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The trouble with canola honey

The word “canola” was coined from the phrase “Canadian Oil, low acid”—a plant developed from rapeseed (Brassica spp.) with low levels of erucic acid that is suitable for human consumption. Rapeseed is a species closely related to vegetables such as turnips, collards, mustard, and cabbage.

Rapeseed is a good crop for honey bees, offering both nectar and pollen in early spring. Huge acreages of it are planted in Canada (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and in North Dakota and Minnesota. The nectar flows are heavy and yield huge crops of light-colored, mild-flavored honey.

However, rapeseed honey—commonly called canola honey—crystallizes so quickly that it is a problem for beekeepers. It will crystallize in the comb while still in the field. Many beekeepers go through their hives and pull out the combs of canola honey as soon as it is capped. After collecting, it should be extracted within 24 hours and marketed immediately. Extracted canola may last 3 to 4 weeks before it crystallizes in the jar.

As an alternative, many beekeepers use it to make creamed honey. But even this has to be done immediately or the honey will become nearly impossible to separate from the comb.

The other problem with canola honey is that 85-90% of the North American crop is genetically modified to resist herbicides. So if you would rather not eat plants whose DNA has been altered by mega chemical companies, you should probably avoid canola honey. This is sad because the farmers work hard, the beekeepers work hard, the bees work hard, and a rapeseed field in full bloom is a breathtaking sight.

However, I believe human beings should have the right to choose whether or not to eat genetically modified organisms. Until governments mandate the labeling of such products, people who want to avoid them pretty much have to avoid everything that may contain them.

Rusty

A rapeseed field in Bruce, Ontario. Flickr photo by bark.

Rapeseed in bloom. Flickr photo by net_efekt.

Comments

Gary
Reply

Is canola honey a light honey?

Ron
Reply

Where can I get my honey tested for canola content? Ron

Nancy
Reply

Another issue to be concerned about is that canola (and many of the other Brassicae) freely cross-pollinate with other mustards, including weeds like Yellow Rocket (Barbarea vulgaris). That not only widens the exposure to bees, but raises the prospect of Round-up Ready weeds!!

Ken
Reply

I’m thinking of planting 1/2 acre of rapeseed-00 on my farm in central Alabama to give my honey bees more to forage on. I read your article “The Trouble with Canola Honey” and was wondering if it also applied to fields planted with Rapeseed-00 as it is not only low in erucic acid but also glucosinolates. Since high levels of glucose in honey can cause honey to cystalize more rapidly, does the lower levels of glucosinolates possibly help slow down the cystalization process?

Rusty
Reply

Ken,

I have no idea how the levels of glucosinolates correlate with levels of glucose.

Ken
Reply

Thanks for your quick feedback! I’ve done some additional research and I can’t even buy rapeseed, let alone rapeseed-00 unless I want to buy it to sow many acres of it, so I’ve moved on to a variety of clovers which are readily available.

Aron
Reply

Ken,

Double low (low erucic, low glucosinolate) oil generally refers to the presence of these compounds in the seeds of the plant, not necessarily the nectar or stem tissue. Glucosinolates are catalyzed by the enzyme myrosoinase into D-glucose and an unstable thiol-hydroxymate-O-sulphonate. In the tissue of the plant they are compartmentalized into specialized cells and do not come into contact with one another unless tissue damage occurs. This becomes an issue during seed crushing because it enables this reaction. The products of this reaction are responsible for the spiciness one generally associates with mustard, and are generally understood as a form of plant self defense. Double low oil has been bred to have fewer glucosinolates and euricic acid in the seeds, but not necessarily the other tissue of the plant. I’m not aware of any research looking into the glucosinolate content of canola nectar.

Shelly
Reply

Hi! Doing research on honey and have just bought some German rapeseed honey. It is really good and with it being grown and produced in Germany, there are no dangers of the GMO version.

The only thing I would like to say about this article is the comment at the very end. I do agree with the author, that people should be able to decide whether they “want” to eat GMO or GE food or not. But I also think, that this is a no-brainer. No one should ever have to decide to eat poison. Like the old thought goes,would you rather drink one cup of water with one drop of poison, or would you rather drink a cup of poison with a drop of water? I am grateful for the time spent in writing this article. Thank you.

Rusty
Reply

Shelly,

I disagree that the problem is a “no-brainer” because how are people to know whether foods contain GMOs or not? We can assume if they are not organic they probably contain GMO, but most people don’t know that or haven’t ever thought about it or can’t afford to buy organic.

One of the Obama campaign promises that dissolved after election was the labeling of GMO-containing products. How sad for us all that the “poison” is hidden.

Eva Mae
Reply

I am very much in favour of GMO/GE labelling. I have a serious intolerance to canola oil which affects my nervous system and alters my heartbeat. I am astonished how fast its proliferation is being promoted and I wonder when the day will come when there is nothing left for me to safely eat. I read of its potential use as liquid fertilizer in hothouses and dry for potato crops especially, and in pellet form for fish farms and animal feed. It is in some brands of blended olive oil, peanut butter, and babies’ arrowroot cookies. It’s almost already impossible to avoid it!

Rusty
Reply

Eva Mae,

So you’re intolerant only to the GMO type of canola oil? That’s fascinating.

yulia
Reply

Good day.

I have yesterday purchased a gallon of fresh honey here in Alberta that and canola is abloom outside my window, literally.

The lady, however, assured me that her honey was “pre-canola” while speaking to me. Only I discovered her ad in circulation media claiming the honey is “from various grasses and some canola”. I agree with the author: it is sad. For son many reasons 🙁 I have respect for the people who grow my food (tend the bees is this case) but how sad it is again that they feel they need to lie in my face.

alg
Reply

But the canola plant (rapeseed) kills the honeybees. It crystallizes very quickly, making the honey not good for consumers, and especially not good for the bees. The crystals are in a form that the bees can not consume (it is a different crystallization that the bees can not digest), so they will starve to death in the colder months. Rapeseed is a high commodity agriculture product, so the bad affect it has on honey bees (all bees) is not advertised. Many beekeepers that are now within canola field areas are no longer in business due to bad effects canola plants have on the honey and the honey bees.

Rusty
Reply

Alg,

Please provide documentation to back up your claims.

Trista Hoffman
Reply

Hello, I see this is a fairly old thread, but I was hoping to revive it in hoping that there is any new information about canola. I live in the heart of canola country in Montana, and it has been horrible trying to raise bees. It is definitely true that the bees will starve with hundreds of pounds of canola honey in the hive. In our area, canola blooms from late May through July, so there is no “pre-canola” season. Farmers try to plant it as early as possible, because as soon as the weather gets hot, seed production declines. I have had many beekeepers tell me to simply extract the honey as soon as the bees cap it. The problem is that my bees were very inconsistent with capping, so either combs weren’t capped or were already crystallized every time I checked. Even a small amount of canola nectar causes crystallization, so all honey is affected. This means that no matter how much honey is in the hive for the winter, the bees die of starvation, because it is all worthless to them. Alg mentions that the bees cannot consume canola crystals. I don’t have scientific documentation about this, but I know that I can nurse a hive through the winter with crystallized cane sugar (and ordinary honey in the comb), but I cannot do that with canola honey. I have had to give up on beekeeping. My only alternative is to watch my hives die each winter and replace them in the spring. I have neither the heart or the money to do this. 🙁

Rusty
Reply

Trista,

I’m also curious about why crystallized canola honey is so bad for bees. I routinely give my bees crystallized honey in winter, and it makes excellent winter feed, year after year. But it is not canola. What is the difference?

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