Soil Health

More Than Just Fiber

While cotton is known mostly for its natural fiber and its use in textile production, cotton does so much more than clothe us. Cotton production creates many byproducts, which is why it is known as an “and” crop – it produces fiber and linters and seed, without requiring extra land, water, fertilizer or other support. Once the lint has been taken off, cottonseed can be used to feed dairy cattle, and the seed kernels can be squeezed to make cottonseed oil, a protein-rich oil with countless uses. Cotton linters, the tiny fuzz left on cottonseed hulls, are an extremely versatile by-product as well. Linters are commonly used to make products like paper, but it can also be found in food products such as ice cream and beer. The cottonseed hulls themselves are used in hundreds of non-food products, including soap and fertilizers.1 Cotton’s versatility and efficiency makes it an important crop for a growing global population striving for a more sustainable future.

Hundreds of Uses for Cottonseed Oil

Cottonseed oil is used in a wide variety of products from salad dressing to makeup to toothpaste. It can also be processed and used for biodiesel to provide energy. Since cottonseed is a byproduct of cotton production, cottonseed oil has many environmental advantages over traditional vegetable oils.

A Global Source of Protein

Cottonseed is an excellent source of protein. It is fed to animals as an important nutritional energy source. However, it naturally contains gossypol, a naturally occurring compound created by the plant to provide defense to pests and diseases.2 For cottonseed oil, gossypol is removed in the refining process. To remove gossypol and extend the uses of cotton seeds, new cotton strains are being developed minimal or reduced gossypol, which unlocks new opportunities for us to use cottonseed as a food product. Innovative research has explored milling cottonseed for use as a wheat flour substitute in baked goods such as cookies and cakes, for example.

So, what’s the big deal about being able to eat cottonseed safely? Consider this: If all the cottonseed grown around the world were free of gossypol, the seed alone could meet the protein needs of 590 million people for one year. And it wouldn’t take any more water, fertilizer, or land than is already being used to grow the crop since it is a byproduct of cotton production.3 While global production of gossypol-free cottonseed is a long way off, incremental innovation and experimentation with new strains and new uses for cottonseed shows that cotton can become an even more valuable resource to growers and consumers everywhere.


Celebrating the Innovations of Cotton Growers

Celebrating the Innovations of Cotton Growers

Have you ever picked up your go-to cotton t-shirt and considered how this garment came from a farm to your closet? While many of us appreciate the qualities this natural fiber brings to our favorite clothes, it’s easy to forget that what we are wearing started with a...

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Power Plant: Fiber and Food from Cotton

When you think of cotton, you think of the fiber for clothing and personal care items. Did you know the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) regulates cotton as a food crop? The food service and restaurant industries have been using Cottonseed oil, a coproduct of cotton...

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  2. Rathore, Keerti S., Devendra Pandeya, LeAnne M. Campbell, Thomas C. Wedegaertner, Lorraine Puckhaber, Robert D. Stipanovic, J. Scott Thenell, Steve Hague, and Kater Hake. “Ultra-Low Gossypol Cottonseed: Selective Gene Silencing Opens Up a Vast Resource of Plant-Based Protein to Improve Human Nutrition.” Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences 39, no. 1 (2020): 1–29.
  3. Ibid.