Teaching Tuesday- Safflower and Sunflower Oils

Today we are looking more in depth at Sunflower and Safflower Oils. They are both quite similar in many ways, and both are to be included in a healthy diet. They both can also be used for skin care and in many cosmetic formulations.

Sunflower Oil (Helianthus annuus) oil is extracted from the seeds of the sunflower.  Healthy, natural sunflower oil is produced from oil type sunflower seeds. It is light in taste and appearance, and it supplies more Vitamin E than any other vegetable oil. It is a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with low saturated fat levels. It is made up of predominately linoleic acid (48-74%), monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid oleic acid (14-40%), palmitic acid (4-9%) and stearic acid (1-7%).  There are three versions of sunflower produced, NuSun, linoleic, and high oleic sunflower oil. The variations in the unsaturated fatty acid profile are factors of both the growing climate and of the genetics of the plant itself.  But all sunflower oil has high vitamin E content, though.

High Oleic Sunflower Oil is great for your health. A diet that is rich in high-oleic-acid sunflower oil positively impacts cholesterol, triglycerides, and even factor VII coagulant activity. So you should substitute foods rich in saturated fat with foods that are rich in high-oleic-acid sunflower oil and margarine. This oil also is great for diets that are aimed at the prevention of heart disease. The versatility of this healthy oil is recognized by cooks internationally. Sunflower oil is valued for its light taste, its frying performance, and its health benefits. It has a very neutral taste, and provides excellent stability without hydrogenation. The high oleic sunflower oil offers a trans free oil solution for all the health conscious. It is appropriate for many applications, including baking, spray coating oils for cereal, crackers and dried fruit. It is also used in non-dairy creamers and many types of frying, as well as other uses. Since the patent on high oleic sunflower seed and oil has expired, more companies are now getting involved in producing and selling this version of the oil.

While Sunflower oil is used primarily in the food industry, it does have  applications in the cosmetic industry as well.  One of its best attributes is that it helps form a seal on the skin that retains moisture while allowing the skin to breath.  An interesting study found that when sunflower oil was used as a treatment for low birth weight pre-term infants, the infection rates were lowered  by 41%.  The theory being, that pre-mature babies have underdeveloped skin, which leaves them more susceptible to infections, and that the sunflower oil created a much needed barrier on the skin.

Many of the characteristics noted for sunflower oil also apply to safflower oil. Safflower is another species of the Asteraceae, the sunflower family. Like sunflower oil, safflower oil is polyunsaturated, therefore it is also useful in lessening the threat of arteriosclerosis. Safflower is also an annual crop. It is  native to the Old World, and the genus occurs naturally in the Mediterranean region, northeastern Africa, and southwestern Asia to India. There are positively identified archaeological records of safflower from 4000-year-old Egyptian tombs, including a find of single safflower flowers wrapped in willow leaves, that were placed with a mummy from the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1600 B.C.).

The flowers of the Safflower, Carthamus tinctorius, are pale yellow to red-orange, tubular disk florets. Since ancient times, orange pigments have been obtained from safflower. In fact, the name safflower may be derived from another plant, saffron, which was a precious, and very expensive, yellowish dye that was obtained from the stigmas of freshly opened flowers. The name Carthamus is the latinized form of the Arabic word, quartum or gurtum, which refers to the pigment color. Dyes were produced from fresh flowers, which were collected and dried.

Safflower Oil (Carthamus tinctorius) comes from the seeds of an herbaceous thistle like annual flower.  It is a polyunsaturated oil that is similar to sunflower oil in both nutrient values and shelf life.  Safflower and Sunflower oils are both relatively unstable when exposed to high heat, light or oxygen.  And both are good to use in low or no heat formulas.  Safflower oil contains the monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acid oleic acid (78.9%), unsaturated omega-6 fatty acid linoleic (11%), palmitic acid (6.2%) and linolenic (.02%). It is a drying oil that is used in white, and light-colored. oil-based paints instead of linseed oil. It does not yellow with age like linseed oil and other similar oils. And safflower was used as a substitute for more precious oils. Likewise, safflower pigment was used as a substitute for, or an adulterant of saffron for many things, such as the coloring agent in cheeses. Safflower was particularly important as an oil and pigment in southern Asia, Iran, Afghanistan, and India, where early carpets (from these regions) used safflower dye. When it arrived in China, around 200-300 A.D. the dyes became important there as well. Safflower oil was considered inferior to sesame oil in China, but nonetheless it was, and is, mixed with sesame and cottonseed oil, in the preparation of Japanese tempura. Also, the Japanese cosmetic, beni, is made from safflower. Even French chalk was mixed with safflower in order to make a cosmetic. To this day, saffron rice is made with safflower in India and Afghanistan,  and that is what gives it the interesting orange color. Moreover, for centuries safflower has been used commonly in potions and folk medicines throughout the Old World.

Safflower cultivation is now widespread, and you can see many Safflower fields across the dry areas of the southwestern United States, because safflower is fairly drought resistant and salt tolerant. Each plant forms one to two dozen heads of flowers, which are quickly converted into full heads of fruits, because the flowers are self-compatible and self-pollinated. The presence of honey bees can also increase the production. The oil content of the achenes is frequently 30-45%, and the protein content can be as high as 24%. After the oil is expressed, the safflower seedcake can, and is often used for livestock feed. Then the remaining plant, if it's not too spiny, can be used for green fodder or silage. Making this a completely useful plant.

The Safflower oil is a light, odorless oil, and it works well for many cosmetic applications. Just like sunflower oil, safflower oil has a high vitamin E content as well, though not as high as the sunflower. Safflower oil is especially great for massage, either by itself, or when blended with other oils. And, because of its high burn point, it can also be used for stone massages. It makes a wonderful carrier oil for essential oils, and if you use the high oleic safflower oil, you will get a longer shelf life.  Just as sunflower oil, safflower oil acts as a protective barrier on the skin, while softening and relieving dryness. It is a wonderful oil to include in cosmetic preparations, as well as in your diet.

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