This article was originally written and submitted as part of a Canada 150 Project, the Innovation Storybook, to crowdsource stories of Canadian innovation with partners across Canada. The content has since been migrated to Ingenium’s Channel, a digital hub featuring curated content related to science, technology and innovation.
The superior cooking oil.
Rapeseed was the cash crop for generations of Canadian farmers. The oil produced from the bright yellow-flowering member of the mustard family was used to lubricate the world’s steam engines. But when diesel replaced steam, the demand for rapeseed plummeted, taking many Canadian farm incomes with it. Baldur Stefansson and Keith Downey found an alternative use for rapeseed oil. In 1974, the two agricultural scientists at the University of Manitoba carried out a series of cross-breeding experiments on rapeseed plants until they were able to create a version that had little erucic and eicosenoic acids - two acids that made rapeseed oil perfect for lubrication but awful for cooking. They called their new plant canola. The oil from this hybrid had a higher nutritional value and lower trans fats than almost every edible alternative, including butter and lard. Today, this distinctive Canadian oil is one of the most popular edible oils and the canola plant is one of the largest oilseed crops, not only for new generations of Canadian farmers but also for farmers throughout the world.