Cotton is a very unique plant because it provides both oil and seed for consumption, and strong fibers that are ideal for making clothing and other products. Believe it or not, the cottonseed plant is one of the top four genetically modified crops worldwide. Cottonseed oil (sometimes shown as cotton seed oil or cotton oil) is a light yellow oil, rich in vitamin E (tocopherols), and is produced in relatively small amounts for use as a cooking oil today.
The structure of the cottonseed is similar to other cooking oils such as the sunflower oil and other oil-bearing seeds in that an outer shell is always present to protect the oil-rich kernel inside it. The cottonseeds are pressed in order to extract the oil. Once the cottonseed oil is extracted, it must go through a series of processes in order to lower the amount of gossypol (a chemical toxic chemical found in all cotton products) to make it safe for human consumption.
A Brief History of The Cottonseed Oil
Although most people don’t realize how common it is today, cottonseed oil has been an important part of the American diet since the 19th century. This is largely due to the fact that cottonseed oil is great for frying and imparts little to no flavor on the foods cooked in it. In fact, cottonseed oil was one of the most produced vegetable oils until the 1940s because of World War II. During the war, there was a shortage of cottonseed oil, which led to the rise of soybean oil. As the industry rebounded, countries like the United States have seen an increase in the use of cottonseed oil in cooking products. However, generally speaking, the cottonseed oil is still a minor player in the food industry as other, more viable oils such as the coconut oil are preferred.
Dangers of Cottonseed Oil
Due to its long shelf life, cottonseed oil is used as a cheap cooking oil by some people. Many nutritionists, however, believe that there could be many dangers involved in its consumption. The structure of cottonseed oil, for one, is very similar to that of peanut oil. As a result, those with a strong peanut allergy are typically cautioned to avoid cottonseed oil as well.
One of the main concerns associated with cottonseed oil is its natural concentration of the toxin gossypol. This toxin, which is commonly used in male contraceptives in China, can slow the metabolism of potassium. In high volume, this can be very dangerous for men, eventually leading to paralysis.
In order to combat these naturally high levels of gossypol, the food industry has developed treatment methods to remove the toxin from the oil. This effectively lowers gossypol levels to a minimal level, which is safe for consumption.
Another reason some nutritionists do not approve of the use of cottonseed oil is because of its unhealthy ratio of omega-fatty acids. When compared to other oils, cottonseed oil is relatively low in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and high in saturated fats. Furthermore, it is very high in omega-6 fatty acids, which could lead to a poor omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in the body. Because of its fat profile, consuming high levels of cottonseed oil could potentially contribute to arterial blockage and cardiovascular diseases.
The cottonseed oil has a longstanding history in American cooking because of its its neutral flavor, and long shelf life and is currently undergoing an interesting revival. Many restaurants across the country, especially in the south, are once again exploring the possibilities of cooking with cottonseed oil, creating succulent beignets, pies and other delightful treats.