Safflower Oil Versus Sunflower Oil

Safflower oil and sunflower oil are popular cooking oils because they are mild-flavored, healthy when used in moderation, work well for deep frying and are relatively inexpensive. Here are the details.

Safflower Oil

Safflower oil is extracted from the seeds of the safflower plant, a relative of the sunflower that resembles a thistle but with yellow/orange flower petals. Two different types of safflower oil are produced: one high in monounsaturated fatty acid (oleic acid) and the other high in polyunsaturated fatty acid (linoleic acid). The monounsaturated type is used as a cooking oil where it is used as both a recipe ingredient and deep frying.

The polyunsaturated type is used as a cold oil for salad dressings and marinades. It cannot be used in cooking as it will become rancid. It is also used in place of linseed oil for painting applications. (It works well with white paint because it does not have the yellow tint that inseed oil possesses). When in doubt, check the label to verify what kind of safflower oil you are buying.

In addition to oil, safflower seeds are also used for birdseed (unlike sunflowers, squirrels do not like the taste of safflower seeds) and for numerous health and beauty products.

Sunflower Oil

Sunflower oil is extracted from the seeds of the sunflower. The oil, which is light in taste and color, has a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with low saturated fat levels. The actual fat profile is determined by the specific type of sunflower oil. For example, linoleic sunflower oil is a common cooking oil that has high levels of polyunsaturated fat and low levels of trans fat. Other types of oil include high oleic and mid oleic. High oleic sunflower oils are characterized by their high monounsaturated fat levels.

Sunflower oil is used as a frying oil, as an ingredient in various foods, for sunflower butter, for cosmetics, and even as a biodiesel fuel source. Food manufacturers are recognizing the health benefits of sunflower oil and, as a result, it is increasingly being used as the preferred oil in such snack foods as potato chips.

Taste Differences

Safflower or sunflower oils are not particularly strong-flavored especially compared to an oil such as olive oil. This makes these oils very popular for cooking because they don't impart an off taste or otherwise compromise the flavor of foods prepared with them.

Health Considerations

Both safflower oil and sunflower oil are high in vitamin E which helps blood circulation, reduces respiratory problems, and strengthens the immune system. Both oils also have cardiovascular benefits as they are high in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fats. They also give hair a lustrous sheen and help to smooth and moisturize skin.

Shelf Life

Safflower and sunflower oil are susceptible to damage when exposed to heat, light or oxygen so they should be stored in dark, airtight containers in a cool location, preferably the refrigerator. Under these conditions, both oils should be good for approximately six months after opening.