Q: While out biking in the countryside last weekend, I remarked to my friend how pretty the mustard fields were, with their vast expanses of yellow flowers blowing in the breeze. Then he told me that those weren’t mustard plants at all, but rapeseed. What’s up with that?

A: Rapeseed crops are planted across Europe, with Germany, France and the United Kingdom ranking among the continent’s top producers. The flowers often reach chest high to an adult, and swaying in the breeze under a vivid blue sky, make for a pretty picture.

Rapeseed is often cultivated for the production of cooking oil. This oil is touted as a healthy choice, with even lower levels of saturated fat than that of olive oil. It also contains high levels of “good” fatty acids. Americans are more likely to be familiar with a similar product, Canola oil. Canola oil is a relatively new food product developed through the ingenuity of Canadian scientists, who used the process of selection to develop a strain of rapeseed fit for human consumption. In fact, the term “Canola” stems from an abbreviation of the words “Canadian” and “oil.”

Rapeseed has another use, in the production of biodiesels. According to information posted on the Web site of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, biodiesel production in Europe is on the rise, and is becoming an important part of the European market for rapeseed.

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