What Is It
Cottonseed is a plant-based byproduct of the ginning process by which cotton fiber is separated from the seed, and a way to productively utilize more of the plant. Dairy farmers have used cottonseed as a feed supplement for decades because it helps provide higher volumes of richer milk.1
In The Kitchen
Cottonseed oil offers several benefits to enhance culinary creations:
- Flavor: Its neutral taste allows the foods it’s cooking or blending with to stand out 2.
- High Performing: It is extremely stable with a long shelf life and high smoke point 3.
- Versatile: It can be used for everything from dressings and frying to baking and sauteing 4.
- Kosher: Cottonseed oil is considered an acceptable choice for kosher cooking 5.
Beyond the Kitchen
- Cosmetics: Cottonseed oil is often used hair and skin-care products because of it’s high vitamin E content 6 (4.8mg per tablespoon)
- Hair and Skin Protection: Cottonseed oil’s antioxidant properties may help protect against free radical damage from UV rays and pollution. 7
- Horticulture Oils: Cottonseed oil is generally considered the most insecticidal of the vegetable oils 8.
From Plant To Plate
Cotton could be considered two crops: fiber and seed. About one-third of the cottonseed produced from a typical crop is crushed for oil and meal used in food products, livestock feed 9, cosmetics and horticulture oils.
1. Cotton Plant
The cotton plant is fully mature 160 days after the seed is planted. It produces a soft, fluffy fiber that grows in a boll, or protective case, around the seeds. Cotton plants are of the genus Gossypium in the mallow family Malvaceae and are in the same family as another Southern food favorite, okra 10.
Cotton crops are ready for harvest after the bolls are opened. Typically cotton crops in the Southwest mature for harvesting in mid-July; then continue eastwards across the Cotton Belt with Southeast harvests occurring in September/October. In the United States, the majority of cotton is harvested using machine pickers, which remove the fiber- and seed-containing bolls from the stalks. The harvested cotton is placed in large round modules and transported to a cotton gin for processing.
After separating the lint from the fiber at the gin, the cottonseed is transported to a cottonseed crushing mill. There it is cleaned and conveyed to delinting machines which, operating on the same principle as a gin, remove the remaining short fibers known as linters.
Cottonseed is similar to other plant-based oils like coconut and sunflower oils in that it has an oil-bearing kernel surrounded by a hard outer hull that needs to be removed. After the linters are removed, the seed is put through a machine that uses a series of blades to loosen the hulls from the kernel. The seeds are then passed through shakers and beaters. The separated hulls are marketed for livestock feed or industrial products, and the kernels are ready for the extraction of oil.
5. Cooking, Extraction and Refinement
Precooking the seed is necessary to open up the oil glands so the oil can be expressed. It is also necessary to detoxify the gossypol. Next, solvent extraction or presses remove the oil and, from there, the oil must be processed and refined before it can be used for consumption. This is done in order to remove impurities, including free fatty acids (FFA), phospholipids, pigments and volatile compounds 11.
While there are a few consumer cottonseed oil products on the market, the primary market is in restaurant foodservice and food manufacturing 12.
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