That familiar bottle of safflower oil you likely have in your kitchen is made using seeds from the safflower plant, which is a member of the sunflower family.
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The safflower's flowers look like thistles and help protect its seeds — which are used to make oil — until they mature, per Purdue University's Alternative Field Crops Manual. It's one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world; safflower was found in ancient Egyptian tombs, according to the Herb Society of America.
When it comes to cooking, safflower oil makes it on the list of healthier options, per the American Heart Association (AHA).
Discover the different varieties that are available, plus potential health benefits associated with cooking with safflower oil.
Types of Safflower Oil
There are two main varieties of this colorless, odorless oil: polyunsaturated or monounsaturated fat. Both are classified as healthy fats, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), but they have slightly different characteristics:
- Polyunsaturated fats are a source of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs, but can't produce on its own, per the AHA. It contains linoleic fatty acids, according to the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
- Monounsaturated oils can help reduce LDL cholesterol (that's the bad one), per the NLM. Monounsaturated safflower oil contains oleic fatty acids (aka omega-9 fatty acids), per the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.
All unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan school of Public Health.
Aim to have mono- and polyunsaturated fats — as opposed to saturated or trans fats — make up the majority of the fats you eat, per the AHA.
Benefits of Safflower Oil
There are quite a few health benefits of safflower oil:
- Supports heart health: Both poly- and monounsaturated fats help cut LDL cholesterol, per the AHA. That, in turn, lowers heart disease and stroke risk.
- Provides vitamin E: Safflower oil — or any unsaturated oil — is also a good source of vitamin E, according to the AHA. One tablespoon of safflower oil contains 31 percent of your daily recommended amount of this antioxidant, per the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
- May help with blood sugar levels: Having polyunsaturated fats is linked to improved blood sugar, per a July 2016 meta-analysis in PLOS Medicine.
Safflower Oil Side Effects
You're unlikely to experience any side effects from safflower oil. If you are allergic to other plants in this family (such as ragweed and daisies), it could cause a similar reaction.
Animal studies using safflower flower extract show a negative effect on embryo development, according to an April 2018 review of traditional and medicinal uses of the plant in Electronic Physician, so it may be best to avoid this oil during pregnancy.
Safflower Oil Nutrition Facts
Like all fats, safflower oil is high in calories. One tablespoon of a high-oleic oil contains 14 grams of fat and 120 calories, according to the USDA.
Even though safflower oil is a healthy fat, don't pour it out with abandon as you cook, per the Mayo Clinic. Instead, aim to use moderate amounts.
Cooking With Safflower Oil
The biggest benefit to safflower oil is likely that you're using it in place of unhealthy fats (think: saturated fat or trans fat).
And it's easy to cook with this oil: It has a mild taste and neutral smell.
Throw away your safflower oil if you notice it has a strong smell or an unpleasant taste. These changes indicate your oil may be rancid.
You'll find safflower oil available in refined and unrefined forms. The smoke point of refined safflower oil is higher, at 510 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to unrefined safflower oil, which has a smoke point of 225 F, according to the Vegetarian Health Institute.
This information about the smoke point can help steer how you use the oil: Look for high-heat refined safflower oil for cooking, frying and baking. Use unrefined safflower oil in salad dressings or marinades that don't require heating.
Always check the expiration date on safflower oil and store it in a cool dark place.
- Alternative Field Crops Manual: "Safflower"
- American Heart Association: "Healthy Cooking Oils"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Facts about monounsaturated fats"
- AHA: "Polyunsaturated Fat"
- University of Colorado, Colorado Springs: "Omega-3, 6, and 9 and How They Add Up"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Types of Fat"
- National Institutes of Health: "Vitamin E"
- PLoS Medicine: "Effects of Saturated Fat, Polyunsaturated Fat, Monounsaturated Fat, and Carbohydrate on Glucose-Insulin Homeostasis: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis of Randomised Controlled Feeding Trials"
- Electronic Physician: "Medical uses of Carthamus tinctorius L. (Safflower): a comprehensive review from Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine"
- USDA: "Oil Safflower Salad Or Cooking High Oleic (Primary Safflower Oil Of Commerce)"
- Mayo Clinic: "Dietary fats: How to make healthy choices"
- Vegetarian Health Institute: "Smoke Point of Oils"
- Herb Society of America: "Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius"