(Brassica rapa, Brassica napus or Brassica juncea)
Long before writer Michael Pollan’s dictum, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” was publishing in the New York Time Magazine in 2007, Canadian researchers and growers had been setting the stage for the shift he encourages and creating an array of healthy plant foods with fabulous flavour.
Not only have our researchers given the world new varieties across many plant varieties, one team gave the world its finest oil, canola. Standing in a flowering canola field in the July sunshine is one of the most exquisite and quintessential Canadian experiences. Canola is the Canadian oil and the healthiest edible oil on the planet. A truly “Made in Canada” crop, it is often the nation’s most valuable one, with annual exports of canola seed, oil and meal that are valued at over three billion dollars.
Canola began as rapeseed, first planted at the Central Experimental Farm by William Saunders in 1899. However it was not edible because of the eurcic acid it contained.
In 1958, two professors, Keith Downey and Baldur Stefansson, took this on as a challenge and in two different locations, set about to improve the qualities of rape seed by lowering the erucic acid and another component, glucosinolate. In other words they wanted to make it into ‘food’. It took a decade but in 1968, Downey released Oro was released with low erucic acid. Then in 1974 Stefansson released Tower, the first ‘double low’ variety with reduced erucic acid and glucosinolate levels. Tower became the first registered variety of the new plant they called ‘canola.’
This was the beginning!
Today the canola industry has some 50,000 farmers, working about 16 million acres. There are 13 processing plants in five provinces. Annual primary crushing capacity for all plants totals over 7.0 million tons of canola seed. In 2011 Canadian-grown canola contributed $15.4 billion to the Canadian economy, including more than 228,000 Canadian jobs and $8.2 billion in wages.