Examines the evidence for which is oil is best for you – extra virgin olive oil or canola oil.
- Extra virgin olive oil is a wholly natural product whereas canola oil production is heavily industrialised process
- There are very strict rules governing the quality and grading of extra virgin olive oils. There is no such equivalent for canola oil
- Whilst the fatty acid composition of extra virgin olive oil and canola oil may be similar, canola oil made into margarine goes through hydrogenation, which makes the oil solid at room temperature. This process creates unhealthy trans fats.
- There are considerably more polyphenol anti-oxidants in extra virgin olive oil than in canola oil.
- Olive oil has much stronger environmental credentials than canola oil
- Extra virgin oil is known for complex flavour profiles, canola oil on the other hand, after refining is a neutral tasting oil.
- The health benefits of olive oil have been well established and evidence based. There is far less research to draw from when it comes to canola oil.
- What are extra virgin olive oil and canola oil?
- Extraction Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) vs. Canola Oil
- Refining Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
- Grading Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
- Fatty Acid Composition Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
- Antioxidants and Polyphenols In Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs Canola Oil
- Sustainability & The Environment
- Flavour Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. canola Oil
- Health Benefits Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
From extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) to vegetable oil, there are dozens of choices in your average supermarket aisle. So, choosing the best oil to cook with has become an increasingly complex question. Here we examine the key differences between extra virgin olive oil and canola oil both of which are commonly used.
What Are Extra Virgin Olive Oil And Canola Oil?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is obtained by crushing olives and extracting the fresh juice. It is unrefined and the highest-quality olive oil you can buy. Because of the way extra-virgin olive oil is made, it retains the true flavour of olives, and has a lower level of oleic acid than the other varieties. It has a higher concentration of natural vitamins and minerals found in olives.
Extra virgin olive oil is the first oil that comes out of cold pressing the olives. It has been subjected to zero processing and has no additives. It also contains no more than 0.8% of Oleic Acid and is able to retain all its polyphenol antioxidants.
Canola is an annual ground crop. Canola oil is an oilseed crop that was created in Canada through crossbreeding of the rapeseed plant. The name “canola” comes from “Canada” and “ola,” denoting oil. Ever since the canola plant was created, plant breeders have developed many varieties that improved seed quality and led to a boom in canola oil manufacturing.
Most canola crops are genetically modified (GMO) to improve oil quality and increase plant tolerance to herbicides. In fact, over 90% of the canola crops grown in the United States are genetically modified for herbicide resistance.
Canola crops are used to create canola oil and canola meal, which is commonly used as animal feed. Canola oil can also be used as a fuel alternative to diesel and a component of items made with plasticizers, such as tires.
Extraction Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) vs. Canola Oil
Extracting extra virgin olive oil is created by crushing the fruits of an olive tree and extracting the juice. It has been produced this way for centuries. No chemicals or solvents are ever used in the extraction of any grade of extra virgin olive oil.
By comparison, there are many steps in the canola oil manufacturing process.
This process involves:
- Seed cleaning. Canola seeds are separated and cleaned to remove impurities such as plant stalks and dirt.
- Seed conditioning and flaking: Seeds are pre-heated to about 95℉ (35℃), then “flaked” by roller mills to rupture the cell wall of the seed.
- Seed cooking. The seed flakes are cooked by a series of steam-heated cookers. Typically, this heating process lasts 15–20 minutes at 176–221℉ (80°–105°C).
- Pressing. Next, the cooked canola seed flakes are pressed in a series of screw presses or expellers. This action removes 50–60% of the oil from the flakes, leaving the rest to be extracted by other means.
- Solvent extraction. The remaining seed flakes, containing 18–20% oil, are further broken down using a chemical called hexane to obtain the remainder of the oil.
- Desolventizing. The hexane is then stripped from the canola meal by heating it a third time at 203–239℉ (95–115°C) through steam exposure.
- Processing the oil. The extracted oil is refined by varying methods, such as steam distillation, exposure to phosphoric acid, and filtration through acid-activated clays.
It is therefore a much more ‘industrialised’ process, including the use of heat and solvents compared to extra virgin olive oil.
Refining Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
Extra virgin olive oil is never refined and gets bottled as the natural, fresh juice from the olive fruit. Other grades of olive oil however called “olive oil,” including “light tasting” olive oil is made from refined olive oil blended with virgin olive oil. The “light tasting” olive oils simply have less virgin olive oil added in. The refining of olive oil is generally at moderate heat because all olive oil has been mechanically extracted.
Canola oil, by contrast, is almost always refined. When canola oil has been extracted with solvents, it must be aggressively refined at high heat to remove the chemicals. Even when expeller pressed, canola is almost always refined because the flavour is not generally considered palatable.
Grading Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
Olive oil is graded according to standards that are defined by the International Olive Council, established in 1959, under the auspices of the United Nations, to which countries that produce over 95% of the world’s olive oil belong. Within these guidelines are very specific designations for the grades of olive oil.
Canola oil production is not standardized to the same degree and the requirements for the product are solely based on the components of the oil and not the finished product.
Fatty Acid Composition Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
Percentages can vary by sample, but both extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and canola oil have relatively high percentages of monounsaturated fat (MUFA). Research has proven that consuming monounsaturated fats has been linked to a reduction in risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
Medical experts agree that when it comes to saturated fats, less is more; while both canola and olive oil are relatively low in saturated fats, olive oil has double the content of canola. On the other hand, higher levels of polyunsaturated fats (PUFA) have been shown to correlate with higher levels of inflammation and canola oil has more than double the PUFA of olive oil.
|Total Fat||MUFA%||PUFA %||Saturated %|
|Olive Oil||14 gms||73%||11%||14%|
|Canola Oil||14 gms||64%||28%||7%|
In addition, canola oil made into margarine and shortening goes through hydrogenation, a further process in which molecules of hydrogen are pumped into the oil to change its chemical structure. This process makes the oil solid at room temperature and extends shelf life but also creates trans fats. Most of the trans fats that people eat today come from hydrogenated oils.
Overall, this has meant an increase in the amount of trans fats being consumed. “Industrial” trans fats created through oil processing are harmful to health and have been widely linked to heart disease, prompting many countries to ban their use in food products.
Antioxidants and Polyphenols In Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs Canola Oil
Antioxidants and polyphenols that help prevent cellular damage from oxidization and guard against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol are found in abundance in extra virgin olive oils. These compounds include oleocanthal that reduces inflammation and oleuropein and hydroxytyrosol that guards against the oxidation of LDL cholesterol.
Research shows that the polyphenols unique to extra virgin olive (EVOO) may be protective against a host of other chronic diseases including cancer, diabetes and dementia.
Canola oil on the other hand is highly refined, which drastically reduces its content of nutrients like essential fatty acids and antioxidants
So when looking at extra virgin olive oil and canola oil’s overall antioxidant content, there is no contest, extra virgin olive oil has considerably more.
Sustainability & The Environment
Olive trees are a permanent crop where canola is planted and harvested every year. Permanent crops that are not tilled are gentler on the environment by reducing soil erosion and protecting biodiversity within the soil.
Olive trees remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. According to Francesco Serafini, head of the environment R&D department of the International Olive Council, “In the production of 1 litre of olive oil, olive trees remove 10 kg of CO2 from the atmosphere.”
Olive trees can thrive in dry climates where other crops would fail. Olive trees do not consume large quantities of water and prevent desertification. According to the IOC, 70% of the world’s olive orchards are exclusively rain fed.
Olives are never genetically modified.
Canola oil is made from rapeseed (Brassica napus L.) that has been bred to contain lower levels of harmful compounds like euric acid.Based on the current guidelines available, canola is categorized as “high risk for GMO” according to the agricultural industry watchdog group, The Non-GMO Project, as some GMO canola plants were developed to be resistant to the Monstanto’s herbicide Round-Up.
Flavour Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. canola Oil
Extra virgin oil is known for complex flavour profiles, from bright and floral, buttery and even bitter. Olive oil and extra light tasting olive oil are more neutral-flavoured, but still have some. Olive oil and extra virgin olive oil offer a range of flavour that can match any cooking style and also imparts antioxidants at the same time.
Olive oil is considered a flavour-enhancer that may allow you to use less salt in your cooking.
Canola oil on the other hand, after refining is a neutral tasting oil.
Health Benefits Of Extra Virgin Olive Oil vs. Canola Oil
The health benefits of olive oil have been well established. Currently there are over 1.3 million published studies on olive oil. This extensive research has proven olive oils efficacy in combating a variety of ailments, from heart disease and cancer to digestive and join health.
There is far less research to draw from when it comes to canola oil. Among the existing body of research, a few recent studies have touted the benefits of the PUFA in canola oil, which can help reduce low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels. Typically referred to as “bad cholesterol” it seems likely that lowering LDL would be a good thing. However, when you consider the function of LDL in the blood stream, a different picture begins to emerge. Registered dietician and researcher Mary M. Flynn, puts it this way:
“LDL is not all “bad.” Its job is to carry cholesterol around the blood. That’s important because we need cholesterol for a variety of things like making some types of hormones and for healthy cell membranes. Higher levels of LDL are not considered “healthy” with regard to CHD risk, but there are no data showing that LDL of less than about 125 – which is an average number – makes any difference in CHD risk. In other words, the actual quantity of LDL is not a big deal.Mary M. Flynn
What is important is the health of the LDL particles themselves because LDL that is oxidized can increase CHD risk, but non-oxidized LDL does not. Polyunsaturated fat, which is the predominant fat found in most seed oils, leads to increased oxidation. That means that while it’s true that seed oils will lower the level of LDL more than olive oil, those seed oils actually can produce an oxidized LDL, which can increase the risk of CHD.”
When you compare both oils across these key categories, the advantages to cooking with olive oil are clear. From the chemical-free extraction process, to the unrefined natural goodness of extra virgin olive oil, to the health benefits from the copious amounts of antioxidants and polyphenols, to the wide variety of flavours available to suit any cuisine, olive oil emerges as the clear winner. Or as Flynn herself puts it:
“There’s no question that extra virgin olive oil is the better choice for your heart.”