How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)

Last April, I wrote a story about the gorgeous yellow fields of canola that were growing along I-24 in Cadiz, Kentucky. You can read all about it and see the photos here.
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This is Part 2 of that story. The part where after seeing a dramatic increase in the number of yellow fields from the year before, I called the plant manager at the local AgStrong Canola and Sunflower Seed Processing Plant that I had read about in the paper and asked, What gives? Why are we suddenly seeing so much yellow? When he started to explain, I realized I had a lot to learn and asked if I could drive over to meet him and get a tour of the plant. An hour later Mark Dallas was giving my husband and me a tour. Not exactly the way I thought my day would turn out, but I do love a good backroads detour.

As background information, can-o-l-a oil, or “Canada-oil-low-acid,” is made from crushed canola seeds. These seeds are about the size of poppy seeds. Even having seen how canola oil is extracted from these seeds, I still shake my head in disbelief that anything that small, even in huge numbers, could produce something as useful as cooking oil.

A very short botany lesson about plant reproduction:
Flowers have one job, and one job only: to induce reproduction. To that end, flowers that are fertilized will make seeds. Those seeds will make new plants. That the plants grow and produce tasty fruits and vegetables that we like to eat, is bonus. Botanically speaking, those fruits of the plants are actually ripened ovaries full of seeds waiting to be planted. The flesh of fruit is sweet so animals will eat it and disperse the seeds in their travels. Tree nuts work in the same way; Mother Nature is counting on squirrels to bury nuts and thereby assure they will sprout and there will be more trees in the future.

Back to canola flowers and seeds. Like winter wheat, canola is planted in the fall, sprouts, goes dormant in the winter,​ and perks up again in early spring. It flowers in mid-April, and the seed pods are harvested in mid-June. Farmers like to grow winter wheat and canola because then they can double-crop their fields, meaning there is time left in the warm summer months to raise another crop, such as soybeans, in that same field. By comparison, in most northern climates, there’s only time to grow one crop like wheat or canola.

The photo on the left was taken from a stem of canola flowers on April 17th. The photo on the right was taken on June 12th, just a few days before the pods were harvested by the combines I wrote about in this article.
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You may have seen similar seed pods develop in your own gardens if you ever let broccoli or bok choi plants flower and “go to seed.” If you look closely at the flowers below, you can see the early development of seed pods. They look like little spikes. Canola is in the same Brassica family as bok choi and broccoli.

The next photos are of fully mature canola seed pods that I dissected at home to release the seeds within. You can see how small these seeds are. It’s amazing to think cooking oil is extracted from them.
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AgStrong contracts with local, family-owned, farms to plant nonGMO canola seeds in their fields. NonGMO means the seed’s genetic material has not been manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering to make it more disease or insect resistant. A few other tidbits I learned about growing canola: canola has a 5-6 inch tap route which acts as a natural tiller in the soil, and canola brings in $8.10/bushel compared to wheat’s $5.25/bushel.

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Here is a photo of the canola oil processing plant in Trenton, KY.
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It takes a lot of seeds to make canola oil and these fifty-foot silos are full of them.
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This is what the inside of one of those silos looks like.
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The first stop on the tour was the long silver cylindrical oven used to warm the seeds to no more than 120º. Warming the seeds made them easier to press. The low oven temperature kept the process in the category of cold-pressed. The blue conveyor belt brought the warmed seeds to a machine that cracked the hard outer shells.
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Next stop was the seed crusher. This was where the magic happened. This machine crushed the seeds and expelled the golden canola oil into the blue well. The oil will still need to go to an offsite refinery before it can be bottled.
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Here’s a video of the mechanical magic happening:

Here was the residual seed meal as it dropped onto a conveyor belt.
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This meal was delivered to the green machine for a second pressing to remove the last traces of oil. At this plant, there are no chemical solvents, like hexane, used to extract these last drops of oil. That’s where the expression “all natural expeller press” comes from.
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Here’s the residual meal as it came off the conveyor belt after the last of the oil had been pressed from it. The meal is used to feed livestock.
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This is the transport room. It’s where the seeds, collected from farmers, are gathered and delivered to the silos for storage. And later, after pressing, where the extracted oil is weighed and distributed, via trucks, to be delivered to Georgia for the final refining process and …
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bottling. You can find Agstrong’s Solio Canola Oil at Whole Foods stores.
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But the story doesn’t end there. As a volunteer chef and Board member of The Nashville Food Project my antennae is always up for opportunities for food donation and food recovery. Canola and olive oil are two expensive staples we use in abundance at TNFP. I asked if Agstrong would consider partnering with us and donating their locally grown and manufactured Solio oil to TNFP, which they have graciously done. Here was the Plant Manger, Mark Dallas, donating a 35-pound container of oil to TNFP, on the spot.
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And that’s how this one little detour ended up providing cooking oil for TNFP whose mission is “Bringing people together to grow, cook, and share nourishing food with the goals of cultivating community and alleviating hunger in our city.”
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The story, however, didn’t end there, either. I happened to “pull” a few young canola plants from the side of the road last April to plant in my vegetable garden, so I could watch and learn how these plants matured to the seed stage. Once the plants produced seed pods and dried out, I was pleasantly surprised to walk out to my garden one day and see my chickens poking their heads through the chicken wire and eating the canola seeds.
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It looks like Agstrong’s byproduct of meal for livestock was a winner.
I’ll leave you with a video of my chickens enjoying canola seed pods:

Related Posts on Commercial Farming:

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36 thoughts on “How Canola Oil is Made (from plants grown locally)

  1. Judy, your blog is my favorite. Great follow up post!!

    On Sat, Feb 27, 2016 at 6:38 AM, @judyschickens wrote:

    > Judy’s Chickens posted: “Last April, I wrote a story about the gorgeous > yellow fields of canola that were growing along I-24 in Cadiz, Kentucky. > You can read all about it and see the photos here. This is Part 2 of that > story. The part where after seeing a dramatic increase i” >

  2. What an interesting article, I had no idea. The company is an example of what makes America great! Is Whole Foods the only store that stocks this? It would be great to support American farmers.

  3. Enjoyed the backstory of how Canola is grown and pressed. I tried to e-mail it to a friend but the durn thing wouldn’t accept my typing of the two words needed to send it. Durn.

    1. Judy, your journey of agricultural discovery is amazing…. I’d love to learn more about the connection to the food project, so let’s connect on that sometime.

      1. I’m game! Glad to find a canola oil partnership. Would love to find an olive oil and a cheese partnership:-) Let me know if you have any ideas. BTW, I’m so excited about TNFP’s new relationship with St. Luke’s. Thanks, as always, Craig (and Marion) for always being so supportive of TNFP.

  4. Great write-up and snaps, Judy. I wish we lived close enough to share field trips 🙂
    I remember the first time I crossed Canada, rolling past miles and miles of ag fields, with an occasional small sign identifying the crop. The little sign reading only “RAPE” was a bit startling! Not surprising that “canola” has caught on so well.
    VERY nice that Agstrong is partnering up with TNFP! I will look for their oil at WholeFoods the next time I shop there.

    1. The history of the R&D of canola oil is an interesting story that I talk about briefly in my first canola post. The oil is still called rapeseed oil in England, but my understanding is that the oil is used for industrial purposes and not for consumption. If you come south, I’ll bring you to all my favorite Ag fields in KY. If I travel north, my homeland, I’ll call on you to see your goats and Ag sites.

  5. Thanks so much for following this story from sprouts to our stores to hunger support! This is a cycle that we should have in place for all our food!

  6. Who knew I’d be fascinated with how canola oil is made! Judy, you’re a great teacher, and a wonderful advocate and “procurer” for NFP!

  7. Beautiful! Thanks for sharing the lesson, Judy. I have seen these beautiful yellow fields and wondered what the crop was. I’m going to start using that brand, especially now that I know they support TNFP!

  8. Here’s my question: is canola oil “safe”. After being told that corn oil was good for us, now the news is that it causes inflammation. How does canola compare to olive oil as far as being good for a person? How about cooking with it? Does it have a high smoking point? Thanks in advance for your answers since the food industry isn’t exactly very honest with consumers.

    1. Therese, according to my research, canola oil has a smoke point of 400º. Peanut and soybean oil are 450º so if you are looking for a very high smoke point, they might be better options. Solio is refined which helps make it have a higher smoke point. Solio has the thickness of a good olive oil. I like that it has no flavor or aftertaste, which makes it great for cooking.
      There may be other readers who can answer this question, too. I will pass it on to the makers of Solio.
      Thanks for writing and for subscribing to the blog! Judy

  9. Judy, thanks for this great investigative reporting and community networking!!! Like other readers said, I would love to join you on your field trips. It sounds like they sometimes happen spontaneously, when you least expect it, huh? You might want to check out a worm “factory” in Grundy County. Local Boy Scouts had a booming business of selling worm castings from it! In the meantime, I’m going to ask Costco to stock Solio Canola Oil! Thanks again, Susie

    1. Thank you, Susie. All of the exploring Kelly and I do is spontaneous. We love driving around and checking out farms, as you can tell. I will definitely look into the worm casting operations in Grundy County. Have never explored that topic.
      I have heard that Solio is in some Costco’s. Would love for you to try and get it in ours. Last week, I made a request for Costco to carry the large container of McCormick’s Garlic Pepper.
      Thanks for all of your encouragement. xoJudy

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