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Frying foods can produce some very crunchy and tasty treats, but also ones that are way too greasy and unhealthy. This is why choosing the right oil to fry with is essential. Some oils are not suitable for frying and can release harmful toxins, and others simply have a flavor that’s too intense and can destroy the taste. So, which oils are suitable for frying, and is canola oil one of them?
It’s not a secret that canola oil is a healthy oil with many cooking benefits. However, we must also look at its nutritional profile and chemical properties to see if those benefits apply to frying as well. For instance, some incredibly nutritious and healthy oils, such as flaxseed, pumpkin seed, and walnut, are awesome in salad dressings and dips but completely unsuitable for frying.
Some oils are versatile enough to be okay for frying as well as salad dressings, while others seem to be made just for frying. Canola oil falls somewhere between these two categories, and here’s why.
What Is Canola Oil?
Canola oil is a vegetable oil derived from a type of rapeseed called canola that’s low in erucic acid, a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid. Because of this, you might be under the impression that canola oil is made from rapeseeds or canola seeds. Both are true, but there’s an important difference to remember.
Canola oil is used in industries beyond the culinary, which is why there are edible and industrial forms produced from different plants within the same family (Brassicaceae) that yield rapeseeds. Be careful not to confuse them with grape seeds, which are seeds extracted from grapes.
And, it may come as a surprise, but according to the United States Department of Agriculture, rapeseed is the second-leading source of vegetable oil in the world in 2021 and also the world’s second-leading source of protein meal. This just means that many forms of canola oil are present in the food we consume.
To make things simpler, the edible forms of rapeseed oil are known as canola oil, coming from canola seeds (modified species through traditional plant breeding methods of rapeseed or brown mustard). They were first produced in Canada in 1974, when the modification of rapeseed oil led to a reduction in the concentration of erucic acid and glucosinolates (natural components found in plants like mustard, turnip, horseradish, and more).
Nutritional and Chemical Properties of Canola Oil
In this article, we’ll be focusing on edible or cooking canola oil, which is developed through traditional plant breeding from types of rapeseeds. Canola oil is typically used for the production of margarine, some spreads, emulsifiers, dairy products, and more.
The distinction not only helps us be more specific but also more precise when talking about the nutritional value and chemical properties of the oil.
Some experts claim that canola oil is one of the healthiest, if not the healthiest, cooking oil, even when compared to extra virgin olive oil. The reason for this is its fatty acid composition and some other nutrients.
Fatty Acids Content
Canola oil is composed of oleic (56.80-64.92%), linoleic (17.11-20.92%), and palmitic (4.18-5.01%) acids. Oleic acid is an omega-9 fatty acid, and it’s also found in high concentrations in olive oil. This is important because oleic acid is usually associated with heart disease prevention and cholesterol reduction.
Canola oil contains less than 7% saturated fatty acids, which, compared to other oils, is next to nothing. For context, 80-90% of coconut oil is saturated fat. And, although scientists are still trying to figure out the effects of fats on health, for now, saturated fats, along with trans fats, are considered unhealthy.
In fact, canola oil is considered to have an ideal fatty acid composition because it contains an extremely low amount of saturated fatty acids, and a very high amount of monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), which are stable at high cooking temperatures, unlike PUFAs (a type of unsaturated fatty acid).
In Canola oil, there are around 32% of PUFAs, which is more than palm oil and olive oil but significantly less than sunflower seed oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil, and soybean oil (vegetable oil). We’re mentioning PUFAs because they can be very dangerous if we consume them oxidized – which is something that happens when we heat them at very high temperatures. Still, they’re a safe and healthier option than saturated fatty acids when consumed unheated.
To conclude, the fatty acid content in oils gives their characteristic properties that we can use to determine how healthy and suitable they are for frying. Ideally, you want an oil with moderate to low content of saturated fatty acids but also low content of PUFA.
Because of the fatty acid composition, canola oil has a smoke point of approximately 204 °C (400 °F), which is more than the ideal temperature for deep frying – between 350-375°F.
Additionally, canola oil contains a few types of tocopherols, which are forms of vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin important for vision, reproduction, skin health, and brain function.
Other nutrients found in canola oil include:
- fat-soluble vitamins: A, D, E, and K;
- phytosterols: beta-sitosterol;
- flavonoids: myricetin, quercetin, rutin, and more.
Fun Fact: Canola oil is the only known vegetable oil that has a sulfur atom within its fatty acid structures that give the canola its unique sulfury-like flavor.
Health Benefits of Canola Oil
With everything that we have said so far, it becomes clear that canola oil is really healthy and good for consumption. Some science-backed health benefits associated with canola oil include:
Since canola oil is very high in omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid, ALA) and omega-9 (oleic acid, OA) fatty acids, it can protect the heart through its effects on blood pressure. In other words, studies have found that oleic acid found in oils such as olive oil is responsible for reducing blood pressure. Canola oil comes second after olive oil in terms of oleic acid level.
In fact, even the FDA allows canola oil makers to put qualified “limited and not conclusive” health claims on their products related to heart disease.
Bad Cholesterol Reduction
One way to protect the heart is by reducing bad cholesterol in the blood. One study from 2017 published by the Iran University for Medical Sciences showed that the dietary fats in canola oil could significantly lower the serum cholesterol, LDL-C, and triglyceride concentrations.
Lowering bad cholesterol helps the body in more ways than one. Fatty deposits in your blood vessels cause clots that might lead to heart attack, stroke, gallstones, stomach pains, or numbness and coldness in the extremities.
Canola oil contains antioxidants and vitamins that help the body reduce inflammation. One meta-analysis from 2013, out of the many studies investigating the health benefits of canola oil, concludes that “canola oil may potentially promote immune and cardiovascular health through its antithrombotic and antioxidative effects.”
Nevertheless, keep in mind that all the studies backing up the health claims concerning canola oil are done on raw consumption in moderate amounts. In other words, the oil is consumed unheated, for instance, as a salad dressing, and in relatively low to moderate amounts.
This brings us to an important disclaimer: Do not take the conclusions of these studies as fact out of context. Canola oil can be beneficial, but it can also be harmful. It depends on how we use it and how much we use it. And while using canola oil for frying is perfectly safe, these studies do not claim that these health benefits will come from consuming fried foods with canola oil.
Of course, alongside the health benefits, one might wonder whether there are any downsides to consuming canola oil.
On the internet, you may even face some misinformation claiming that canola oil contains toxins and is harmful to human health. This is totally unfounded and stems from a lack of information about the production of edible canola oil.
The misinformation is mainly because canola seeds have been produced by crossbreeding with rapeseeds that contain high levels of erucic acid, which, in very large amounts, can be toxic to humans. However, at the beginning of this article, we made it clear that canola oil is not the same as rapeseed oil and explained why.
Plus, the seeds used for producing edible canola oil are very strictly regulated and recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration.
On a different note, we have to acknowledge that there are some preliminary and animal studies that warn that canola oil might increase inflammation, negatively impact memory, and dispute its health-protecting benefits. However, these studies focus more on highly refined types of canola oil, as well as frequently consuming deep-fried foods with canola oil, which is a more general health concern regardless of the oil.
What Does Science Say About Frying With Canola Oil?
Concluding that canola oil is indeed a very healthy oil and good for consumption is a good start, but it’s not the same as saying that it’s suitable or good for frying.
Thanks to its nutritional value and chemical composition, we’ve learned that canola oil has a relatively low content of PUFAs and saturated fatty acids and a high concentration of monounsaturated fatty acids. Monounsaturated fats are stable even at high temperatures, which makes it less likely for the oil to oxidize and degrade during frying.
Another point for canola oil as a frying oil is its high smoking point. Oils that can withstand a temperature of around 375°F are considered suitable or good frying oils.
Science About Health
There’s no doubt that canola oil is healthy, but fried foods are not, unfortunately, even when we use an oil that’s considered healthy.
The University of Massachusetts conducted a study published in the Cancer Prevention Research journal that showed consumption of frying oil worsens colon cancer and colitis in mice. For the study, Ph.D. student Jianan Zhang deep-fried falafel with canola oil. Because of this, the research team recommends that people prone to inflammatory bowel disease avoid eating fried foods, even with healthy oils such as canola.
Other studies have shown that canola oil is good at preserving phenolic compounds present within potatoes during deep frying. Even when compared to olive oil, canola oil proved to be more balanced and remained superior during all frying sessions.
Still, it’s worth mentioning that a study from 2019 published in the journal Foods found that the quality changes in different canola oil types during frying. Some canola oil show superior frying life compared with other brands and production seasons. This indicates that the quality of canola oil can make all the difference, so make sure you buy canola oil from a trusted brand that’s transparent about its production process.
Science About Taste
Still, heath is not the only factor for frying suitability. Taste is important too, and a study from 1993 revealed that some participants find french fries made with canola oil to taste somewhat fishy.
On the other hand, another study from 1999 revealed that different types of canola oil (different fatty acid concentrations) affected the taste. This means that manufacturers can modify the oil to make it more sensory pleasing and more suitable for deep frying.
At the end of the day, taste is subjective, and the only way to know for sure whether canola oil is to your taste or not is to give it a try.
The short answer is: yes, you can fry with canola oil. It’s a healthy oil with a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids that remain stable at high temperatures. This makes the oil suitable for frying, which is backed up by canola’s smoke point of around 204 °C (400 °F) – more than what you need for deep frying.
Not only that, but canola oil is highly nutritious and low on saturated fats, which gives it an almost ideal fatty acid composition when it comes to health and cooking.
The antioxidants and vitamins in the oil have been shown to bring many health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease and lowering bad cholesterol and inflammation. Because of this, the FDA even allowed canola oil makers to put health claim labels on their products.
Having said that, the evidence is still limited and mostly focused on the raw, non-heated consumption of unrefined canola oil. This cannot be generalized to fried foods or frying with canola oil. And, even though canola is safe and suitable for frying, you should still lower your consumption of fried foods as there are health concerns beyond the choice of oil.
We hope that our guide was informative and insightful, so you can make a smarter decision regarding your cooking. We covered the topics of health and taste, but we understand that the price might also be a factor. Because of this, we reviewed other oils as well, so you can compare them and see what works best for you.