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Safflower Oil Vs Sunflower Oil — What’s The Difference?

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Safflower oil and sunflower oil are very frequently confused with each other, but these two oils actually have less in common than you think! Sure, they have a ton of similarities, but ultimately, one will suit your needs better than the other.

So, what are the differences between safflower oil and sunflower oil? For one, you get more options for sunflower oil — this makes it a more versatile option that is easy to find and more affordable. However, safflower oil has a higher smoke point, which makes it more suitable for grilling.

Today, we will dive deep into both of these seed oils. We will look at how they are made, the different options available, their characteristics, and their nutritional composition. By the end, you’ll easily be able to choose which is best for you!

What Is Safflower Oil?

Safflower is a type of seed oil obtained from the safflower plant.

While this oil has other uses as well, it’s mainly used as a plant-based cooking oil and to make margarine.

Now, there are two types of safflower oil that are made. One that is high in oleic acids (monounsaturated fatty acids) and one that is high in linoleic acids (polyunsaturated fatty acids).

If you buy safflower oil, it will likely be the one that’s high in oleic acids; the linoleic option isn’t common in the food industry.

How Safflower Oil Is Made

Because this is a seed oil, the process of extracting the fat is pretty much similar to all other types of seed-based oils. 

First, the safflower seeds are crushed. They then undergo pressing or they are treated with chemical solvents — that is what extracts the oils. 

The oil can then be packaged and sold as unrefined safflower oil. However, more often than not, it does get processed further. It involves filtering the oil which removes the color and most of the nutrients.

You can get semi-refined or refined safflower oil. While these may not be as nutrient-dense as unrefined oil, they have some benefits.

Characteristics Of Safflower Oil

For the most part, safflower oil is pretty much tasteless and colorless. It is almost always a heavily refined product.

Refined safflower oil has a watered-down, yellowish color that’s sometimes barely noticeable. This version is completely flavorless and tastes like oil. It also doesn’t contain a lot of nutrients. 

However, the benefit of refined safflower oil is that it has a smoking point of 510ºF (266ºC). Why is this important?

Well, that allows you to safely cook in the oil at very high temperatures without the oil smoking or igniting! This produces an overall crispier and golden fried product.

Even better, oils with high smoking points are less prone to form toxic fumes that contain free radicals (cancer-causing compounds).

Semi-refined safflower oil hasn’t been filtered as much. It has a slightly more yellow color but is still pretty pale.

This oil has a smoking point of 320ºF (160ºC) so it isn’t suitable for high-heat cooking.

And finally, an option that is not suitable for most cooking methods, is unrefined safflower oil. It has the most yellow color, but again, it is still pretty flavorless. It mostly tastes of earth and seeds.

This oil only has a smoking point of 225ºF (107ºC), so it’s best used in dressings or at low temperatures.

How Safflower Oil Is Used In Cooking

This depends entirely on the type of safflower oil you have. Refined and semi-refined safflower oil can be used for deep-frying, pan-frying, stir-frying, baking, and grilling.

Unrefined safflower oil is best used in recipes that don’t require any heat. This can be a salad dressing, marinade, or preserving liquid.

Because there are many different options with different smoking points, you can use this oil for virtually anything! Especially the refined option.

Nutritional Breakdown Of Safflower Oil

As we have mentioned, almost all safflower oil products in the food industry have a high content of oleic acids. But what does this mean? Ultimately, it can help lower your risk of heart disease.

This oil is pretty much all-fat and contains about 124 calories per tablespoon. It’s a great alternative to products high in saturated fats, like coconut oil or butter.

It doesn’t have any vitamins or minerals except for vitamin E, but that doesn’t make it special — most seed oils are high in vitamin E. However, it does contain quite a few antioxidants, which have many health benefits.

What Is Sunflower Oil?

Sunflower oil is one of the most popular cooking oils across the globe. It’s also an oil produced from the seeds of sunflowers.

Because this oil is so popular, there are many different options to choose from out there.

Three main types of sunflower oil are produced: high oleic, mid oleic, and linoleic. Most cooking oils are either high oleic or linoleic.

The cheapest and most refined sunflower oil options are usually the linoleic ones. It is also commonly called the “classic sunflower oil.” 

The healthier, less refined options are oleic ones. They are sold as solvent-pressed or expeller-pressed sunflower oil. This helps the oil retain more nutrients, healthy fats, and color.

How Sunflower Oil Is Made

The process to make sunflower oil is the same as for all other seed oils.

The sunflower seeds are hulled, crushed, pressed, and chemically extracted to get even more oil from the seed cake.

Once the oil is extracted, it is packaged and sold as various cooking oils.

Characteristics Of Sunflower Oil

Now, there are many different options to choose from when it comes to sunflower oil products. First off, their color ranges from yellow to a nearly opaque yellowish-white liquid. 

The nutrient content also varies a lot between different options. The characteristics of the oils depend on how much they have been processed.

To start, we have neutralized, dewaxed, bleached, and deodorized sunflower oil. As you may have guessed, it’s very processed — this has a benefit though!

Refined sunflower oil has the highest smoking point of all the options, between 486-489ºF (252-254ºC). It is also virtually colorless and doesn’t have any notable flavor.

Then you get semi-refined sunflower oil. It has a smoking point of 450ºF (232ºC).

And finally, you can buy cold-pressed, unrefined oil. It has a lower smoking point of only 225ºF (107ºC). It will also have the brightest color, and you may be able to pick up seed-like flavors.

How Sunflower Oil Is Used In Cooking

Sunflower oil is also extremely versatile when it comes to culinary uses. Again, because you have so many options to choose from, you’ll be able to find one best suited to your needs.

Sunflower oil products with high smoking points (like refined oil or high oleic oil) are best used for deep-frying, stir-frying, grilling, roasting, and pan-frying.

Semi-refined sunflower oil is great for baking and sauteing. And unrefined sunflower oils are best in salad dressings, marinades, and sauces — anything that isn’t made with high heat.

Nutritional Breakdown Of Sunflower Oil

The healthiest type of sunflower oil is a high-oleic option. It has the most monounsaturated fat of all the options.

This type of oil helps lower the “bad” cholesterol levels, which directly has positive effects on your overall heart health.

In terms of nutrients, like most oils, it contains vitamin E, and that’s pretty much it. Oils, in general, aren’t nutritional.

Safflower Oil Vs Sunflower Oil — Similarities And Differences

Let’s compare safflower and sunflower oil side by side! There are many similarities between the two, but also some differences.

Source And Production

First, both are seed oils, but they come from different plants. Both are quite popular across the globe.

However, safflower oil isn’t a popular household ingredient like sunflower oil. It’s mostly used by companies, restaurants, and product manufacturers.

The way these oils are made is also very similar. Seeds are crushed and pressed to extract oil. Then, they can be sold unrefined, or further processed to create a refined or semi-refined oil.

Smoke Point

For both, the unrefined oils have the lowest smoke point yet the highest vitamin E content, while the refined oil options have the highest smoke point, making them more versatile for cooking.

Safflower oil (refined) does have a slightly highest smoking point than refined sunflower oil. It makes it a better choice for high-heat cooking, like grilling.

Color And Flavor

The color and flavor of both of these oils are similar. They have a yellowish hue to them that intensifies when the oil is less processed.

And both are pretty flavorless. If at all, you may be able to pick up earthy seed-like flavors.

Availability And Price

You get a lot more options in store for sunflower oil. Again, safflower oil isn’t that popular in households and is mainly used in commercial kitchens and manufacturing facilities.

The price of these oils also differ. They are nearly the same, but sunflower oil is generally cheaper to the general public. Again, it’s because it’s more readily available.


Sunflower oil has three main options: high oleic, mid oleic, and linoleic. Linoleic is the most popular globally and very affordable.

Safflower oil has two options: high oleic and linoleic. Again, linoleic tends to be the cheapest and most commonly used — even though it’s less healthy.

Are Safflower Oil And Sunflower Oil Interchangeable?

These two oils are basically interchangeable, but always check the refinement of the oil you are substituting!

For example, if you used refined sunflower oil for roasting, you cannot substitute it with unrefined safflower oil. The unrefined oil will catch alight at roasting temperatures!

And, if you specifically used one option for nutritional reasons, you should choose an alternative that can provide you with the same. If you chose high oleic safflower oil, buy high oleic sunflower oil too.

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