Leave it to a university in one of America’s highest, driest regions to pioneer a watery new use for the versatile cottonseed. According to late-breaking reports from researchers at New Mexico State University, cottonseed byproducts may soon find their way into large-scale aquaculture operations. Their use? Fish food — or, more accurately, shrimp food.
How does a plant that loves dry, often marginal lands become a critical component in eco-friendly aquaculture systems? To answer that question, we’ll need to peer under the hood of modern aquaculture and explore what makes cotton a great option for large-scale food production operations.
Cotton isn’t typically thought of as a food product, and for good reason. Its most valuable product, by far, is the dense yet fluffy fibers contained in its signature bolls. Those fibers find their way into everything from blue jeans to finely woven cotton sheets.
But cotton’s seed — cottonseed — is most definitely edible. It’s super high in protein, far outstripping competing seeds and nuts. And cottonseed oil is the preferred frying and dressing agent for thousands of discerning home and commercial cooks.
Unfortunately, unprocessed cottonseed contains a natural pesticide called gossypol. Humans shouldn’t ingest gossypol in large quantities, so cottonseed’s proteinaceous seeds have long been off-limits as an ingredient in “people food.”
Thanks to a recent breakthrough that silences the genes responsible for gossypol production, that’s about to change.
How Cottonseed Fits into Modern Aquaculture
Aquaculture is a closed or semi-closed system that produces fish and other aquatic food products in sustainable, eco-friendly fashion. Although aquaculture configurations vary widely, most require a stable source of energy and protein. Because it’s so rich in protein and healthy fats, cottonseed is an ideal aquaculture feed.
That’s why New Mexico State University’s farm research program is doubling down on its commitment to cottonseed cultivation. NMSU’s aquaculture tanks are steadily producing healthy shrimp (at 5,000 feet above sea level, but that’s a whole other story), sold in the same head-on form as you’d find in your local seafood store. Cottonseed-fed shrimp require far fewer energy inputs than fishmeal-fed fish, the “status quo” aquaculture crop in the United States. That makes for a more eco-friendly aquaculture arrangement — and a great second life for thousands of tons of cottonseed byproducts.
“Commercial aquaculture feeds contain fishmeal, so they’re not as sustainable as a plant-based protein, because they’re basically taking fish from the ocean and making a meal out of that, and then feeding it to another fish,” says Tracey Carrillo, NMSU’s assistant director of campus farm operations. “We chose shrimp because they’re several times more efficient at converting that protein to an edible product.”
The Aquaculture Revolution Is Coming
Even if you never run or work at an aquaculture operation, you’re likely to reap the rewards of this emerging eco-friendly alternative to traditional fish production. And cottonseed byproducts could soon become an integral part of that equation. Are you looking forward to the coming aquaculture revolution?
For most folks, agricultural research isn’t exactly the sexiest topic of conversation. But the cutting-edge research being done in labs at leading U.S. universities, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and various ag trade organizations offers tremendous promise for a healthier and more secure food future.
Research into new uses for cotton is a case in point. Cotton is no longer thought of as just — or even principally — a source of durable clothing fiber. It’s increasingly seen as a food and feed product that can be incorporated into a dizzying array of new, productive uses. Here’s a look at the next frontier for cotton research — and how you and your family stand to benefit.
One of the biggest challenges facing cotton producers involves gossypol, a natural pesticide that protects the cotton plant from harmful insects and microorganisms. Unfortunately, gossypol isn’t just bad for pests — it’s also unsuitable for human consumption in large quantities. That means cottonseed meal and other cotton byproducts can’t be incorporated into human food. Only cottonseed oil, which undergoes a heavy-duty purification process to remove its gossypol, is safe for human consumption.
But we might be just a few years away from a complete paradigm shift. A recent scientific breakthrough suggests that it’s possible to silence the genes responsible for producing gossypol in cottonseeds without affecting its production elsewhere in the plant. In other words, unprocessed cottonseed could soon be a viable food source that’s just as good at fighting pests as ever before.
Biodiesel for Campus Vehicles
Researchers at New Mexico State University are gassed — literally — about a new breakthrough that finds spent cottonseed being used as a biodiesel for campus vehicles and fixed implements. This is a classic “two birds with one stone” situation: After gossypol-less cottonseed meal is used to cook wholesome food in the school’s cafeteria kitchen, the leftover bits are shipped across campus for use in — among other things — a cotton experiment station’s irrigation pump. Talk about coming full circle.
A Powerful New Aquaculture Ingredient
Lots of American cooks are thrilled that cotton could soon be a legitimate source of protein and energy for hungry, discerning diners. But cotton also looks poised to play a critical role in aquaculture, an eco-friendly means of farming aquatic food sources. Back at New Mexico State University, the same cottonseed byproducts used as biodiesel for campus vehicles are being recycled as literal fish food for shrimp at the university’s aquaculture demonstration facility. On a commercial scale, cottonseed byproducts could well prove the “missing link” for a fully closed, fully sustainable food system.
A Promising Future for an Old, Old Crop
This isn’t exactly cotton’s first rodeo. The crop has been around for thousands of years, and incorporated into a wide variety of American economic uses since before our nation was born. But thanks to cutting-edge technological advances and old-school American ingenuity, cotton looks set to open a productive new act.
Which part of cotton’s future are you most excited about?
Cottonseed oil has been used as a cooking aid since time immemorial — or, at the very least, since the 19th century. Back then, it was used to cook everything from sauteed green vegetables to plain old fried chicken.
But recently, cottonseed oil’s applications have diversified. One of the more unexpected uses for cottonseed oil: beauty products. Yes, you read that right. Some fashion mags, including Allure Magazine and New York Magazine, have gone so far as to label cottonseed oil as an “ultimate insiders’ beauty secret.” That’s some high praise from notoriously cool (sometimes outright jaded) customers.
How can cottonseed oil work as the ultimate insiders’ beauty secret? Here’s what you need to know about cottonseed oil’s use as a beauty product.
Madapollam Body Scrub
Madapollam Body Scrub, reports New York Magazine, is a delightful mix of essential ingredients that “smells like a clean T-shirt” pulled right out of the wash. Cottonseed oil can’t take credit for the entire experience, but it’s definitely true that this clean, crisp oil improves the overall scent (or, rather, doesn’t impart any of its own olfactory clutter) of this down-to-earth scrub. It’s also worth noting that cottonseed oil has a great vitamin profile that supports skin health and improves complexion. Food — or, more accurately, oil — for thought.
Maybelline New York Baby Lips
Sick of lip balms that leave your smackers puffy and sticky? Try Maybelline New York Baby Lips on for size. Allure Magazine reports that seven Baby Lips are sold every 15 seconds, an average of nearly one every two seconds. TL;DR: Baby Lips is an insanely popular lip balm that’s made possible, among other things, by its delectable reserve of high-quality cottonseed oil. Try a swipe or two on for size and see what everyone’s talking about.
Smith’s Rosebud Salve
Smith’s has been around for, get this, more than 120 years. Turns out that America’s original beauty insiders were using cottonseed oil way before it was cool — or, at least, way before it was cool to use this cotton byproduct for anything other than deep-frying fish, chicken and vegetables. You’ve come a long way, Smith’s. A long way.
Can Cottonseed Oil Compete?
Back in the 1980s and 1990s, coconut oil was all the rage among in-the-know fashionistas. To be fair, coconut oil is a great ingredient in plenty of legit beauty products. But it’s hard to argue that cottonseed oil can’t stack up against the coco-fueled competition — particularly now that we know so much more about chemistry and biology in the beauty space.
In the increasingly cluttered cosmetics business, the renewed interest in cottonseed oil is the equivalent of the local food movement: a back-to-basics approach to skin and lip care. It’s only fitting that America’s first mass-produced cooking oil is coming back as a natural alternative to unpronounceable cosmetic ingredients.
Do any of these cottonseed oil beauty products appeal to you? Are you ready to “convert” to cottonseed oil?