Rapeseed, botanically brassica napus, is a flowering member of the family Brassicaceae. It is also known by the names of rape, oilseed rape, rapa, rapaseed and canola. Its name is originated from the Latin word for turnip, rāpum or rāpa, and is first recorded in English at the end of the 14th century. This bright yellow flowering plant is widely cultivated in Canada, the United States, Australia, China, India and European countries for the production of animal feed, vegetable oil for human consumption, and biodiesel.
The edible oil extracted from the seed of the rape or rapeseed plant is known as rapeseed oil. In 2000, it was the third leading source of vegetable oil in the world after soybean and oil palm. Known for its its great taste and subtle flavour, this vegetable oil is the world’s second leading source of protein meal, although only one-fifth of the production of the leading soybean meal. It is one of the oldest of cultivated crops and is the source of canola oil. Natural rapeseed oil contains 50% erucic acid, which is mildly toxic to humans, if consumed in large doses; but is used as a food additive in smaller doses.
Now popular as cooking oil, its first use, thousands of years ago, was in lamps. There are two main types of rapeseed oil viz. industrial rapeseed oil and food-grade rapeseed oil. The former is used to produce fuels, lubricants, etc; whereas the latter is used in variety of food applications. Canola (Canadian Oilseed, Low-Acid) is a special cultivar of rapeseed used to produce food-grade oil.