Saskatchewan used to be known as “The Wheat Province” and when one talked about fields of golden grain they meant fields of wheat ripe for harvest. Wheat is still grown here, as well as other cereal grains, but a whole lot of new field crops are now grown. Crops such as lentils, chickpeas, canola and others have been added to the mix.
Especially canola, which has become Saskatchewan’s number one crop, both in terms of acres seeded and the dollar value of the crop. Nowadays golden fields appear much earlier in the growing season: field after field of canola in golden bloom.
Those flowers produce small, round black seeds with 45% oil content, about twice as much as soybeans. The oil produced from crushing these seeds is the world’s healthiest cooking oil. It has no cholesterol, the least saturated fat of all common cooking oils and is a good source of vitamin E. It is light in texture and taste and has a higher smoke point than other cooking oils. The meal that remains after removing the oil is a high quality protein supplement for livestock feeds.
It wasn’t always thus. Brassica rapa was originally known under the unfortunate name of rapeseed and the oil was used as an industrial lubricant. Rapeseed oil has a high concentration of erucic acid that in high quantities can be toxic to humans. The meal also contained elements that made it unpalatable and unhealthy for livestock. In the 1960’s and 70’s, plant breeding programs in Saskatchewan and Manitoba crossbred cultivars of rapeseed. This was before the days of genetic manipulation, it was plain old crossbreeding, generation after generation, to obtain high yielding varieties with the undesirable compounds removed. The resulting varieties are significantly different from rapeseed and thus the name Canola was coined.
There are still alarmists who confound Canola oil with rapeseed oil. The Mayo Clinic website says “Health concerns about canola oil are unfounded” and calls it a healthy and safe choice for cooking oil. This is one of the great success stories of Canadian agriculture.