Sunflower oil is a heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat. It comes from pressing the seeds of sunflowers, or Helianthus annuus. It's a light, nearly flavorless and odorless oil that works well raw or cooked in many recipes. U.S. production of sunflower oil has increased since the 1960s, in part due to consumer preference for polyunsaturated oils over butter and lard, according to the Economic Botany website of the University of California, Los Angeles. You can cook with several substitutes for sunflower oil.
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Safflower, or Carthamus tinctorius, is the closest substitute for sunflower because it's a member of Asteraceae, the sunflower family. It, too, is light in color and nearly flavorless. Sunflower oil and safflower oil are healthier than corn and soybean oil, according to the UCLA Economic Botany website. Sunflower and safflower oil are both rich in linolenic acid, a polyunsaturated fatty acid associated with lower risks of heart disease.
Flaxseed Oil and Walnut Oil
Flaxseed oil has a high smoking point, and it's higher in omega-3 fatty acids than sunflower oil. Omega-3s are healthy fats the body needs and can't make on its own. Flaxseed oil has a distinctive flavor, though, and isn't suitable for all recipes. Walnut oil also provides alpha-linolenic acid, the same form of omega-3 that flaxseed oil contains. It has more flavor than sunflower oil and makes a pleasing oil for salad dressings.
Sunflower oil is rich in vitamin E and has a particularly high concentration of the alpha version, alpha tocopherol. Like sunflower oil, virgin olive oil offers a healthy dose of antioxidants, including vitamin E. Virgin olive oil has a distinctive fruity flavor and silky mouth feel. If you need to replace sunflower oil in a recipe that needs a flavorless oil, such as cookies, light olive oil will work. Light olive oil undergoes more processing than virgin olive oil. It's lower in antioxidants and has a neutral flavor. Olive oil has a low smoking point. It's suitable for poaching but not for stir-frying.
Moist ingredients such as mashed fruit, yogurt or applesauce can replace sunflower oil in baked goods or foods such as pancakes. For example, you can stir in mashed pear in place of the oil and all or most of the sugar in a muffin recipe. Try small batches when you experiment with food substitutions. For a baked dessert, substitute an equal amount of applesauce for sunflower oil and cut out the sugar or other sweetener. Alternatively, substitute applesauce for half of the oil.