What Is Rapeseed Oil & Should You Be Cooking With It?
Perhaps you’ve been food shopping in Paris or London (lucky you!) and spotted a cooking oil called rapeseed oil. In your efforts to whip up dinner abroad, maybe you’ve tossed this unfamiliar liquid fat into your shopping basket. But what exactly is rapeseed oil, and why don’t we have it stateside?
Turns out, we do use rapeseed oil in the U.S.—it just goes by the name canola oil. Wait, what? Read on for the details on why rapeseed oil can go by different names, its nutritional pros and cons, and whether it’s a healthy choice for cooking oil.
What is rapeseed oil?
Despite its limited name recognition in North America, rapeseed oil is one of the oldest known vegetable oils. It’s extracted from the seeds of a plant called rape, which is botanically related to cruciferous veggies like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. The plant grows primarily in Canada and western Europe and is identifiable by its bright yellow flowers.
Rapeseed oil comes in two distinct forms. Industrial rapeseed oil, which isn’t edible, is used for purposes like lubricating engines and making lipstick. It contains high amounts of erucic acid1, a substance known to be toxic to humans.
Culinary rapeseed oil, on the other hand, is edible, used in home cooking, and included in many processed food formulations. Unlike industrial rapeseed oil, the culinary version is low in erucic acid, with an upper limit of 2% by weight. In the United States and Canada, culinary rapeseed oil goes by the name canola oil—so called for its largest producer, Canada. In Europe, however, it’s retained its original moniker.
Some professional chefs and home cooks are fans of culinary rapeseed oil for its neutral flavor and high smoke point of up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. But for some, the oil’s GMO status is problematic enough to keep it out of the kitchen (more on that below).
Is rapeseed oil the same as canola oil?
Yes, “canola” is simply another term for culinary rapeseed oil. The primary difference between American canola oil and, say, French or German rapeseed oil is probably its growing location, not its nutrition or degree of processing.
The nutritional value of rapeseed oil.
Here’s what you can expect nutritionally from a 1-tablespoon (14 gram) serving2 of rapeseed (aka canola) oil:
- Calories: 126
- Fat: 14 grams
- Saturated fat: 0.925 grams
- Monounsaturated fat: 8.76 grams
- Polyunsaturated fat: 3.54 grams
- Vitamin E: 2.42 grams
- Vitamin K: 9.98 milligrams
Rapeseed oil is relatively low in saturated fat, and is a good source both of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.
That said, there’s some concern about the polyunsaturated fat ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s in rapeseed oil. “While it does include some omega-3, it’s much higher in omega-6 fatty acids. Having too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3 in the diet has been linked to inflammation in the body,3” says registered dietitian Jessica Cording, M.S., R.D., CDN, INHC.
Forms of rapeseed oil
If you’re looking to purchase culinary rapeseed oil, you’ll find several distinct forms. Some terms to understand include:
- Refined: Most rapeseed and canola oils are highly refined. Translation: they’ve undergone multiple chemical processes like bleaching and deodorizing. This makes them more palatable and increases their smoke point, but decreases their nutrient content.
- Unrefined: Unrefined rapeseed or canola oils can be harder to track down, but seek them out if possible. This variety is significantly less processed than refined.
- Cold-pressed: Cold-pressed rapeseed oil is extracted from the plant without using heat. This helps it retain nutrients that would otherwise be lost.
- Vegetable oil-rapeseed oil blends: Many vegetable oils combine rapeseed or canola with sunflower, soybean, olive, or other oils.
The health benefits of rapeseed oil
This refined oil doesn’t have a squeaky-clean health reputation, but here are some of the potential benefits of rapeseed oil (particularly unrefined/ cold-pressed varieties):
It may improve cardiovascular health.
The hefty dose of monounsaturated fats in each serving of rapeseed oil could do your heart some serious good. “Most of the fat in rapeseed oil comes from heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, which has been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol,” says Cording.
In fact, a study from 2023 concluded that canola oil could not only promote lipid metabolism4 but even have health-promoting effects on conditions like type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. And a 2020 review of 42 studies found that consuming canola oil improved cardiometabolic risk factors5, compared to other edible oils.
It may promote hair and skin health.
Next up are rapeseed oil’s possible benefits for hair and skin. “The unsaturated fatty acids in rapeseed may help dry hair due to the moisturizing properties of the oil to scalp and hair and skin,” says naturopath and dietitian Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D.
The softening potential of rapeseed oil likely has to do with the oil’s vitamin E content. Research shows that vitamin E’s antioxidant properties may help reduce inflammation in the skin6 as well as promote hair growth7 when used as a scalp treatment or hair mask.
It has advantages for cooking.
Besides these health perks, rapeseed oil has plenty of advantages for cooking. Its high smoke point, versatility, neutral flavor, and affordability make it a go-to for many cooks.
The downsides of rapeseed oil
If you’ve done some culinary homework of your own, you may have heard of some of rapeseed oil’s downsides—and, unfortunately, there are several.
It's usually genetically modified.
Over 90% of canola crops8 in the U.S. are genetically modified. Genetic modification isn’t always bad news for health9—but when it changes the way plants respond to pesticides, it can quickly become problematic. (It’s also not great for the environment when plants are grown in a monoculture, which most rapeseed plants are10.)
“[Rapeseed] is a highly processed oil, with many of the plants genetically modified and more resistant to herbicides. When crops are resistant to herbicides, even more of those herbicides are needed, potentially causing more harm to the environment,” explains Schehr. “This also means we are ingesting those strong herbicides, and therefore this may not be the best choice for oil.”
It may cause inflammation.
Omega-3s and omega-6s are generally considered friendly fats, but when their ratio gets out of whack, your health might pay the price.
“With an omega 3 to 6 ratio of 1:2, this oil does have a significant amount of omega-6, which most people get too much of in their diet and can lead to inflammation,” says Schehr. Some studies have linked an excess of omega-6 to omega-3 with an increased risk of obesity11, for example. Plus, rapeseed oil is often used in highly processed foods, which research shows may be its own driver of inflammation12.
Rapeseed's potential for oxidation
Oxidation occurs when oils are exposed to light, heat, and oxygen, causing them to produce harmful or even toxic byproducts. This can also happen when certain oils are cooked at very high temperatures13. Rapeseed oil has a reputation for a quick rate of oxidation—research found that it oxidized faster than peanut or corn oils14.
As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. “During prolonged or deep-frying, harmful compounds may form as [rapeseed] oil oxidizes. This happens sooner in oils with high PUFA content,” says Cording. Then again, this doesn’t mean that frying in rapeseed oil will make poison for dinner. “The refined rapeseed oils are actually thought to be less susceptible to this because the compounds that are more susceptible to oxidation (like free fatty acids) are removed during processing.”
Cording’s big-picture takeaway on the dangers (or lack thereof) of oxidized oil: “It really depends on how frequently someone is consuming foods cooked with rapeseed oil. No matter what oil you use, avoid reusing cooking oil and store your oil in a cool, dark, and dry place.”
So, is rapeseed oil bad for you?
Rapeseed oil may not be a dietary angel—but is it bad enough to oust it from your pantry entirely? “If someone’s occasionally eating something that happens to have rapeseed oil in it, I wouldn’t panic,” says Cording. Still, she recommends replacing rapeseed or canola oil with other, healthier options when you can.
“We have so much research on the benefits of olive oil, I would encourage making the swap to take advantage of those health benefits. For a more neutral flavor, avocado oil is also a great alternative that will work well in cooking,” Cording adds.
Rapeseed oil vs. other oils
Here’s how rapeseed oil measures up to other popular cooking oils:
Rapeseed oil vs. Olive oil
Like olive oil, rapeseed oil has lots of good-for-you monounsaturated fats. However, olive oil far outshines rapeseed for its antioxidant content15, heart-healthy fatty acid breakdown16, and anti-inflammatory properties17.
Rapeseed oil vs. Avocado oil
Rapeseed and avocado oil share important features for cooking: their high smoke point and relatively neutral flavor. But avocado oil (particularly unrefined avocado oil) tends to be more sustainably produced and higher in antioxidants like lutein, which is critical for eye health18.
Rapeseed oil vs. Sunflower oil:
Sunflower oil is often compared to rapeseed for its ability to cook food at high temps. And while both are usually refined, sunflower oil is less likely to be genetically modified. They're comparable.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is canola oil banned in Europe?
There’s a long-standing rumor that canola oil is banned in Europe—but it’s simply not true. Across the pond, canola oil is sold as rapeseed oil, and the European Union uses the same 2% erucic acid threshold for rapeseed/canola oil as the U.S.
Is rapeseed oil inflammatory?
Because of rapeseed oil’s high degree of processing and ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s, eating a lot of may contribute to inflammation. Keep in mind, though, that your diet is a big picture, and rapeseed oil is probably only a small component in your everyday eating.
Rapeseed oil (aka canola oil) is a golden oil that may have some silver linings—but compared to other options, it’s not the healthiest. If you do use rapeseed oil, make it an occasional choice and consume it in moderation. And for better liquid fats, don’t miss our definitive ranking of the eight healthiest cooking oils.
Sarah Garone, NDTR is a licensed nutritionist and freelance health and wellness writer in Mesa, AZ whose work has appeared in numerous publications. After a first career as a college German teacher, health problems led her to pivot her work to the way food impacts wellness. In addition to her writing, Sarah enjoys spending time with her husband and three teenage kids, cooking, running, volunteering at a certified pro-women's healthcare center, and singing in a concert choir.