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New Canola Oil Mocks Palm, Coconut Oils
Farmers in Georgia are once again growing canola. But this year's crop won't end up in cooking oil bottles. A new variety of canola is being grown as a substitute for palm and coconut oils.

"The new variety of canola is called high-laurate canola because it has high levels of lauric acid," said Paul Raymer, a University of Georgia canola breeder. "High-laurate is a genetically engineered variety bred by 000C Calgene Inc. 3AC2 's specialty oil division."

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LOCAL CANOLA  A new canola
variety shows promise for U.S.
production for soaps, shampoos
and even chocolates. Only 10
percent of the canola we use
comes from American farms.
The rest is from Canada and
Europe.(Photo courtesy the
UGA College of Agricultural and
Environmental Sciences.)

Over the past 10 years, canola grown in Georgia has been commodity canola, which is used in low-fat cooking oils. Only 10 percent of the canola oil in the United States comes from U.S.-grown canola. The other 90 percent is imported from Canada and European countries.

"Calgene scientists bred the new variety in an effort to bring canola into a new market," Raymer said. "They took a gene from the California bay laurel tree, which naturally contains high levels of lauric acid, and put it in a canola plant."

Calgene's plans were to create a new specialty oil equal to palm and coconut oils from Asian countries.

"What we're doing is producing palm oil and coconut kernel oil in a canola plant," said Alan Barbre, southeast district production manager for Calgene Oil.

"Palm and coconut oil are the primary sources of lauric fatty acid," he said. "And they're being imported from places like the Philippines and Malaysia. We want to compete in this market with a U.S.-grown crop."

The new canola oil is being sold to candy makers for use in chocolate candy coatings. "It's a solid at room temperature, and it melts at 98.6," Barbre said. "What this means to candy lovers is that when you pop it in your mouth, it dissolves and releases the chocolate flavor."

Barbre says the high-laurate canola oil is considered smooth for a fat.

"It feels smooth and silky in your mouth," he said. "High-laurate canola oil costs less than palm and coconut oils, too. And the chocolate candy makers say it performs better."

Besides chocolate candies, the new canola oil is being marketed for use in coffee whiteners, icings, frostings and whipped toppings. Even the cosmetics industry uses it.

The new canola makes farmers more money, too. It brings them about $1.25 per bushel more than commodity canola.

Calgene, which holds all the rights to the new variety, plans to market high-laurate canola to the soap industry.

"If you look at the labels on soaps, detergents and shampoos, you'll see they all contain lauric fatty acid," Barbre said. A small Canadian soap company makes high-laurate canola oil-based bath soap. Early reports show these soaps to be gentler than traditional soaps. They're ideal for people with sensitive skin.

UGA agronomists and plant pathologists have worked closely with Calgene on disease-testing and field-testing the new canola.

Raymer has high hopes the market will open wide enough to allow Georgia farmers to grow both commodity and high-laurate canola.

"Farmers get a better price from high-laurate than commodity canola. But crushing plants are in need of either variety," he said. "Crushing plants in Georgia are importing canola from Canada. They don't care which variety it is. They just need a summer crop to crush for oil."

The UGA breeding program is expected to release a new commodity canola variety in 1999. The new variety produces high yields and is highly resistant to disease.

"Right now, high-laurate canola is the only show in town. But that's likely to change," Raymer said. "Either way, canola remains an excellent alternative crop for Georgia farmers."

(Sharon Omahen is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

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