This week's column is devoted to questions and answers from readers.
Q: Please settle a discussion at our house. Exactly what is a canola?
A: Canola is a type of vegetable oil which, by food standards, has come on the scene rather suddenly. What's unique about canola is that, unlike other vegetable oils, it didn't originate from a plant or seed of the same name. So what is a "canola?"
Canola stands for: CANadian Oil, Low Acid.
It's an oil derived from the seed of the rape plant, a member of the mustard family and common crop in -- you guessed it -- Canada.
Common varieties of the rape plant have a high concentration of erucic (ee-ROOS-ik) acid in their oil -- a substance suspected of having a toxic effect in large amounts. Because of this, the oil was mainly used for industrial applications.
Plant breeders, though, were successful in developing a variety of rapeseed in which the erucic acid was virtually eliminated. Taking its place was a high concentration of oleic acid, the monounsaturated fat found in olive and other nut oils.
Given the growing body of research on the health advantages of using monounsaturated fats in a low-fat diet, this turned the new hybrid rapeseed oil into a perfect product for foods.
But who would buy a product named, "rape oil or rapeseed oil?" And the name "low erucic acid rapeseed oil" was thought to be too much of a mouthful. This set the stage for a new name, "canola."
In 1985, the oil received a GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe) status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In 1988 the name canola, by which it was known in Canada, was given approval for use in this country. Presto! A new word was added to the food vocabulary.
Q: I am looking for information on the nutritional value of domestic rabbit. Someone told me rabbit had more protein than chicken or turkey. Is this true?
A: While the content of vitamins and minerals is comparable to other meats, rabbit meat is leaner than chicken, turkey or beef. Because of its lower percentage of fat, rabbit yields more protein per pound. One quarter-pound serving of rabbit provides 80 percent of the adult daily requirement for protein. But the leanness also makes it a tougher meat, placing more of a burden on the method of preparation. This is one reason why recipes call for rabbit to be marinated or braised.
Jdward Blonz is a nutrition scientist based in Berkeley, Calif.