Used as animal feed and producing an oil that can be used both for cooking and to power vehicles, rapeseed is an extremely useful plant that really took off in the 1970s when it was promoted by the Canadians. Many a country landscape in the western world has been transformed into fields of gold by the rapid increase in farms growing the bright-yellow flowered crop.
Brassica napus is a member of the mustard or cabbage family. Variously known as rape, oilseed rape, rapeseed, the English name derives from the Latin for turnip, rapa or rapum. The English name first appears as early as the 14th century. Today, it is the third largest source of vegetable oil in the world after soybean and palm oil.
Canola is a particular variety of rapeseed. In 1973, Canadian agricultural scientists launched a marketing campaign to promote the consumption of canola oil, the oil derived from this variety. For a time, Canola was a registered trademark but today the word is used throughout North America to describe any form of culinary rapeseed oil.
The process of creating rapeseed oil for culinary or fuel uses results in a by-product called rapeseed meal which is fed to cattle, pigs, and chickens.
Rapeseed oil has a distinctive taste and a greenish colour. A variety of rapeseed was produced in 1998 that is the most resistant to disease and drought. In 2009, around 90% of the rapeseed grown in Canada had been genetically modified.