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Healthier Frying with…Cottonseed Oil

Posted by Scott Elliott, ARS Office of Communications in Research and Science
Mar 07, 2023
A cotton plant with the USDA Science text overlay

Deep fat frying is often cut out when people want to eat healthy. But, for those who enjoy fried foods, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has created a healthier oil.

Scientists with the ARS Southern Regional Research Center (SRRC) in New Orleans and at Mississippi State University have developed a cotton plant with seed oil that is higher in oleic acid than previous varieties. Oleic acid is commonly used for preventing heart disease and reducing cholesterol.

According to Jay Shockey, plant geneticist with SRRC’s Commodity Utilization Research unit, cottonseed oil was once considered the “gold standard” of frying oils, but lost its position in the market to oils with higher levels of oleic acid. High-oleic oils are more resistant to oxidation and useful for applications like deep fat frying because it doesn’t need to be replaced as frequently.

Standard cottonseed oil contains approximately 16-18% oleic acid and 40-50% linoleic acid, the predominant polyunsaturated fatty acid. Shockey said that the recently developed cotton plant varieties contain nearly equal amounts of these two fatty acids, about 35% each. He said that ongoing research has identified lines with additional improvements, which bring their oleic acid content to about 50%.

In addition to the added health benefits, these new plants provide good economic news for cotton growers and seed oil producers. Based on prior usage of cottonseed oil for frying, Shockey said that if high-oleic acid cottonseed oil regains a competitive position in the market, that would represent a substantial financial benefit for the cottonseed industry. Assuming a 25% higher premium price and 25% market penetration, these elevated oleic acid oils would be worth an additional $110 million more, annually, than standard cottonseed oil.

USDA and ARS create more opportunities and better markets for producers, industry, and consumers through cutting-edge research and scientific innovations.

Category/Topic: Research and Science