Butter vs. Canola Oil: Spot the Real Food

      90 Comments on Butter vs. Canola Oil: Spot the Real Food

My daughters like watching science and technology shows on TV, and of course I’m happy about that. Their favorite is Mythbusters, but they also enjoy a few others, including How It’s Made.

Sara, my seven-year-old, ran into my office a couple of nights ago to tell me How It’s Made was about to explain where canola oil comes from. Canola oil, as you probably know, is the current “It Girl” among the lipophobes because it’s mostly monosaturated, like olive oil. You can buy it in bottles for cooking, but you’ll also find it in several brands of mayonnaise and margarines, always with some kind of logo advertising it as heart-healthy. 

When I went looking for the segment about canola oil on YouTube, I found that How It’s Made had already done a segment on butter. Take a look:

Sure, it’s industrial butter-making … big machines and all that. But the big machines are making butter pretty much like your great-grandmother did: taking cream and churning it with some salt. The end result is real food.

Now take a look at how canola oil is made:

Chemical solvents, industrial steaming, de-waxing, bleaching, and de-odorizing. Yummy. Have you ever heard of anyone having to de-odorize butter?

Real food on one hand, chemically processed industrial food on the other. And yet we’re supposed to believe it’s the real food that’s bad for us.

Your great-grandmother knew better.

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90 thoughts on “Butter vs. Canola Oil: Spot the Real Food

  1. Barry Cripps

    Keeping it real as usual Tom! Awesome!

    This is something that health minded people need to consider. The nutritional breakdown of Canola Oil mostly appears to be beneficial, and obviously is devoid of industrial Trans-fats. However, it IS important to remember that Canola Oil is entirely man made; a Frankenfood, that I think is closer akin to something like Play-Doh. Play-Doh is non-toxic, and some people think it tastes good…… but, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. 😉

    It may be better than soybean oil, but I can’t believe any human on the planet needs industrially-processed seeds oils to be healthy.

  2. Be

    Rapeseed – 30 whole years? Oh and Rapeseed originally was banned in Canada because of the high uric acid content. Of course this is the “new improved Low Uric Acid” flavor. YUMMY!

    While watching the butter episode I kept thinking how cool it would be to watch the Amish make the hand rolled butter I eat daily.

    When I watched the Canola Oil episode it reminded me or watching Sigourney Weaver blow torching Momma Alien.

    Great comparison!

    I wasn’t aware of the previous ban. The story is even more interesting now.

  3. Jeanie

    Yuck. I loves me my Kerrygold!

    And how. First time I tasted it, I remembered how butter is supposed to taste.

  4. Don Matesz

    Awesome find Tom. Somewhere near the beginning, the narrator says that the monounsaturated oils lower cholesterol, and as soon as I heard that my mind wanted to amend the script:

    “Canola oil is high in monounsaturated oils, which lower cholesterol, from which your body would otherwise make your sex hormones and vitamin D.”

    I just wondered what people would think if the truth be told.

    It would be fun to sneak one of those into a conventional-wisdom show and see how many phone calls they received.

  5. Jackie

    Amen! Thank God my mom taught me better. She never let that fake stuff in the house.

    Unfortunately, we ate the fake stuff for years. It’s what my mom was told to do for my dad’s cholesterol.

  6. Lisa

    Wow – if everyone saw that video on the making of canola oil I bet sales would plummet…well, at least I hope they would.

    But then again, I’m with the poster above, I love Kerrygold butter. You couldn’t pay me to consume canola oil.

    Kerrygold is fantastic. The girls sometimes ask for slices of it as a treat. I happily comply.

  7. Amy Dungan

    Cool on the butter making. I think my kids and I are going to look up butter making on the internet and see if we can try it ourselves as a school project. As for Crapola Oil – just watching that wax stuff come out made my stomach turn. GROSS!

    Whip it, salt it, whip it some more. Stop when it’s firm and delicious.

  8. Art D.

    Something good to do with kids is get a pint of heavy cream, and without opening it, have them start to shake it. After several minutes the sloshing sound disappears, and you have, essentially whipped cream inside, and after a few more minutes you’ll hear a lump of butter thumping against the container as they shake.

    Open and eat immediately!

    Then see what happens when you shake canola.

    We haven’t the shake method, but I did manage to create bits of butter while attempting to make them some whipped cream.

  9. Ellen

    I find it amusing that the narrator of the canola oil video is so upbeat.. as you watch the filthy sludge of the leftover “waxes” ooze out of the machine, he’s so proud that it doesn’t go to waste. I winced when he said they use it to make shortening. yuk.

    Tom, do you mind if I use the oil video on my vegetable oil page? (http://www.healthy-eating-politics.com/vegetable-oil.html)

    I wrote the whole process out, but the video is so gross, it would be a great addition.

    Post away. Anything I put on YouTube is intended for public consumption.

  10. Alcinda Moore

    I read a description of how canola was made on Weston Price….that was enough to get me to avoid the stuff like the plague! This, I have to say, turned my stomach when they got to the part about the “natural waxes”!! EWWWW

    I’ve read descriptions before, but this is a case where a picture is worth a thousand words.

  11. Mike

    @Be: Rapeseed oil is high in erucic acid, not uric acid. It’s also high in glucosinolates. It seems that researchers stumbled on the low-erucic-acid variation while working to reduce the level of glucosinolates. (Thank you Wikipedia.)

  12. Dana

    I get grass-fed dairy cream, and one day I decided to play around with it and see if I could make butter. Got a plastic tub (I think one of those Ziploc things, I haven’t allowed margarine into my house in a few years now), poured some cream into it, added a clean marble, closed it and shook. The marble’s the secret–it makes the butter churn faster.

    One of these days I want to get some buttermilk culture, get a half-gallon of my favorite dairy’s half-and-half, culture it, make butter from it, and presto, I’ll probably have about a quart of buttermilk into the bargain as well. It’d be cultured, so there’d be a lot less lactose.

    You’re not the only one who lets kids snack on butter. My daughter went through a phase where every time she saw me with a stick out, she wanted a piece. Like you, I happily obliged.

    Isn’t it great? They think they’re getting a treat (which they are) and we know they’re getting beneficial fatty acids.

  13. SkyKing

    Why is it called “Canola Oil”? Well, back in ’74 a University of Manitoba professor named Baldur Steffanson introduced a rapeseed variety with extremely low erucic acid and glucosinolate content that was dubbed canola, for CANadian Oil, Low Acid.

    Interestingly enough, in Europe the oil is still called rapeseed oil, or even rape oil. But canola growers wants everyone to know that their product “is genetically totally different” from rapeseed oil.

    Different, maybe. But I’m sure not cooking my food in it.

  14. Paul

    I’m surprised so many people find this terrible and disgusting. Frankly I prefer this over how some DIARY cows are treated (not to mention beef cattle…).

    No problems using Canola Oil here~

    I don’t how you can watch the cruel treatment of those seeds and still say that.

  15. Sif

    I have a bottle of (Danish) rapeseed oil, that says virgin, cold pressed. It’s not a frankenfat, is it then? Maybe I’m missing something here.

    And thank you, Tom, for a great movie. I had to go through hoops and loops and American friends to obtain it all the way from Denmark. This was before your international version obviously. But it was worth the wait.

    Not a frankenfat in that case, but also not a fat humans would’ve ever consumed without modern technology. I never heard of canola oil being consumed in traditional cultures. Cold pressed is better than chemically processed, but the whole reason people use canola oil is to obtain the supposed benefits of monosaturated fats when they fry food. I’d rather fry food in lard, which is largely monosaturated anyway, and tastes a heck of a lot better.

  16. qualia

    tom, you must be kidding. every oil, even olive oil, can be “destroyed” by too much processing. ever considered buying organic, cold pressed, unrefined rapeseed oil? just saying rapeseed oil is generally bad and over-processed is completely childish and factually wrong. BUY FUCKING QUALITY OIL, not this cheap refined crap! 😉

    Why on God’s green earth would I ever buy organic, cold pressed, unrefined rapeseed oil? For salads? I’ll use cold pressed olive oil in that case. For frying? Lord no, that’s why we save the bacon grease.

  17. Laurie

    Paint, putty, varnish and lubricant vegetable and petroleum oils. The industry that developed these things about a century ago had leftovers. What to do with them? Experimented with giving them to turkeys in their chow, but the turkeys died. So the next brilliant idea- add to human chow- Crisco, margarine, etc.- where they remain today, now with added (made-up) health claims. Or so they say they are good for us- balderdash.

    So now we’ll end up dumber than turkeys.

  18. Butternut

    “in Europe the oil is still called rapeseed oil, or even rape oil.”

    In Germany it is called “Rapsöl”, which has nothing to do with the
    ambiguity of “Rapeseed” in english langueage.

    The namechanging made only sense in english speaking countries.

  19. LS

    I make my own butter with heavy cream and an electric hand mixer. Just beat until it turns hard and yellow (which is very strange to watch!), then press out the buttermilk. It’s so easy and fast. Then I make ghee from that if I’m feeling motivated.
    I usually buy Kerrygold butter, but I do this when I think I have more cream than I can use before it spoils.
    My roommate, unfortunately, won’t be convinced. She likes Smart Balance “spread” and cooks exclusively with canola oil.

    There’s homemade butter sitting there and she’s eating Smart Balance?! Oh, that poor misguided gal …

  20. Janet

    Did you notice these items that I have been seeing the last couple of weeks? A little off the butter subject, but it begins to sound like every time we eat, we may be practicing medicine without a license.



    Is butter a drug? Or is it still considered one of the taboo junk foods that are approved as food, but we should avoid? Is Canola a drug? I’m so confused now ;-). Besides eating butter, I have always supplimented my diet with a handful of these ‘drugs’ a couple of times a week. Does the FDA think we are smart enough to chose between the ‘benefits’ of butter or Canola oil? Dear God!! If FDA ever finds out butter is good stuff, we will have to get it from the pharmacy. The only things in the food aisles will be Gatorade, Fritos, and cereal.

    We need to stage a mass protest, all of us holding signs that read: Don’t touch my nuts! (But then people would think we were protesting the TSA.)

  21. Be

    Thank you Mike! I came back to correct myself but see that you have. And it was Canadian research that led to the Rapeseed oil being taken off the market. As I understand rapeseed is genetically adaptive and was bred for high levels of oleic acid instead of erucic acid. It was originally called LEAR (low erucic acid rapeseed) oil but was renamed Canola Oil.

    Sorry for the errors Tom – it’s funny the things that wake you up in the middle of the night thinking “aw crap”!

    I’ve run downstairs in the middle of the night to fix a few posts.

  22. Dan

    Butter — YUUMMMM! Yellow because of natural Vitamin A. Just churned to perfection.

    Canola — YUK! I can do without the chemical processing.

  23. Dana W

    When you mentioned that your daughters ask for pats of butter as treats, it reminds me of a YMCA commercial that runs in my area around New Years. A woman is sitting on her sofa eating a stick of butter with the song ‘You Made Me Love You’ playing. The implication, of course, is that all those sticks of butter she ate over the holidays made her fat and she’ll have to join the YMCA to burn it all off. That one makes me laugh every time…

    I’m sure holiday cookies and candies had nothing to do with it …

  24. Isabel

    Ya know? I might start keeping lard around instead of vegetable/canola oil. I use so little of it unless I fry something. I bet I’ll like it even better if I fry it in lard instead. That is, if I happen to run out of butter, bacon grease and duck fat first. Only reason I don’t fry in olive oil is the low smoke point; that won’t be a problem with lard. If had to choose the least offensive “vegetable” oil, which would you recommend (other than olive oil)?

    Coconut oil is good for frying, but you can’t crank up the heat too high. My wife saves bacon grease and uses it for frying. It’s delicious.

  25. Erik

    I have vivid memories of the first time I saw butter being made on a farm in rural Iowa, near my grandparent’s house. It smelled heavenly and tasted delicious – not only the butter, but also the buttermilk which I never previously cared for.

    Ironically, my grandparents wouldn’t touch the stuff with a 10 foot pole. They were big advocates of “Oleomargarine”, which was probably 100% corn-based trans-fat. Similarly, they were big into “Iowa Corn-Fed Beef”, decrying the evils of that grass-fed stuff that we had in Arizona.

    When I worked at Burger King as a teenager, our deep-fryer was filled with transfat-laden ‘vegetable shortening’. This was thought to be a healthy alternative to McDonald’s, who fried their stuff in beef fat. Later, to be health conscious, McDonald’s switch to coating their fries in beef fat and frying in vegetable oil. Then they got sued by vegetarians and took out the beef fat entirely, leaving their product as flavorless and uninteresting as any of their competitors.

    Yup, McDonald’s switched to trans fats after being publicly attacked by CSPI for using beef fat. Later, CSPI filed suit against restaurants for using trans fats.

  26. Paul451


    The manufacturer’s will say Canola Oil is free of trans fats because it isnt hydrogenated, but there’s evidence the deodorizing process leaves it with some trans fats:


    It’s an old paper and I’ve never investigated it further; I simply dont ingest Canola Oil, but maybe others here have looked into this claim and can shed more light on it?


    I’m not sure about trans fats in Canola oil. Even if the stuff is trans fat-free, I wouldn’t eat it because it’s processed garbage and I’d rather consume natural fats.

  27. LuLu

    Oh my God! My son has a heart condition and his cardiologist PUT him on CANOLA OIL! I am going to email this to him and ASK the doc WHY is he doing this to his patients??????????
    Just watching the making of this rapeseed oil is disgusting enough!

    Thank you so much for this information! I will continue to use my Land O’ Lakes!

    Your son’s cardiologist might be interested to learn that Walter Willett at Harvard has concluded that lard is probably good for your heart.

  28. Misty

    I never consume a food that was discovered after I was born. I love how they tout this as a healthy oil with a high omega 3 content. That most certainly has been destroyed with heat.

    That’s a good rule of thumb.

  29. Swintah

    That waxy sludge has convinced me to never knowingly eat canola oil or shortening ever again. I notice butter production didn’t need Erlenmeyer flasks to represent their production process in their “lab.” Maybe humans shouldn’t eat food that requires a labratory and chemical bleaching and deoderizing process. Yikes.

    If you have to process out the stench, that’s a pretty good clue.

  30. tracker

    They BLEACH it?! WTH.

    “it’s high in monounsaturated fat, which lowers cholesterol”

    Because that’s just what I want to do. Lower something that is vital for cell membrane stability and making hormones.

    I don’t want to eat something that required industrial solvent to make, and has to have its odor removed to be edible, nor do I want animals fed it either. The fact they sell the leftover as cattle feed is just as ridiculous as them selling this crap to us.

    I just want to say that in your movie, I loved the part where you put the dunce had on mother nature. THAT is the epitome of what is going on here. Obviously the millions of years of evolution have nothing on the thirty of canola oil.

    The de-odorizing should tell us something. If a food smells bad, that’s nature’s way of warning us not to eat it.

  31. Isabel

    I realize that lots of people keep margaring because it stays soft and is easier to spread then butter. I, however, keep my stick of butter at room temperature. Contrary to popular belief, it does not go bad, especially since it is usually gone in less than a week. I don’t eat toast very often, but when I do, it has to have real butter.

    My grandma used to keep her butter in a butter dish on the kitchen table. Never went bad that I noticed.

  32. Stephanie

    I watched these videos with my daughter aged 11; we’re just beginning our transition to a whole food lifestyle. She commented that the production of canola oil results in products that you, “Feed to animals, feed to animals, wash your butt with it, then you get to eat what’s left!”

    Very well put!

  33. Rocky

    This video has motivated me to make a batch of butter this weekend. I make whipped cream out of heavy cream all the time so all I need to do with the next batch is forget to check the KitchenAid mixer for a while.

    I must admit that my one allowed carb indulgence is a semi-monthly batch of popcorn, dripping with butter, loaded with grated Parmesan cheese, and sprinkled with cayenne pepper. I can’t wait to use homemade butter next time.

    I don’t think a semi-monthly popcorn treat is going to hurt you any.

  34. Roberto

    “Sure, it’s industrial butter-making … big machines and all that. But the big machines are making butter pretty much like your great-grandmother did: taking cream and churning it with some salt. The end result is real food.”

    But, Tom…They left out how the milk was made, the most fascinating part…

    Gather round all ye low-carbers…

    Take hundreds of cows and lock them in a barn, without sunlight, fresh air and physical activity, for every waking moment of their life.

    Completely deprive them of the pasture they evolved to eat, and sicken them with a grain based diet. A grain based diet rich in pesticides.

    Inject them with antibiotics – which leach into our milk – so they don’t become diseased in such cramped, squalid conditions.

    Inject them with bovine growth hormone – which also leaches into our milk – to increase the amount produced. This also increases infection rates which necessitate the antibiotics. This ingenuity quite likely creates antibiotic resistant bugs that humans eventually catch. Smart…

    (Ignore that last step if you’re from Canada like me, where BGH has been prohibited. A slight step toward sane farming practices, from a much saner nation. I’ll chalk that alongside better gun control and a much lower risk of dying from bullet wounds. )

    Suck the resultant milk out of the diseased creatures and pretend it’s a “whole-food”, because we churn it like our great grandmother did.

    Live under the delusion that our health suffered because with we progressively ate less of this garbage as 20th century went by.

    Your response to this will of course be to buy your butter organic. Whatever that means nowadays.

    There’s a chance it is better. How much better depends on which organic certification it has received. Industrial organic food is still divorced from “nature” in many ways and is thus an unnatural food, regardless of the number of steps required in processing it.

    So, unless you are certain your butter is coming from happy, disease-free cows living a natural life, the smartest choice would be to pass up butter along with canola oil.

    Kerry Gold butter. Comes from grass-fed cows.

  35. Auntie M

    But…but…Tom! It’s low in saturated fat! And it lowers cholesterol! And you can make twenty things out of its waste products! Maybe we can make crayons out of the wax! It’s obviously a miracle food!

    Or not. I’ll stick with coconut oil, Kerrygold butter, lard, and bacon fat.

    If they sell canola soap and canola candles, maybe I’ll buy those.

  36. Saxon

    Tom – great post showing the horrors of canola oil manufacturing. I personally stay away from canola because I’m not convinced it is as healthy as everyone says it is.

    Paul – thanks for posting that link to the trans fat study. I was going to post that before I saw your comment. Dr. Eades has talked about that study in particular when discussing the horrors of reused canola oil in restaurant deep fryers.

    From what I remember, polyunsaturated oils are the most unstable, which means they oxidize and go rancid the quickest. The deodorization process of canola requires high heat, which damages the oil. So by the time you buy the oil off the shelf, usually in a clear bottle, it’s already partly oxidized. When you fry with it, it only makes things worse. I understand Omega 3 fats are polyunsaturated, but we get most of our omega 3’s from fish, nuts, etc – not processed oils.

    On the opposite side of the spectrum, saturated fats are the most stable, least likely to oxidize, and least likely to partly form into trans fats. (technically a saturated fat can’t form a trans fat because it’s already saturated with hydrogen, but no oil is made up of 100% saturated fats)

    So why on earth would anyone want to use canola over something like coconut oil or beef fat, etc when using a high heat cooking method? Can you imagine how damaged the canola oil must be after a few days or weeks in a restaurant deep fryer?

    If inflammation and oxidation within the body are one of the main causes of damaged arteries, and if canola oil is highly prone to cause both of these, how can it healthy?

    Even if canola oil were totally harmless, I wouldn’t use it just because it replaces beneficial fats in the diet.

  37. Erik

    Popcorn is a health food now. Whole grain, don’tcha know. At one time, the food police decided it would kill you on the spot. Then they realized that the unhealthy part of it was the coconut oil it was popped in. Saturated fat. Might as well put a gun in your mouth.

    Once that unhealthy saturated fat was replaced by clean, pure, healthful canola oil then it was OK to start ordering it in the movie theater again – in the standard 108 ounce bucket, one refill per visit.

    Of course, it was then flavorless like cardboard, so you had to coat it with artificial butter flavored oil topping and plenty of salt. Not sure what kind of oil, but the artificial butter flavor masked the smell and it was cholesterol free, so it had to be healthy.

    The news story that cracked me up featured a reporter explaining that popcorn is popped in “high-fat coconut oil.” Is there a low-fat oil I don’t know about?

  38. Melissa Martell

    You know watching the canola oil production reminded me of when I use to work in a pulp mill- that’s damn scary!

    I think I’ll take the butter 🙂

  39. Erik

    “The news story that cracked me up featured a reporter explaining that popcorn is popped in “high-fat coconut oil.” Is there a low-fat oil I don’t know about?”

    Low fat compared to what? Amount of fat per gram, no. But, amount of fat you need to add to a dish to impart a satisfying amount of flavor, then certainly the answer is yes. Imagine you have a pot of greens and a single piece of bacon. That bacon would add very few grams of fat to the food, but lots of flavor. OTOH, imagine that you are making a cake batter and you add 800 grams of canola oil. No flavor is added at all. That’s why you could replace most of the oil with applesauce or pumpkin puree without altering the flavor much. Or high fructose corn syrup as the food industry is keen to do.

    In a culinary sense, small amounts of very flavorful oil can be used to great effect. Sesame oil, walnut oil, bacon fat, and, yes, coconut oil can be put to great use even when only a small amount is used. Same with flavored oils like garlic oil, chili oil, truffle oil. A couple of drops is all you need.

    Good point. A little bacon grease or Kerry Gold butter goes a long way when it comes to flavor.

  40. Health Freak

    “Real butter from real cows, pretend butter from pretend cows” used to be a slogan from an advertising campaign for butter in Australia in the 1980s. I refuse to have pretend butter from pretend cows.

    I only pretend to eat pretend butter from real “canola” plants.

  41. Pat

    @Roberto – where in Canada are you? I am in south-eastern Ontario farm country, and the cows are out in the pastures a lot. Including in winter. We have Belted Galloways (basically a beef breed) just down the road. Lots of hay fields here too, for winter feed. And lets hear it for the International Plowing Match, coming soon to our region.
    Real butter- my daughter was a “time traveler” = camper at Upper Canada Village, and she made butter. At age 11.
    Cooking – we have lard – Tenderflake has good lard, in a box, easy to use. No stored bacon drippings here, they are used to fry eggs and keep the dog happy.
    Soy oil – I have a lovely candle made from soy oil – it’s in an antique china cup, that I can use as a cup once the candle has burned. Best use of soy oil I have seen.

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