell when the oil got very hot. I haven't smelled that in a long time. I also saw nothing but canola oil being used at the sauté station in a Michelin 3 star seafood restaurant, populated by noses more sensitive than my own. So I'm imagining it's a non issue unless you get a defective or very low quality sample.

Whether or not the oil has much intrinsic flavor depends on how heavily refined it is. As with all oils, the more refined, the more neutral the flavor and the higher the smoke point.

Talk about the evils of "industrially produced" oils, and the intrinsic rancidity of canola are urban legends. Production of canola oil is the same as with any seed oil.

The thick residue left behind is the same as with any oil high in unsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. That's polymerized oil; the same plasticky stuff that eventually builds up as seasoning on cast iron cookware. It can be tough to get off if you let too much accumulate. You'll never get it off of a nonstick pan without ruining the thing ... so for these pans a more saturated fat or more moderate heat are a good idea.

FWIW, i've become a fan of saflower oil. The highly refined versions are practically tasteless and have a high smoke point and are cheap. I like canola in a pinch too.

Notes from the underbelly

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I also use canola oil at a pretty good rate, and have never detected a fishy smell, and like some others, have never heard of it. With that said, if by increased awareness or the power of suggestion I start to smell fish next time I use canola oil, I'm not going to be very happy I ever looked at this thread ...

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