Vegetable oil

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Vegetable oils, or vegetable fats, are oils extracted from seeds or from other parts of fruits. Like animal fats, vegetable fats are mixtures of triglycerides. [1] Soybean oil, grape seed oil, and cocoa butter are examples of seed oils, or fats from seeds. Olive oil, palm oil, and rice bran oil are examples of fats from other parts of fruits. In common usage, vegetable oil may refer exclusively to vegetable fats which are liquid at room temperature. [2] [3] Vegetable oils are usually edible.



In antiquity

Oils extracted from plants have been used since ancient times and in many cultures. Archaeological evidence shows that olives were turned into olive oil by 6000 BCE [4] and 4500 BCE in present-day Israel and Palestine. [5]

In addition to use as food, fats and oils (both vegetable and mineral) have long been used as fuel, typically in lamps which were a principal source of illumination in ancient times. Oils may have been used for lubrication, but there is no evidence for this. Vegetable oils were probably more valuable as food and lamp-oil;[ citation needed ] Babylonian mineral oil was known to be used as fuel, but there are no references to lubrication. Pliny the Elder reported that animal-derived fats such as lard were used to lubricate the axles of carts. [6]


Many vegetable oils are consumed directly, or indirectly as ingredients in food – a role that they share with some animal fats, including butter, ghee, lard, and schmaltz. The oils serve a number of purposes in this role:

Oils can be heated to temperatures significantly higher than the boiling point of water, 100 °C (212 °F), and used to fry foods. Oils for this purpose must have a high flash point. Such oils include both the major cooking oils – soybean, rapeseed, canola, sunflower, safflower, peanut, cottonseed, etc. – and tropical oils, such as coconut, palm, and rice bran. The latter are particularly valued in Asian cultures for high-temperature cooking, because of their unusually high flash points.


Vegetable oils are used as an ingredient or component in many manufactured products.

Many vegetable oils are used to make soaps, skin products, candles, perfumes and other personal care and cosmetic products. Some oils are particularly suitable as drying oils, and are used in making paints and other wood treatment products. They are used in alkyd resin production. Dammar oil (a mixture of linseed oil and dammar resin), for example, is used almost exclusively in treating the hulls of wooden boats. Vegetable oils are increasingly being used in the electrical industry as insulators as vegetable oils are not toxic to the environment, biodegradable if spilled and have high flash and fire points. However, vegetable oils are less stable chemically, so they are generally used in systems where they are not exposed to oxygen, and they are more expensive than crude oil distillate. Synthetic tetraesters, which are similar to vegetable oils but with four fatty acid chains compared to the normal three found in a natural ester, are manufactured by Fischer esterification. Tetraesters generally have high stability to oxidation and have found use as engine lubricants. Vegetable oil is being used to produce biodegradable hydraulic fluid [8] and lubricant. [9]

One limiting factor in industrial uses of vegetable oils is that all such oils are susceptible to becoming rancid. Oils that are more stable, such as ben oil or mineral oil, are thus preferred for industrial uses. Castor oil has numerous industrial uses, owing to the presence of hydroxyl group on the fatty acid. Castor oil is a precursor to Nylon 11. Castor oil may also be reacted with epichlorohydrin to make a glycidyl ether which is used as a diluent and flexibilizer with epoxy resins.

Pet food additive

Vegetable oil is used in the production of some pet foods. AAFCO [10] defines vegetable oil in this context as the product of vegetable origin obtained by extracting the oil from seeds or fruits which are processed for edible purposes.


Vegetable oils are also used to make biodiesel, which can be used like conventional diesel. Some vegetable oil blends are used in unmodified vehicles but straight vegetable oil, also known as pure plant oil, needs specially prepared vehicles which have a method of heating the oil to reduce its viscosity. The use of vegetable oils as alternative energy is growing[ citation needed ] and the availability of biodiesel around the world is increasing.[ citation needed ]

The NNFCC estimates that the total net greenhouse gas savings when using vegetable oils in place of fossil fuel-based alternatives for fuel production, range from 18 to 100%. [11]


The production process of vegetable oil involves the removal of oil from plant components, typically seeds. This can be done via mechanical extraction using an oil mill or chemical extraction using a solvent. The extracted oil can then be purified and, if required, refined or chemically altered.

Mechanical extraction

Oils can be removed via mechanical extraction, termed "crushing" or "pressing." This method is typically used to produce the more traditional oils (e.g., olive, coconut etc.), and it is preferred by most health-food customers in the United States and in Europe.[ citation needed ] There are several different types of mechanical extraction. [12] Expeller pressing extraction is common, though the screw press, ram press, and ghani (powered mortar and pestle) are also used. Oilseed presses are commonly used in developing countries, among people for whom other extraction methods would be prohibitively expensive; the ghani is primarily used in India. [13] The amount of oil extracted using these methods varies widely, as shown in the following table for extracting mowrah butter in India: [14]

MethodPercentage extracted
Ghani [15] 20–30%

Solvent extraction

The processing of vegetable oil in commercial applications is commonly done by chemical extraction, using solvent extracts, which produces higher yields and is quicker and less expensive. The most common solvent is petroleum-derived hexane. This technique is used for most of the "newer" industrial oils such as soybean and corn oils. After extraction, the solvent is evaporated out by heating the mixture to about 300 °F (149 °C). [16]

Supercritical carbon dioxide can be used as a non-toxic alternative to other solvents. [17]


Unsaturated vegetable oils can be transformed through partial or complete hydrogenation into oils of higher melting point, some of which, such as vegetable shortening, will remain solid at room temperature.

Hydrogenating vegetable oil is done by raising a blend of vegetable oil and a metal catalyst, typically nickel, in near-vacuum to very high temperatures, and introducing hydrogen. This causes the carbon atoms of the oil to break double-bonds with other carbons. Each carbon atom becomes single-bonded to an individual hydrogen atom, and the double bond between carbons can no longer exist. A fully hydrogenated oil, also called a saturated fat, has had all of its double bonds converted into single bonds. If a polyunsaturated oil is left incompletely-hydrogenated (not all of the double bonds are reduced to single bonds), then it is a "partially hydrogenated oil" (PHO). An oil may be hydrogenated to increase resistance to rancidity (oxidation) or to change its physical characteristics. As the degree of saturation is raised by full or partial hydrogenation, the oil's viscosity and melting point increase.

While full hydrogenation produces largely saturated fatty acids, partial hydrogenation results in the transformation of unsaturated cis fatty acids to unsaturated trans fatty acids in the oil mixture due to the heat used in hydrogenation. Partially hydrogenated oils and their trans fats have been linked to an increased risk of mortality from coronary heart disease, [18] among other increased health risks. These concerns have led to regulations mandating the removal of partially hydrogenated oils from food. [19]


In the processing of edible oils, the oil is heated under vacuum to near the smoke point or to about 450 °F (232 °C), [20] and water is introduced at the bottom of the oil. The water immediately is converted to steam, which bubbles through the oil, carrying with it any chemicals which are water-soluble. The steam sparging removes impurities that can impart unwanted flavors and odors to the oil. Deodorization is key to the manufacture of vegetable oils. Nearly all soybean, corn, and canola oils found on supermarket shelves go through a deodorization stage that removes trace amounts of odors and flavors, and lightens the color of the oil. However, the process commonly results in higher levels of trans fatty acids and distillation of the oil's natural compounds. [21] [22] [23]

Occupational exposure

People can breathe in vegetable oil mist in the workplace. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has set the legal limit (permissible exposure limit) for vegetable oil mist exposure in the workplace as 15 mg/m3 total exposure and 5 mg/m3 respiratory exposure over an 8-hour workday. The U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has set a recommended exposure limit (REL) of 10 mg/m3 total exposure and 5 mg/m3 respiratory exposure over an 8-hour workday. [24]


Typical productivity of some oil crops, measured in tons (t) of oil produced per hectare (ha) of land per year (yr). Oil palm is by far the highest yielding crop, capable of producing about 4 tons of palm oil per hectare per year.

Palm oil [25] 4.0
Coconut oil [26] 1.4
Canola oil [27] 0.75
Soybean oil [27] 0.45
Sunflower oil [26] 0.6

Particular oils

The following triglyceride vegetable oils account for almost all worldwide production, by volume. All are used as both cooking oils and as SVO or to make biodiesel. According to the USDA, the total world consumption of major vegetable oils in 2007/08 was: [28]

Oil sourceWorld consumption
(million metric tons)
Palm 41.31The most widely produced tropical oil, also used to make biofuel
Soybean 41.28One of the most widely consumed cooking oils
Rapeseed 18.24One of the most widely used cooking oils, also used as fuel. Canola is a variety (cultivar) of rapeseed.
Sunflower seed 9.91A common cooking oil, also used to make biodiesel
Peanut 4.82Mild-flavored cooking oil
Cottonseed 4.99A major food oil, often used in industrial food processing
Palm kernel 4.85From the seed of the African palm tree
Coconut 3.48Used in cooking, cosmetics and soaps
Olive 2.84Used in cooking, cosmetics, soaps and as a fuel for traditional oil lamps

Note that these figures include industrial and animal feed use. The majority of European rapeseed oil production is used to produce biodiesel, or used directly as fuel in diesel cars which may require modification to heat the oil to reduce its higher viscosity.

Other significant oils include:

Composition of fats

Properties of vegetable oils [29] [30]
The nutritional values are expressed as percent (%) by mass of total fat.
treatment [31]
fatty acids
fatty acids
fatty acids
Smoke point
Total [29] Oleic
Total [29] α-Linolenic
Avocado [32] 11.670.652–66 [33] 13.5112.512.5:1250 °C (482 °F) [34]
Brazil nut [35] 24.832.731.342.00.141.9419:1208 °C (406 °F) [36]
Canola [37] 7.463.361.828.19.118.62:1204 °C (400 °F) [38]
Coconut [39] 82.56.361.7175 °C (347 °F) [36]
Corn [40] 12.927.627.354.715858:1232 °C (450 °F) [38]
Cottonseed [41] 25.917.81951.915454:1216 °C (420 °F) [38]
Cottonseed [42] hydrogenated
Flaxseed/linseed [43] 9.018.41867.853130.2:1107 °C (225 °F)
Grape seed  10.514.314.3  74.774.7very high216 °C (421 °F) [44]
Hemp seed [45] °C (330 °F) [46]
High-oleic safflower oil [47] 7.575.275.212.8012.8very high212 °C (414 °F) [36]
Olive, Extra Virgin [48] 13.873.071.310.50.79.814:1193 °C (380 °F) [36]
Palm [49] 49.337.0409. °C (455 °F)
Palm [50] hydrogenated88.25.70
Peanut [51] °C (450 °F) [38]
Rice bran oil 2538.438.436.62.234.4 [52] 15.6:1232 °C (450 °F) [53]
Sesame [54] 14.239.739.341.70.341.3138:1
Soybean [55] 15.622.822.657.77517.3:1238 °C (460 °F) [38]
Soybean [56] partially hydrogenated 14.943.042.537.62.634.913.4:1
Sunflower [57] 8.9963.462.920.70.1620.5128:1227 °C (440 °F) [38]
Walnut oil [58] unrefined9.122.822.263.310.452.95:1160 °C (320 °F) [59]

Seed oil

Seed oils are vegetable oils obtained from the seed (endosperm) of some plants, rather than the fruit (pericarp). Most vegetable oils are seed oils. Examples are sunflower, corn, and sesame oils.


Extracting the oils first by expeller or cold pressing methods, then solvent expelling the rest of the oils from the leftover matter. This is a method used by larger capacity oil mills. As the energy consumption of the mechanical press increases as more oil is released, it is more efficient to extract the rest of the oil (past around 60%) by solvent extraction. [60]


Such oils have been part of human culture for millennia. [4] Oils such as poppy seed, rapeseed, linseed, almond oil, sesame seed, safflower, and cottonseed were variously used since at least the Bronze Age in the Middle East. [4] Vegetable oils have been used for lighting fuel, cooking, medicine and lubrication. Palm oil has long been recognized in West and Central African countries, and European merchants trading with West Africa occasionally purchased palm oil for use as a cooking oil in Europe and it became highly sought-after commodity by British traders for use as an industrial lubricant for machinery during Britain's Industrial Revolution. [61] Palm oil formed the basis of soap products, such as Lever Brothers' (now Unilever) "Sunlight", and B. J. Johnson Company's (now Colgate-Palmolive) "Palmolive", [62] and by around 1870, palm oil constituted the primary export of some West African countries. [63]

In 1780 Carl Wilhelm Scheele demonstrated that fats were derived from glycerol. Thirty years later Michel Eugène Chevreul deduced that these fats were esters of fatty acids and glycerol. Wilhelm Normann, a German chemist introduced the hydrogenation of liquid fats in 1901, creating what later became known as trans fats, leading to the development of the global production of margarine and vegetable shortening.

In the USA cottonseed oil was developed, and marketed by Procter & Gamble as a creamed shortening – Crisco – as early as 1911. Ginning mills were happy to have someone haul away the cotton seeds. The extracted oil was refined and partially hydrogenated to give a solid at room temperature and thus mimic natural lard, and canned under nitrogen gas. Compared to the rendered lard Procter & Gamble was already selling to consumers, Crisco was cheaper, easier to stir into a recipe, and could be stored at room temperature for two years without turning rancid.

Soybeans are protein-rich, and the medium viscosity oil rendered from them was high in polyunsaturates. Henry Ford established a soybean research laboratory, developed soybean plastics and a soy-based synthetic wool, and built a car "almost entirely" out of soybeans. [64] Roger Drackett had a successful new product with Windex, but he invested heavily in soybean research, seeing it as a smart investment. [65] By the 1950s and 1960s, soybean oil had become the most popular vegetable oil in the US; today it is second only to palm oil. In 2018–2019, world production was at 57.4 MT with the leading producers including China (16.6 MT), US (10.9 MT), Argentina (8.4 MT), Brazil (8.2 MT), and EU (3.2 MT). [66]

The early 20th century also saw the start of the use of vegetable oil as a fuel in diesel engines and in heating oil burners. Rudolf Diesel designed his engine to run on vegetable oil. The idea, he hoped, would make his engines more attractive to farmers having a source of fuel readily available. Diesel's first engine ran on its own power for the first time in Augsburg, Germany, on 10 August 1893 on nothing but peanut oil. In remembrance of this event, 10 August has been declared "International Biodiesel Day". [67] The first patent on Biodiesel was granted in 1937. [68] Periodic petroleum shortages spurred research into vegetable oil as a diesel substitute during the 1930s and 1940s, and again in the 1970s and early 1980s when straight vegetable oil enjoyed its highest level of scientific interest. The 1970s also saw the formation of the first commercial enterprise to allow consumers to run straight vegetable oil in their vehicles. However, biodiesel, produced from oils or fats using transesterification is more widely used. It is Led by Brazil, many countries built biodiesel plants during the 1990s, and it is now widely available for use in motor vehicles, and is the most common biofuel in Europe today. In France, biodiesel is incorporated at a rate of 8% in the fuel used by all French diesel vehicles. [69]

In the mid-1970s, Canadian researchers developed a low-erucic-acid rapeseed cultivar. Because the word "rape" was not considered optimal for marketing, they coined the name "canola" (from "Canada Oil low acid"). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved use of the canola name in January 1985, [70] and U.S. farmers started planting large areas that spring. Canola oil is lower in saturated fats, and higher in monounsaturates. Canola is very thin (unlike corn oil) and flavorless (unlike olive oil), so it largely succeeds by displacing soy oil, just as soy oil largely succeeded by displacing cottonseed oil.

Used oil

A large quantity of used vegetable oil is produced and recycled, mainly from industrial deep fryers in potato processing plants, snack food factories and fast food restaurants.

Recycled oil has numerous uses, including use as a direct fuel, as well as in the production of biodiesel, livestock feed, pet food, soap, detergent, cosmetics, and industrial chemicals.

Since 2002, an increasing number of European Union countries have prohibited the inclusion of recycled vegetable oil from catering in animal feed. Used cooking oils from food manufacturing, however, as well as fresh or unused cooking oil, continue to be used in their animal feed. [71]

Shelf life

Due to their susceptibility to oxidation from the exposure to oxygen, heat and light, resulting in the formation of oxidation products, such as peroxides and hydroperoxides, plant oils rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids have a limited shelf-life. [72] [73]

Product labeling

In Canada, palm oil is one of five vegetable oils, along with palm kernel oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, and cocoa butter, which must be specifically named in the list of ingredients for a food product. [74] Also, oils in Canadian food products which have been modified or hydrogenated must contain the word "modified" or "hydrogenated" when listed as an ingredient. [75] A mix of oils other than the aforementioned exceptions may simply be listed as "vegetable oil" in Canada; however, if the food product is a cooking oil, salad oil or table oil, the type of oil must be specified and listing "vegetable oil" as an ingredient is not acceptable. [74]

From December 2014, all food products produced in the European Union were legally required to indicate the specific vegetable oil used in their manufacture, following the introduction of the Food Information to Consumers Regulation. [76]

See also

Notes and references

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Further reading

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Palm oil</span> Edible vegetable oil from fruit of oil palms

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of the oil palms. The oil is used in food manufacturing, in beauty products, and as biofuel. Palm oil accounted for about 33% of global oils produced from oil crops in 2014. Palm oils are easier to stabilize and maintain quality of flavor and consistency in processed foods, so are frequently favored by food manufacturers. On average globally, humans consumed 7.7 kg (17 lb) of palm oil per person in 2015. Demand has also increased for other uses, such as cosmetics and biofuels, creating more demand on the supply encouraging the growth of palm oil plantations in tropical countries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Coconut oil</span> Edible, high in saturated fat; cosmetics

Coconut oil is an edible oil derived from the wick, meat, and milk of the coconut palm fruit. Coconut oil is a white solid fat below around 25 °C (77 °F), and a clear thin liquid oil in warmer climates. Unrefined varieties have a distinct coconut aroma. It is used as a food oil, and in industrial applications for cosmetics and detergent production. Due to its high levels of saturated fat, numerous health authorities recommend limiting its consumption as a food.

A saturated fat is a type of fat in which the fatty acid chains have all single bonds. A fat known as a glyceride is made of two kinds of smaller molecules: a short glycerol backbone and fatty acids that each contain a long linear or branched chain of carbon (C) atoms. Along the chain, some carbon atoms are linked by single bonds (-C-C-) and others are linked by double bonds (-C=C-). A double bond along the carbon chain can react with a pair of hydrogen atoms to change into a single -C-C- bond, with each H atom now bonded to one of the two C atoms. Glyceride fats without any carbon chain double bonds are called saturated because they are "saturated with" hydrogen atoms, having no double bonds available to react with more hydrogen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Linseed oil</span> Oil obtained from the dried, ripened seeds of the flax plant

Linseed oil, also known as flaxseed oil or flax oil, is a colourless to yellowish oil obtained from the dried, ripened seeds of the flax plant. The oil is obtained by pressing, sometimes followed by solvent extraction.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hemp oil</span> Oil from hemp seeds

Hemp oil is oil obtained by pressing hemp seeds. Cold pressed, unrefined hemp oil is dark to clear light green in color, with a nutty flavor. The darker the color, the grassier the flavour. It should not be confused with hash oil, a tetrahydrocannabinol-containing oil made from the Cannabis flower.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grape seed oil</span> Liquid fat derived from grape seeds

Grape seed oil is a vegetable oil derived from the seeds of grapes. A by-product of the winemaking industry, it is typically used for edible applications.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cottonseed oil</span> Cooking oil

Cottonseed oil is cooking oil from the seeds of cotton plants of various species, mainly Gossypium hirsutum and Gossypium herbaceum, that are grown for cotton fiber, animal feed, and oil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Oleic acid</span> Monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid

Oleic acid is a fatty acid that occurs naturally in various animal and vegetable fats and oils. It is an odorless, colorless oil, although commercial samples may be yellowish. In chemical terms, oleic acid is classified as a monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid, abbreviated with a lipid number of 18:1 cis-9, and a main product of Δ9 desaturase. It has the formula CH3−(CH2)7−CH=CH−(CH2)7−COOH. The name derives from the Latin word oleum, which means oil. It is the most common fatty acid in nature. The salts and esters of oleic acid are called oleates. It is part of many oils and thus used in a lot of artificial food, as well as for soap.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shortening</span> Food ingredient

Shortening is any fat that is a solid at room temperature and used to make crumbly pastry and other food products.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Omega-6 fatty acid</span> Fatty acids where the sixth bond is double

Omega-6 fatty acids are a family of polyunsaturated fatty acids that have in common a final carbon-carbon double bond in the n-6 position, that is, the sixth bond, counting from the methyl end.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Peanut oil</span> Mild-tasting vegetable oil derived from peanuts

Peanut oil, also known as groundnut oil or arachis oil, is a vegetable oil derived from peanuts. The oil usually has a mild or neutral flavor but, if made with roasted peanuts, has a stronger peanut flavor and aroma. It is often used in American, Chinese, Indian, African and Southeast Asian cuisine, both for general cooking, and in the case of roasted oil, for added flavor. Peanut oil has a high smoke point relative to many other cooking oils, so it is commonly used for frying foods.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rice bran oil</span> Oil extracted from the hard outer brown layer of rice

Rice bran oil is the oil extracted from the hard outer brown layer of rice called bran. It is known for its high smoke point of 232 °C (450 °F) and mild flavor, making it suitable for high-temperature cooking methods such as stir frying and deep frying. It is popular as a cooking oil in East Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Japan, Southern China and Malaysia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Corn oil</span> Oil from the seeds of corn

Corn oil or maize oil (British) is oil extracted from the germ of corn (maize). Its main use is in cooking, where its high smoke point makes refined corn oil a valuable frying oil. It is also a key ingredient in some margarines. Corn oil is generally less expensive than most other types of vegetable oils.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Soybean oil</span> Oil obtained from seeds of soya plant

Soybean oil is a vegetable oil extracted from the seeds of the soybean. It is one of the most widely consumed cooking oils and the second most consumed vegetable oil. As a drying oil, processed soybean oil is also used as a base for printing inks and oil paints.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sunflower oil</span> Oil pressed from the seed of Helianthus annuus

Sunflower oil is the non-volatile oil pressed from the seeds of the sunflower. Sunflower oil is commonly used in food as a frying oil, and in cosmetic formulations as an emollient.

Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are fatty acids that contain more than one double bond in their backbone. This class includes many important compounds, such as essential fatty acids and those that give drying oils their characteristic property.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Macadamia oil</span> Non-volatile oil expressed from the nut meat of the macadamia

Macadamia oil is the non-volatile oil collected from the nuts of the macadamia, a native Australian plant. It is used in food as a frying or salad oil, and in cosmetic formulations as an emollient or fragrance fixative.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Avocado oil</span> Edible oil pressed from the pulp of avocados

Avocado oil is an edible oil extracted from the pulp of avocados, the fruit of Persea americana. It is used as an edible oil both raw and for cooking, where it is noted for its high smoke point. It is also used for lubrication and in cosmetics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cooking oil</span> Oil consumed by humans, of vegetable or animal origin

Cooking oil is plant, animal, or synthetic liquid fat used in frying, baking, and other types of cooking. It allows higher cooking temperatures than water, making cooking faster and more flavorful, while distributing heat and sometimes imparting its own flavor. Cooking oil is also used in food preparation and flavoring not involving heat, such as salad dressings and bread dips, and may be called edible oil.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Rapeseed oil</span> Vegetable oil

Rapeseed oil is one of the oldest known vegetable oils. There are both edible and industrial forms produced from rapeseed, the seed of several cultivars of the plant family Brassicaceae. Historically, it was eaten in limited quantities due to high levels of erucic acid, which is damaging to the cardiac muscle of animals and imparts a bitter taste, and glucosinolates, which made it less nutritious in animal feed. Rapeseed oil can contain up to 54% erucic acid.