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.
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?
Right now, you have vastly more information at your fingertips than your forebears at any point in human history. But instant access to the oceanic stores of human knowledge isn’t the same thing as access to pure truth. After all, facts and figures can be spun in any number of ways, and otherwise well-meaning people are always looking to tout their own self-interest. Sometimes, spinning and self-interest can lead to the creation of myths that fail to capture the real story. These five cottonseed oil myths are a great example.
1. Cottonseed Oil Has an Unhealthy Mix of Fats
This is a common complaint about edible oils, and it’s certainly not limited to cottonseed oil. Still, the benefits of cottonseed oil’s unique mix of fats — especially in comparison to other types of oil — rarely get the press they deserve. For instance, cottonseed oil is about 75 percent unsaturated fat, a more favorable mix than competitors like canola and coconut oil. It also boasts a favorable blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fats, both of which offer benefits for the musculoskeletal, neurological and cardiovascular systems. And cottonseed oil has fewer inflammation-causing lipids (fat molecules) than many other oils.
2. Cottonseed Oil Doesn’t Have Many Nutrients
No one’s saying cottonseed oil is a miracle health food, but the topic of cottonseed oil nutrition has long failed to get the press it deserves. In particular, the oil is compared unfavorably to peanut oil, olive oil and other vegetable oils with high densities of specific nutrients. That’s unwarranted: Studies show that cottonseed oil has a high concentration of vitamin E — nearly as high as peanut oil, which is often cited as the gold standard for vitamin E content.
3. Cottonseed Oil Isn’t Suitable for Use Outside the Fryer
Cottonseed oil has long been pigeonholed as a “frying oil,” and it’s true that it’s very useful in commercial cooking applications. But it’s also a great substitute for other vegetable oils in baking recipes, potato dishes and even salads. In fact, taste tests that compare CSO and olive oil produce similar outcomes in salad dressings.
4. Cottonseed Oil Has an Unpleasant Taste
More on the taste point: Cottonseed oil was once decried as an “industrial” oil whose bitter taste made it unsuitable for use in high-quality culinary applications. That’s no longer true, if it ever was. Modern refining techniques impart a crisp, neutral flavor to bottled cottonseed oil, dramatically increasing its versatility and ensuring that it doesn’t overwhelm other ingredients.
5. Cottonseed Oil Is Bad for the Environment
Cotton farming has gotten significantly more sustainable since the late 20th century, putting the old argument that cotton (and other crops) are bad for the environment when grown en masse. In particular, cotton farming uses fewer pesticides and less water, and depletes soil nutrients at a slower pace, than at any time in history.
Public opinion might not change overnight, but at least it can change. The next time you hear something that doesn’t quite sound right, whether about cottonseed oil or anything else, don’t be afraid to call it out. Your voice might be louder than you realize.
For those who don’t live in rural areas or have some personal or familial connection to farming, agriculture can seem like a distant concept. Many still adhere to romantic notions of farming and foodways — small, family-owned farms where the work is done by hand and the fruits of the harvest are sold at market in the nearest town.
While the organic and local food movements are building momentum for a return to a modern version of this idyll, there’s another trend in 21st-century farming that deserves attention: accelerating technological advancements that boost sustainability and improve output. Here’s how sustainable cotton farming is changing what we eat, what we wear and how we interact with the planet.
Less Water, More Cotton
Agriculture isn’t possible with a steady supply of water. Although some crops, such as wheat, can get by with relatively little water and others, like rice, literally need to be standing in it, nothing that grows can go completely without it.
And that makes farming a challenge in drought-prone areas. Farmers in California and the American Southwest always have to worry about where their water’s coming from. Recent droughts have underscored the need for better conservation practices.
It’s not much of a stretch to say that cotton itself is a water conservation strategy. Much of the country’s cotton acreage is “dryland,” meaning it doesn’t rely on regular irrigation (which can drain aquifers in arid areas). In places that do require irrigation, new technologies deliver water directly to each plant’s roots, reducing the amount of water lost to evaporation on hot days.
Better Cotton Without the Pesticides
Pesticide use was once another “given” in modern agriculture. There are simply too many insects and microbes that want to harm commercial crops, the thinking went — they can’t possibly fight them all with their natural defenses, no matter how hard they try.
Well, modern science has an answer: selective breeding and gene modification. This sounds like science fiction, but it’s very real. In fact, cotton was one of the first crops to be successfully modified to produce a natural pesticide against a common (and devastating) pest, the tobacco budworm. Known as Bt cotton, the resultant strain is now widely used in the developing world, where the pest was particularly problematic.
In the United States, it was the boll weevil that devastated cotton populations during the 19th and early 20th centuries. There’s no strain of cotton that naturally defends against the weevil, but a fierce eradication program has eliminated the bug in all but a handful of southern counties. With fewer weevils to eat their cotton crops, farmers across the southern United States have far less use for pesticides than they once did. That’s great news for our lakes, rivers and oceans, which are all negatively impacted by pesticide runoff.
Sustainable Cotton Farming for the Win
Cottonseed oil manufacturing shouldn’t be a black box. Neither should sustainable cotton farming. It’s important that this story get told — mostly because it’s so optimistic. After all, if you think about how far we’ve come in the past half-century, can you imagine what we’ll accomplish in the next?
For commercial kitchens (and high-volume household kitchens, too), frying presents significant logistical challenges. Aside from the safety issues surrounding the use of open vats of hot oil, durability and flavor consistency rank high on the list of concerns. Different oils rise to these twin challenges with varying levels of success. Here’s why cottonseed oil is a cut above on both counts — and why growing numbers of chefs are trading out other cooking oils for cottonseed oil recipes.
Impressive Shelf Life
According to a landmark study that looked at the chemical properties and subjective attributes of cottonseed oil, including its palatability relative to other cottonseed oil flavors, cottonseed oil’s shelf life is longer than just about any other non-hydrogenated oil’s.
What does “shelf life” mean in this context? In short, the length of time that an oil container can sit at room temperature without compromising the subjective quality or physical integrity of the oil. While there are a range of factors that affect a particular batch’s shelf life, including unique attributes of the surrounding environment, cottonseed oil outperforms other oils on a consistent basis. That means less wasted oil for infrequent cooks.
Stability in the Fryer
Perhaps even more importantly, cottonseed oil appears to be more stable than other oils in repetitive frying operations. The chemical reasons for this are fairly technical, but the takeaway is that cottonseed oil lasts about half again as long in the fryer as other popular frying oils. That’s important for several reasons:
- It allows restaurants to keep food costs under control, buying less oil to produce the same amount of food
- It keeps diners happy by reducing the rate at which the flavor of cooked food seeps into the oil and compromises its taste
- It keeps kitchens running smoothly, reducing the frequency of oil changeovers that can interrupt operations during busy periods
- It improves worker safety, limiting contact with open vats of hot oil during changeovers
- It’s great news for home cooks who want to produce restaurant-quality meals in their personal kitchens
Durable oil has another benefit: consistency. This is one of the biggest “wins” for cottonseed oil fans: The oil’s impressive durability ensures that successive food batches cooked in the same oil taste roughly similar to one another. If you’re frying up potato chips in a factory, you want an oil that keeps the chips produced for Peoria on par with the chips destined for Denver. Ditto if you’re presiding over a Friday night fish fry that’s churning out pound after pound of cod or whitefish.
Cook to Your Heart’s Content
Some kitchen-dwellers and diners love cooking science. Others prefer to, well, cook and eat. But whichever side you come down on, it’s hard to ignore evidence right in front of your eyes. Cottonseed oil recipes achieve impressive consistency of flavor thanks to the oil’s above-average durability. If you’re looking to control your frying oil flavors, you may have your answer.