Vegetable oils get a bad rap. Sure, they’re laden with fats and lacking in proteins, but surely that doesn’t mean they’re useless for the human body, does it?
No, it doesn’t. In fact, some vegetable oils are downright beneficial. It all comes down to the precise mix of fats — omega-3s, omega-6s, polyunsaturated, monounsaturated — in the oil, plus the vitamins and minerals present in between all that lipid-y goodness.
One oil that’s particularly maligned — and particularly unfairly, at that — is cottonseed oil. By most objective measures, cottonseed oil is among the healthiest of the commonly used vegetable oils. It has a great mix of mono- and polyunsaturated fats, not to mention a host of healthy vitamins and minerals. In fact, it’s one of the best sources of Vitamin E around.
Convinced that it’s time to give cottonseed oil a closer look? Great. Here are three heart-healthy cottonseed oil recipes that are sure to satisfy your appetite without denting your diet.
1. Buttery (Except Not) Beignets
Flaky, buttery pastries require actual butter, right? Not when they’re authentic, New Orleans-style beignets fried up perfectly in cottonseed oil.
Beignet recipe ingredients are straightforward: yeast, shortening, flour, confectioners’ sugar, evaporated milk, white sugar, eggs, salt, and warm water — and, most importantly, at least a quart of cottonseed oil for frying. These items are all either in your house already or available at your local supermarket for less than the cost of lunch at your favorite fast-casual restaurant.
2. Tangy Kansas City-Style Barbecue Sauce
Oil in barbecue sauce? Yep. The perfect Kansas City-style barbecue sauce demands a modest helping of vegetable oil to impart a smooth, rich flavor that’ll leave your guests’ mouths watering for more. According to the people who know these things — actual Kansas City barbecue chefs — cottonseed oil offers the best mix of heart-healthy nutritional power and light, neutral taste. This sauce’s other ingredients include:
- Tomato paste
- Cider Vinegar
- Brown sugar
- Kosher salt
- Soy sauce
- Worcestershire sauce
- Dried mustard
- Ground black pepper
- Chili powder
- Crushed red pepper
3. Super Thai Stir Fry
There are as many ways to do a Thai stir fry as there are Thai cooks. It’s hard to go wrong with a simple plate of lightly fried vegetables and protein. But the medium does matter, and informal taste tests prove time and again that cottonseed oil is a superior frying substrate for this beloved dish.
To put your own spin on an Asian classic, add a few tablespoons of cottonseed oil to a hot skillet, then add chopped onions, peppers, broccoli, carrots and any other vegetables you see fit to toss in. Heat on medium-high for a few minutes, then cover and lower the heat. Add a few tablespoons of cottonseed oil to a separate hot pan, then lightly fry your choice of protein with your choice of seasonings on medium-high until cooked thoroughly. Blend the two pans, cook for a few more minutes, and serve with rice or noodles.
Add a Dash of Flavor
Regular ol’ cottonseed oil is a versatile, heart-healthy cooking aid that enlivens virtually everything it touches. If you’re looking for an extra-special flavor kick, though, make like the pros and reach for a bottle of flavor-infused cottonseed oil.
Which homemade cottonseed oil recipe are you most excited about?
Our understanding of nutrition science has changed a tremendous amount since the late 20th century. Remember when margarine was considered a vastly superior alternative to butter? When fats, including plant-based oil, were the bane of any healthy eater’s existence? When health nuts couldn’t get far enough away from eggs, or tree nuts, for that matter?
These days, we know that butter is preferable to margarine (though still not great for you), certain fats are beneficial in moderation, and the positive protein power of eggs far outweighs their dubious cholesterol content.
And we’re learning more all the time. In the past few years, new food science research has uncovered a host of health benefits for one of recent history’s most maligned vegetable oils: cottonseed oil. Here’s a quick look at the latest thinking on this surprisingly healthy and ever-versatile cooking aid.
Memory and Cognition Benefits
No one’s saying cottonseed that oil is the next gingko biloba. However, recent research suggests that nutrients found in cottonseed oil contribute to a healthy brain and great nerve function. Vitamin E, the most plentiful vitamin by far in this nutrient-rich oil, helps the nervous system to repair the fatty sheaths that encase neurons to ensure the swift, faithful delivery of signals sent along the body’s natural fiber-optic system.
Vitamin E is also a powerful antioxidant that slows the formation and progression of harmful molecules known as free radicals. Free radicals are implicated in the formation of neurological cancers, including gliomas and other high-mortality brain malignancies. While cottonseed oil doesn’t singlehandedly prevent the development of progression of cancer, a diet high in Vitamin E has been shown to provide marginal benefit in this department.
Cottonseed oil has a number of related cardiovascular benefits. Vitamin E plays a role here as well; in addition to promoting brain health, this all-purpose vitamin helps blood vessels to repair themselves, and slows the progression of cardiovascular disease. What’s more, a recent, well-publicized Texas Women’s University study found that regular cottonseed intake correlates with an increased Vitamin E uptake. This suggests that cottonseed oil is a more efficient delivery vehicle for heart-healthy Vitamin E than some other vegetable oils.
Cottonseed oil’s ample stores of Vitamin E, coupled with its unique mix of other beneficial fats, make it great for your skin. No, you don’t need to dab it onto your face direct from the bottle, but you’d probably be surprised to learn just how many cosmetic products it can be found in. Some folks assume that cottonseed oil is merely used as a cosmetic stabilizer, but it’s also a gentle exfoliant, and wrinkle reducer, too.
More Uses for Cottonseed Oil Ahead?
Science isn’t for the impatient. Most research involves a tremendous amount of painstaking data collection, not to mention a host of nail-biting, trial-and-error laden attempts to arrive at reproducible results.
It’s important for laypeople to remember that testing a hypothesis is far easier in theory than in practice; even if something intuitively makes sense, that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work as expected.
That said, the scientific community fully expects to uncover new and unexpected uses for cotton and cottonseed in the months and years ahead. Some are likely to have little to do with human health, and many won’t be edible in the traditional sense, but all promise to keep cotton relevant. By highlighting new and different uses for an age-old plant, science can enrich humanity’s understanding of its relationship to the natural world.
“Sticky” isn’t the first word people normally associate with cotton. In fact, cotton clothing is comfortable precisely because it’s not sticky. When you’re working out on a sweltering summer day, that cotton T-shirt is as light and breathable as ever. You might feel sticky as you sweat it out on the field, track, or court, but you can thank your cotton clothing for doing its part to regulate your internal temperature and keep your body in balance.
But cotton isn’t just used for clothing anymore. New research suggests that another part of the cotton plant — the cottonseed — could play an integral role in the creation of a powerful, natural adhesive that does pretty much the exact opposite of your trusty cotton T-shirt. What can we expect from this potentially groundbreaking new substance, and when is it going to be on store shelves?
The Longstanding Disadvantage of Cottonseed Meal
Historically, cottonseed meal has been a low-value byproduct of the cottonseed oil refining process. The meal is typically either ground up and fed to cattle or incorporated into natural fertilizer production, as its nutrient-rich chemical profile makes it an ideal addition to commercial soils.
The problem is that cottonseed meal has poor water tolerance. In it’s natural state, cottonseed meal lacks the attributes that are needed to make a superior plant-based adhesive. Without further modification and processing it simply doesn’t have much use as a value-added consumer or industrial adhesive product.
That’s about to change.
A New Use for Cottonseed Meal
Recently, a research team at the ARS Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans devised an innovative seed-washing procedure that could eliminate cottonseed meal’s negative attributes. According to Zhongqi He, the team’s lead researcher, this new process washes cottonseed meal of certain compounds that contribute to poor moisture repellence without stripping the seeds of a protein that’s proven wildly effective at binding objects together.
In initial tests, an adhesive made from cottonseed meal washed using this method proved to be as effective — and, by some measures, more effective — than petroleum- or formaldehyde-based formulations. According to the team’s paper, the cottonseed formulation achieves optimal binding power when heated to a temperature of 230 degrees. It’s ideal for binding semiporous materials, such as wood veneers, together. In addition to carpentry, this cottonseed-derived adhesive may find other industrial, commercial, and hobby uses as well.
If further tests pan out, He’s innovation could revolutionize the adhesive industry and reduce society’s reliance on toxic, nonrenewable binding media. It could also boost the market for America’s cotton growers, who produce more than 1 million tons of cottonseed meal annually. This would set up a classic win-win-win: consumers and commercial users get a cheap, safe alternative to petroleum adhesives, growers find new markets for a low-value byproduct, and the environment gets a renewable, natural replacement for an often hazardous industrial chemical.
There’s More to Cotton Than Meets the Eye
If the idea of a cottonseed adhesive is enough to blow your mind, you might want to stop reading now. It turns out that the cotton plant is chock full of unorthodox uses (some already commercialized, some coming down the pipeline) that the plant’s original prehistoric users could scarcely conceive. From the basis of shrimp aquaculture to a potential replacement for peanut butter, cotton and cottonseed oil are steadily working their way into the fabric of society. And that’s great news for all of us.