Brassica napus is a plant species best known for producing canola oil. It is more commonly referred to as rapeseed or just rape. Rapeseed is easily distinguished as a member of the mustard family by is bright yellow flowers. The primary uses of rapeseed are for its oil, animal fodder, and biodiesel conversion.
The rapeseed is a member of the Brassicaceae family of flowering plants, which is also called the mustard family, cabbage family, and Cruciferae. Commercial growth of Brassica napus began in Canada, where steam engine manufacturers used it as a lubricant in their engines. This early form of rapeseed was less suited to human or animal consumption due to a bitter taste and the presence of erucic acid, a potentially harmful chemical. Specialized breeding, however, has reduced the bitter taste and lowered the amount of erucic acid to healthy, inconsequential levels.
The oil produced from rapeseed plants is used to create canola oil, which stands for Canadian oil, low acid and refers to the food-quality product derived from rapeseed oil that contains very low levels of erucic acid. Early crafters of canola removed the green coloration from chlorophyll in the Brassica napus to make the oil more visually appealing. They then concentrated on lowering the erucic acid content and removing the bitter taste that resulted from the presence of organic compounds, such as sulfur and nitrogen, within the rapeseed.
In order to make canola oil, rapeseeds are ground and crushed. About 40% of a Brassica napus seed is oil. Thus, for every 50 pounds (22.7 kilograms) of seeds, 2.7 US gallons (10 liters) of oil will be produced. Canola oil is considered a healthy oil due to its low level of saturated fats and the presence of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. The oil has received numerous stamps of approval from health organizations, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the American Heart Association.
The rapeseed's remains are left behind after the oil is completely extracted. The remains are turned into animal feed. This by-product is high in protein and considered a superior quality grain.
Rapeseed oil has also been heavily favored as an alternative to non-renewable fossil fuels. Rapeseed plants provide more oil per amount of land area than any other naturally derived oil. As such, it is a popular choice for biofuels, which are fuels derived from organic substances, like plants, that have recently died. Biofuels are especially popular in the European Union. In Europe approximately 80% of all biodiesel feedstock, the organic component used to make the oil, comes from Brassica napus.