January 25, 2019 at 08:59AM by CWC
Plant-based milks have never been more popular (or plentiful) in 2019—what a time to be alive!—but out of all the options, oat milk is currently queen bee. And while oat milk fans probably already know to avoid carrageenan and check the sugar content before adding it to their coffee, there’s an ingredient that pops up in many common oat milk brands that has people doing a double-take: rapeseed oil.
The name alone is off-putting. If you take the time to whip out your phone and do a quick Google search while staring at the dairy-free case, you’ll find that it’s commonly talked about alongside canola oil. Here’s why: they’re basically the same thing.
Some background: Rapeseed oil is made from the seeds of the rape plant (a relative of mustard). Rapeseed oil naturally contains high amounts of erucic acid (between 30-60 percent), which has been associated with heart problems in mice. In the 1970s, food scientists developed a rapeseed plant that had much lower levels of erucic acid through cross-breeding techniques (not to be confused with genetically-modifying the plants). They named the plant (and the oil created from it) canola. Per the FDA, in order for an oil to be called canola, no more than two percent of its fatty acid profile can come from erucic acid.
So yeah, there are some slight differences, although outside of the US and Canada, people conflate the two things—likely because most “rapeseed oil” today is made with these lower-erucic acid plants. “In some countries, primarily in Europe, [the terms] canola oil and rapeseed oil are used interchangeably,” says registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD. (To her point, Oatly is Swedish, and Minor Figures is based in the UK, and both brands use rapeseed oil in their products.)
Kirkpatrick says that canola and rapeseed oil are so common in oat milk because they serve as an emulsifier, keeping the water and oats blended together. Consider it a reason why oat milk has such a smooth, creamy texture.
Kirkpatrick says that people get turned off about rapeseed oil (slash canola oil) because here in the US, it’s typically a genetically-modified food. While the original canola plant was bred through traditional farming techniques, modern plants are often genetically modified to be herbicide-resistant. You can avoid this by buying products with a certified non-GMO or organic label, Kirkpatrick says. (For the record, Oatly says it uses non-GMO canola oil in its products.)
Kirkpatrick says rapeseed oil (aka canola oil) actually has some benefits. One, it’s widely considered to be a healthy fat, high in omega-3s. “Unlike olive oil, rapeseed oil has a higher smoke point, so it’s safe for cooking,” she adds. (Translation: You won’t accidentally set off the smoke alarm in your kitchen next time you try to make a stir fry.) “And like all oils, it’s a good source of vitamin E.” Not all health experts agree; some still recommend avoiding canola because of its potentially inflammatory properties and because it can still in some cases be hydrogenated (which stabilizes it but also potentially introduces trans fats).
In Kirkpatrick’s opinion, seeing rapeseed oil listed in the ingredients list on your oat milk carton shouldn’t raise any red flags. “But if you’re still concerned,” she says, “there are certainly brands that don’t use it.” (Elmhurst is one.) And hey, you can always make it yourself.