Ashleigh Smith + photo

Ashleigh Smith

Nov 21
9 min read
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Many people wonder: What is Canola Oil made out of? Is Canola a vegetable? What do Canola plants look like? And more! We are here to help you understand what Canola is and where it came from.


Canola was developed through breeding Rape plants. Rape is a leafy plant from the Brassica family. These include vegetables such as mustard, kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. Typically these vegetables have a bitter type of taste. Their leaves are dense with nutrients, while their plant structure helps preserve and repair natural soils. When discussing rape and Canola plants, it is important to distinguish how they are different because their seeds and plants are identical. The only real way to determine the difference between rape and Canola is by measuring the oil content of the seeds.

Canola Rape Seeds

Rape Plants:

  • High in Erucic Acid (45 percent)
  • High in glucosinolates
  • Not Edible

Canola Rapeseed Plants:

  • Low in Erucic Acid (less than 2 percent)
  • Trace amounts of glucosinolates
  • Edible Seeds, foliage, roots, and flowers

Why is Eruic Acid Bad?

Erucic Acid is a fatty acid found to make up much of rapeseed’s fat profile. The reason it is undesirable for consumption is its toxicity which could lead to heart conditions and other health problems in people and animals. Unlike its ancestral rape relative, Canola rapeseed plants have much lower and much safer Erucic Acid non-toxic levels of 2 percent or less. This notable difference is the reason Canola has its name. “Canola” is actually an acronym to reference its origin in Canada, its use in oil production, and its low acid content. This seed was officially registered in 1979, providing a plant-based oil for culinary use today. It is currently the third most consumed oil in the world.

Canola Cooking Oil

Rapeseed Canola Flower

What are glucosinolates?

Glucosinolates are an active compound common to plants of the Brassicaceae family. They contribute to “regulatory functions in inflammation, stress response, phase I metabolism, and antioxidant activities, as well as direct antimicrobial properties (Bischoff).” As glucosinolates are broken down, they trigger positive enzyme activity to protect your cells from damage. In a recent study done by the USDA, it was found that the glucosinolates in vegetables such as broccoli microgreens contribute to the “reduced development and growth” of several diseases, including many types of cancer. However, too many glucosinolates in a plant can be toxic. Avoid consuming types of rapeseed that are not also considered Canola seeds.


Is Canola Rapeseed a vegetable?

Canola Rapeseed is a vegetable. Like other brassicas, rapeseed has a bitter taste similar to kale but with a mild mustard spice flavoring. Because the entire plant is edible, you can add the leaves to a fresh salad, soup, or stir-fry. Really, you can use these leaves as you would any other dark, leafy green. Add the flowers to a fresh salad or as a garnish to your favorite dish. My favorite way to grow this plant is as sprouts or microgreens. At this stage, they are full of nutritional value and are easy to use. Simply harvest as you want to use and add to salads or smoothies.


Canola Rapeseed leaves, oil, seeds, and flower

What do canola plants look like?

  • Leaves - Like mustard, but rounded, waxy, and a blue-green coloration.
  • Flowers - Yellow blooms with 4 petals.
  • Seeds - Black, spherical seeds that are approximately 1mm in diameter.

How to grow Rapeseed Canola Microgreens and Sprouts

Sprouts are germinated seeds, while microgreens are young seedlings. At these stages, they are the most nutrient-dense. Try sprouting for a quick snack or refreshing crunch to your favorite foods.

Sprouting Canola Seeds

Step 1: Soak your seeds for 4-6 hours, then drain and rinse seeds.

  • If you are concerned that your seeds may develop mold, you may pre-clean them using hydrogen peroxide and water solution. Add about 1 Tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide to approximately 2 cups of water. Allow your seeds to soak for 5 minutes. Then rinse your seeds well. Continue soaking your seeds in fresh water for the rest of the recommended initial soaking time. Here at True Leaf Market, we strive to provide seeds of the best quality. To ensure your seeds are safe for sprouting and microgreen use, we test our seeds for the presence of common food-borne pathogens. In addition to testing for the presence of pathogens, we also test our germination rates to meet the standard germination requirements.

Step 2: Sit mason jar or other containers on a slope so the excess water can drain away from your seeds. We find this jar stand helpful. While many types of containers can be used, we recommend a jar or sprouting tray that can be drained easily.

  • Easily turn any mason jar into the perfect sprouting container with a wide-mouth plastic or metal sprouting lid. If you are new to sprouting and would like to try a variety of seeds, check out our sprouting jar kit offerings.
sprouting mason jar with sprouting lid
  • For growing large quantities of sprouts, try using this stackable sprouting tray to easily rinse and drain your seeds.
stacking sprouting tray
True Leaf Market Hemp Sprouuting Bag

Step 3: Rinse about 3-4 times per day to keep the seeds moist. Soon you will see healthy, white fuzzy roots develop. Don’t mistake these fuzzy roots for mold. Typically mold will appear with more of a grey tone compared to developing root hairs. Repetitive rinsing early on to wash away any dust will help discourage mold development.

Step 4: Once your sprouts have germinated with roots starting to form, you are ready to harvest! Enjoy your yummy sprouts as a snack, on sandwiches, salads, soups, smoothies, and more.

Growing Canola Rapeseed Microgreens

Microgreens include the stage of growth from cotyledon to true leaf development. We recommend growing rapeseed microgreens with a soil-growing medium, though you may grow using hydroponic methods.

Step 1 Prepare Your Growing Container: As mentioned above, we recommend using soil-based growing media such as coco coir. For easy watering, use a container with holes nestled inside one without holes. We have several options available, including:


I love using the Bootstrap Farmer Heavy Duty trays because they are reusable and dishwasher-safe. If you are constantly growing microgreens, they are a must-have! With these, you don’t have to worry about the plastic breaking or what type of media you want to use. Place any media, soil or hydroponic, in your tray and get growing. These trays make staying organized easy with a variety of colors available. Keep it simple with black, or brighten things up with turquoise and green.

Add the growing medium to your tray next. Soil-based media includes soil or coconut coir. Because microgreens are harvested before additional nutrients are demanded from a seed's original supply, amended coconut coir is not necessary. Simply add the hydrated original Minute Soil coconut coir to your container, lightly press, and plant your seeds.



Step 2 Plant Your Seeds: Spread the seeds over your growing area so the seeds are not overcrowded. Cover with a layer of soil or coco coir. Mist so the soil is moist. Canola Rapeseed microgreens are best grown by those with previous microgreen experience. While the process is easy, some beginners find growing Canola more difficult than other types of seed.

Step 3 Blackout Period: Because most seeds, including Canola, do not require light to germinate, it is best to keep your microgreens covered until germination. This helps to keep the soil moist and encourages new sprouts to push upward. Seeds naturally “chase” light by growing upwards through the soil after germination. A blackout dome tricks the seedlings into thinking they need to push further through the soil than they actually do. However, leaving a blackout dome over your seedlings for too long can cause the seedlings to become “leggy” and lacking in color. For Canola Rapeseeds, we recommend a blackout period of 2-3 days.

Step 4 Harvest: In approximately 5-7 days, you will see your seedlings start to emerge from the soil. You will want to allow your new sprouts to gain strength and color before harvesting. We recommend cutting your microgreens with a sharp knife or scissors when they are 5-10 cm tall (7-14 days).

Storage: After harvesting the whole container, store the microgreens in a sealed container with a paper towel. This will keep your microgreens crisp and fresh for the next 1-2 weeks.

Benefits of Rapeseed Canola Cover Crops

Cover crops are a fantastic tool for home gardeners and farmers to maintain healthy soils that are able to support your crops from year to year. Rapeseed is ideal for growing with or in a rotation with small cereal grains. It aids soils by penetrating through hard, compact soil with its taproot. In addition to aiding compaction problems, it also increases soil tilth with its diverse fibrous root system.

Other Resources:

Glucosinolates - Karyn L. Bischoff

AGMRC - Canola Profile

Canola Council of Canada - Processing Canola

PennState Extention - Canola Production

Purdue Alternative Crops Manual Canola Fact Sheet

USDA Cover Crops for the Southeast factsheet

USDA Illinois Grazing Manual Fact Sheet - Rape for Forage PDF

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3 comments

Tracy

This is so interesting. I didn’t know anything about Canola before reading this. Thanks for such an informative post.


Amanda

Had no clue on any of this! I am glad this information is here to read and learn


Dana

This was very informative and I want to try and grow canola 🪴 🌱 🌿.


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