The Many Ways We Use Cottonseeds

It is almost unthinkable to imagine the history of the USA without thinking about the cotton fields of the southern states. The country was built on crops such as wheat, cotton, oats and corn. The images of cotton pickers dragging their long sacks of cotton behind them, their fingers spiked and bloodied from the sharp casing bur surrounding the soft boll of cotton are still a reminder of a painful part of American history.

Now cotton is picked by machines. Most of us only think of cotton as the fabric, which we love, that keeps us cool in the summer. No doubt, the majority of your favorite clothing, bedding and towels are made from it.

Inside each fluffy boll, there are seeds and it is from these where cottonseed oil comes from. This wasn’t always the case, as some of the seeds were used for replanting, and others were left to rot as they had no known usable value. In the late 1800s, cottonseeds began to be used as more than just seeds for replanting.

Although cotton growers make the majority of their revenue from cotton, now 10-15% of their income is derived from cottonseed. Once the crop is harvested, there are still small fibers called linters attached to the seed, and this is considered to be one of the finest types of cellulose available. It is used for various products including:

  • X-ray film
  • Currency
  • Upholstery
  • Rayon¹

Cottonseed oil is mild tasting unlike oils such as olive, coconut, and corn. This and the low cost of it has made it one of America’s favorite. Although you may not see it for sale in your supermarket, it is used in food production and in the catering industry and may be blended with other oils you currently purchase.

In the early 1900s it was used in Crisco, in fact, the name Crisco comes from (crystallized cottonseed oil). Crisco and cottonseed oil, changed the way America cooked. Where lard had previously been used, Crisco took over. Now, Crisco no longer uses cottonseed oil as it fell out of favor in the early 2000s when there was a big push to eliminate trans fatty acids from the diets. This liquid oil with a neutral taste is high in saturated fat coming in with 26g of saturated fat compared to 7.3g for canola (rapeseed). When hydrogenated, this rises to 94g.2

Many restaurants use this oil as well as canola (rapeseed) because it has a high smoking point making it suitable for deep fat frying. Many prepackaged and processed foods continue to use this in their products or even a mixture of oils.

  • Potato chips

  • Salad dressing and mayonnaise

  • Cakes, cookies, crackers, snack bars

  • Cereals

Because of its price and neutral taste, it is widely used in cosmetics. Both as an oil and as an emollient when hydrogenated.

Cosmetic companies use this in products including

  • Cleansing products
  • Eye makeup including eye liners
  • Lipsticks and balms

The oil has been used in soaps and candles for over a hundred years, so it’s move to the cosmetic industry was an logical and commercial one.

Because it’s virtually fragrance-free, after it has been deodorized, it’s used in products for those with eczema and psoriasis as a gentle skin conditioner.

In common with other vegetable oils, it can be used in a diesel vehicle as a bio-fuel.

In the UK, we had a diesel truck in which we used ordinary vegetable cooking oil in place of diesel. This trend had become so popular, people were buying the old cooking oil from fish and chip restaurants, filtering out the bits of batter and using it in their diesel vehicles. Any restaurant which uses a deep fat fryer will be looking for a way of getting rid of the old oil, and possibly making money by doing so.

Although most people think of oil coming in a manageable kitchen sized bottle, for commercial use, this can be bought in 200 liters (55 US gallons). Prices vary, but you can buy it as used oil from a restaurant, expect to pay anywhere from $40-$90 per barrel.

As an organic coconut farmer in Brazil, I came across cottonseed oil when I was looking for information about natural insecticides. I had used it before in cooking but never as a pesticide. Although most oils can be used on plants as a deterrent to insects, cottonseed oil is considered the best of the commonly available oils because of the naturally occurring toxin gossypol (see explanation below).

Gossypol is a chemical found in the cotton seed. It’s the part of the plant’s protection from insects because of its toxicity. When the seeds are used either for oil or grinding into flour, this chemical needs to be removed to make it suitable for human consumption.

After the oil is extracted from the cottonseed, the seed is ground down into a flour. This flour is much higher in protein than conventional wheat flour, and research is being conducted into combining the two.

A study conducted using Saudi Arabian wheat flour, with an addition of 5-10% of cottonseed oil flour (csof), increased the protein level in bread by 25-50%. The researchers found that increasing the (csof) above the 10% level the quality of the bread was reduced.³

This is exciting research as a simple shift such as this could have long-lasting benefits in countries where the consumption of protein is below the recommended levels for good health.

Ground cottonseed is used as cattle feed. Just as in the example above about flour, the flour’s high level of protein makes this a popular choice as a supplementary cattle feed.

Because of the toxicity of the chemical compound Gossypol, it is only ruminants that can digest it. This animal feed shouldn’t be given to pigs or chickens. Although the presence of gossypol doesn’t cause a problem for cattle, it does for chickens causing the white of the egg to turn pink and the yolk to turn green.

New strains of glandless cottonseed are being proposed for use as a high protein fish food, for farmed shrimp.

The compound gossypol found in the cotton seed has been shown to be effective as a male contraception when taken orally.

Also when applied vaginally it significantly reduces the motility of sperm. In laboratory tests where semen from rats, men, and boars were tested they all showed similar results.4

Women are also using this for problems such as endometriosis, and some forms of cancer.5

However, although this was shown as effective, continued use of this cause a small percentage of men to become infertile. The studies were shelved by the WHO (World Health Organization), for use as contraception.

1.Products. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2017, from

2.Cottonseed oil. (2017, March 22). Retrieved March 29, 2017, from

3. El-Shaarawy, M. I., & Mesallam, A. S. (1987, June). Feasibility of Saudi wheat flour enriched with cottonseed flour for bread making. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from

4. Tso, W. W., & Lee, C. S. (1982, February). Cottonseed oil as a vaginal contraceptive. Retrieved March 29, 2017, from

5.GOSSYPOL: Uses, Side Effects, Interactions and Warnings. (n.d.). Retrieved March 29, 2017, from