Sometimes referred to as Field Mustard, I had always thought the fields of yellow I saw in Canada were exactly that, mustard. In fact, it's Canola. Perhaps you knew this already and I'm a bit slow to identify this popular cash crop... When touring around Skælskør, or on your way to one of the surrounding towns of Borreby, Næstved, or Slagelse, the Danish rural landscape at this time of year is a stunning blanket of yellow.
Canola oil is produced from the crushing of the rapeseed. The word "rape" in rapeseed comes from the Latin word rapum meaning turnip. Turnips, rutabaga, cabbage, brussel sprouts, and mustard are all related to the two natural canola varieties commonly grown, which are Brassica napus and Brassica rapa. The Danes use this literal translation Rapsolie (rapeseed oil). Since canola was bred naturally from rapeseed at the University of Manitoba by Keith Downey and Baldur R. Stefansson in the early 1970s, and most likely disproving of the alternate meaning of the word "rape", the plant and oil product was retitled canola (the "can" standing for Canada and "ola" oil). Some dictionary sources state that Canola stands for "Can(ada)+o(il)+l(ow)+a(cid)" as this plant was engineered to have a different nutritional profile and much less erucic acid.
Brassica oilseed has a long history of being cultivated dating back 4,000 years in India, 2,000 years in China and Japan and in 13th century Northern Europe. Primarily produced in small quantities as fuel for oil lamps, its use was limited until the development of steam power and the discovery of its use as a lubricant. During WWII when this product became in high demand, Canada began to expand its limited rapeseed production as the war blocked European and Asian sources of rapeseed oil.
After the war, however, the demand sharply declined and Canada began to look for other uses for rapeseed. In 1956-57 rapeseed oil extracts were first put on the market as as food products. This was not successful due to the disagreeable greenish colour, a high concentration of erucic acid and a distinctive taste. Hence the breeding of canola from rapeseed in the early 70s.
Originally a trademark, canola is now a generic term for edible varieties of rapeseed oil in North America and Australia. Once considered a specialty crop in Canada it's now a major American cash crop. Canada and the US produce between 7 - 10 million tonnes of canola seed per year. Annual Canadian exports total 3 - 4 million tonnes of seed, 800 000 tonnes of canola oil and 1 million tonnes of canola meal. Canada rates 2nd for top rapeseed producers in the world, after the European Union in 1st. Denmark rates 16th in the world only 4 countries after the US at 11th place. That is a lot of rapeseed production in Denmark considering how small this country is. Who knew canola could be both so beautiful and mildly interesting.