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The Many Ways We Use Cottonseeds

Young Cotton Pickers

Young Cotton Pickers

A Solution to a Problem

It is almost unthinkable to imagine the USA's history without thinking about the cotton fields of the southern states. The US was built on the strength of 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 we love, which 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 that cottonseed oil is obtained. This wasn't always the case, as some were used for replanting by the farmers, 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 most 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
An open cotton boll

An open cotton boll

Cottonseed Oil in Foods

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

Cosmetic Ingredient

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 both a 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.

Cottonseed Oil as a Bio-Diesel

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 that people were buying the old cooking oil from fish and chip restaurants, filtering out the bits of fried batter and using it in their diesel vehicles. Any restaurant that uses a deep fat fryer will be looking to get rid of the old oil and possibly make money by doing so.

Although most people think of oil coming in a manageable kitchen-sized bottle, for commercial use, it 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.

Using Cottonseed Oil as a Natural Pesticide

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).

What Is Gossypol?

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.

Cottonseed Flour

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 Meal as Cattle Feed

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 high-protein fish food, for farmed shrimp.

Gossypol Contraception for Men and Women

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 caused 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

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2017 Mary Wickison


F Pier on January 16, 2018:

We avoid cottonseed oil at all costs. Two of my children are severely allergic, as well as my two grandchildren. Cotton crops are ALL genetically modified. I would no sooner eat my sheets that consume cottonseed oil if I can help it.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on May 08, 2017:

Hi Shauna,

Forty years ago, who would have thought that in the future we would have to read food labels to see if it was safe to eat?

Yet people will willing go to a fast food restaurant and stuff themselves silly and then complain about GMOs.

We are living in sad times indeed.

I too love wearing cotton alas here in Brazil it is destroyed by the UV. There is a lot of GMO products here, but most are labeled as such.

Things such as mayo, sardines, soya oil. What isn't label is the meat such as farmed fish and chicken which are fed on a diet including soya.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on May 08, 2017:

I'm an avid label reader when it come to the foods I consume. After reading this, I'll start reading cosmetic labels as well. Cotton is one of the top 10 GMO derived crops in the USA. I don't mind wearing it, but I certainly don't want the oil in my body.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on April 03, 2017:

Hi Audrey,

You're one of the few who's heard of it. Although it is in so many of the foods we eat unless people read the label, they are unaware of it.

Regarding topical use, I remember reading an interview with Joan Collins in which she said, she always took her makeup off with either cold cream or if she was out of that she'd use Crisco! At that time Crisco did contain cottonseed oil.

Thanks for reading.

Audrey Howitt from California on April 02, 2017:

I have wondered about cottonseed oil--I see it listed as an ingredient on products and wondered whether it was healthy--so interesting to read about its other uses as well--especially as a topical for skin conditions

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 31, 2017:

Hi Bill,

It's amazing that although it's widely used, there aren't many people who know about it.

Glad you found it informative.

Mary Wickison (author) from USA on March 30, 2017:

Hi Stephen,

I grew up in California and at one point we had a trailer full of cotton parked on our land, I must have been 4 years old at the time. I had strict instructions not to climb into it otherwise, I could suffocate. Even growing up in an area where it was grown I hadn't known about the oil.

As for planting it, you may be too far north, the cut off is 47° N. If you find a variety which will grow where you are, it needs to have gossypol which is found in the glanded cotton to be effective as a repellent. However, don't attempt to crush the seeds for lip balm yourself as gossypol is toxic. Also, something I didn't mention in the article there is also a problem with storage of seeds which can result in Aflatoxins. This fungus is dangerous and if seeds aren't stored correctly this fungus can get a hold.

Genetically modified versions are being used to make a glandless type or an ultra-low variety which won't need processing or will require less processing than the others. This, however, will make it more susceptible to insects.

Regarding the use of cottonseed oil for chapped lips, do try it.

Glad you enjoy it.

Stephen Barnes from St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador on March 30, 2017:

Very interesting read, Mary. I had never even heard of cottonseed oil until just now but it appears that I must have been eating it, in some form or another, my entire life. I will have to try it in my garden, see how it works at keeping the insects from eating the leafs of my flowers and plants. Also, I would be interested to know how it would work on lips. Instead of commercial lip balm to prevent chapped lips in the winter I rub olive oil on them. I wonder how cottonseed oil would work.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on March 30, 2017:

Thanks for the information, Mary. Honestly, I wouldn't know cottonseed oil if it bit me in the butt, not that that's possible, of course, so it was interesting to read about its uses.

Happy Thursday to you!