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All You Need to Know About Sunflower Oil
Oil is a staple in daily life, from cooking food to protecting our skin from the dryness of the environment, we use several types of oils for different purposes almost every day. But the biggest use of oil in our regular routine is cooking. From frying to sautéing to garnishing, oil is a compulsory ingredient in almost every other dish we eat.
In fact, an average person consumes at least around 11 pints, which is 6.5 litres of cooking oil per year! Which to say is a significant amount for any ingredient in our food and compels us to ponder whether we are making healthy life choices or not.
We don’t mean to encourage you to opt for oil-less meals by bringing out healthy life choices. We simply mean to emphasize the fact that you should make conscious, healthy life choices – like choosing the right kind of oil for your meals. Surely hearing about consuming so much oil can make anyone gag – so imagine how damaging it can be for your heart and overall health if it is an unhealthy, high-cholesterol oil like canola and normal vegetable oils.
This is why it is important to switch to a heart-healthy oil and one such not-so-popular but healthy oil is sunflower oil. Most people don’t know much about sunflower oil. In fact, a vast percentage of our population doesn’t know such an oil even exists – like do we get oil from the floor or its plant? Therefore, we decided to talk about this underrated oil today.
Here is all you need to know about sunflower oil. From what it is to its different types, production methods, and various benefits, this is your guide to understanding sunflower and whether you should switch to sunflower oil or not.
What is Sunflower Oil?
As we said above, most people are unsure what sunflower oil really is. A lot of people don’t even know if the oil has anything to do with the plant or not – so let us tell you. Sunflower oil is a vegan, non-volatile, edible oil extracted from the plant’s seeds. So yes, the oil has something to do with the sunflower plant but unlike popular misconception, we don’t get the oil from the flower. The sunflower seeds used for the extraction of oil have high amounts of good fat, and so many regions of the world are consumed raw as a snack – but most of these seeds are pressed for oil production.
History of Sunflower Oil
There is a funny twist in the story of sunflower oil history that most people find surprising. We all know sunflowers originated in different areas of America – central and south America, but in most of North America, people occasionally consumed the seeds raw. But unlike the flower, the oil does not originate from America – or so people say.
Some parts of history claim Native Americans used to squeeze sunflower seeds for their oil, but there is no solid evidence to support this claim. However, on the other hand, it is rightfully believed that sunflower oil originated in Europe because that’s where it was first commercially produced.
The plant, discovered in America, arrived in Europe in the 16th century – however, it was until the 19th century that it became widely known that the seeds could also be a source of fat or oil. And that’s when in the 1800s, sunflower oil was first commercially produced in Eastern Europe, where it became a substitute for lard and butter. Since then, the oil has come a long way and millions of tons of sunflower oil are produced every year worldwide.
Production of Sunflower Oil
We know sunflower oil is produced by producing pressure on the seeds of the plant – but this is an oversimplified version of the procedure and the process involves much more complexity. Basically, sunflower seeds have a tough protective layer, like a shell on top which covers the soft and tender kernel present on the inside. This kernel is what contains the most nutritional value of the seed, which is why the first few steps of the process are focused on trying to achieve these kernels.
The beginning of the manufacturing process of sunflower oil involves cleaning, screening, and de-huling of sunflower seeds to obtain the most top-quality kernels so they can be used for oil production. Next, a complex centrifugal machine is used which spins at a rapid speed and helps in shaking out and separating the shells from the kernels. Even after this step, some shells may remain in the mixture but they also often have small amounts of oil.
After this, the sunflower seeds are ground and heated at high temperatures so they can be ready for pressing. The seeds are pressed in large quantities and, if done properly, can obtain up to 50% oil from the seeds – for example, pressing around 100 kilos of sunflower oil can easily produce up to 45 liters of oil. The additional remaining oil is extracted through solvents such as hydrocarbons and distillation – which is a process that can refine a product.
Sunflower today has become one of the most commonly produced oils worldwide and the amount produced everywhere has been increasing exponentially, except for this year, 2022. Russia and Ukraine have been the top producers of sunflower oil for years now; however, the war between the two countries this year, has led to a global shortage of sunflower seed oil.
Nutritional Value and Types of Sunflower Oil
Sunflower oil is available in several varieties, all distinct based on their nutritional value. Typically, all varieties of sunflower oil contain approximately 14 grams of fat per tablespoon -among which most is unsaturated, making it a good source of healthy fat. But the different types of sunflower oil seeds have different fatty acid profiles, and the oil has gone under selective breeding to yield such seeds.
When it comes to home cooking, there are three main types of sunflower oil, each with varying compositions of fatty acids – most importantly oleic acid and linoleic acid (which monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, respectively). Here are the three main types of sunflower oil:
● High-Oleic Sunflower Oil:
This type of sunflower oil has around 82% oleic acid, which as the name suggests, is the highest among all other types. Along with it, it has 9% linoleic acid. This means in 1 tablespoon, there is a total of 14-gram fat (1.4 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 gram of polyunsaturated fat, and 11.7 grams of monounsaturated fat).
● High-Linoleic Sunflower Oil
This type of sunflower oil has more linoleic acid as compared to oleic acid – as the percentage for linoleic acid is 60% and oleic acid is 30%. This means that there are around 1.5 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, 9.2 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 2.7 grams of monounsaturated fat.
● Mid-Oleic Sunflower Oil
Unlike high oleic sunflower oil, this type has a moderate amount of oleic acid but still more oleic acid as compared to linoleic acid. This type of sunflower oil contains about 65% oleic acid while just 25% linoleic acid, which means in 1 tablespoon of oil, there are 1.2 grams of saturated fat, 3.9 grams of polyunsaturated fat, and 7.8 grams of monounsaturated fat.
There is another lesser-known type of sunflower oil, which is unhealthier than all the other types and so is not preferred for cooking. This type is called the High stearic sunflower oil, which contains around 72% oleic acid and 18% steric, which is saturated fat. This oil is deemed unhealthy because it has high volumes of trans fats.
Uses of Sunflower Oil
● Cooking and Food Preparation
So far this article has only focused on one main application of sunflower oil: cooking food. Refined sunflower oil is suitable for all types of cooking, from low-temperature sauteing to high-temperature deep frying; you can use the oil for numerous cooking-related purposes.
Refined sunflower oil, due to its neutral flavor and aroma, acts like typical vegetable oil when it comes to frying and cooking. While on the other hand, unrefined sunflower oil is perfect for salad dressing and garnishing.
Sunflower oil is highly versatile and is also used as a fuel. It can be used in diesel engines, mixed with diesel in the tank. Basically, the oil is a functional vegetable oil fuel that can be blended with normal diesel, or you can process it into biodiesel, which can be used for motors running.
● Cosmetic Industry
Like many other types of oils, sunflower oil is also popular in the cosmetic industry. PEG-10 is a glyceride found in sunflower oil that has a pale yellow color and a fatty odor. This glyceride is commonly used in cosmetic formulations.
Health Benefits of Sunflower Oil
You must have realized by now that sunflower oil is a common cooking oil, here are some health benefits for replacing your typical vegetable oil with sunflower oil.
● It is a Heart Healthy Oil
As discussed above, sunflower oil is an amazing source of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats – and these fats are great for your heart health. This is especially true for linoleic acid, which is unsaturated fat that has great benefits for your heart. It has been identified that this fat helps lower the risk of coronary heart disease in people, keeping their cardiovascular health in check.
Other than that, sunflower oil is a good source of HDL (high-density lipid), which is the good cholesterol that our body needs. Both oleic acid and linoleic acid have numerous benefits for our health, and consuming sunflower oil helps meet the needs of our body for both unsaturated fatty acids.
● Greta Source of Vitamin E
Sunflower oil is infamous for its nutritional value; the oil is a great source of vitamin E and K but especially vitamin E, which itself is highly beneficial for our health. Vitamin E helps antioxidants in our body that help fight free radicals present in our cells. Moreover, vitamin E deficiency can be very bad for our brain and nerves, which is why consuming sunflower oil is linked to a healthy brain and nerve cells.
● Good for Skin
Other than the benefits of using sunflower oil in your food, there is one more use of sunflower oil which is using it topically. You can apply sunflower oil on your skin as it can provide hydration to your skin and help repair the skin barrier. It can also help tend to acne, as a deficiency of linoleic acid is one of the biggest causes of acne.
Side Effects of Sunflower
Even though sunflower oil has various benefits and is highly recommended for use, there are some side effects of the oil that everyone must consider before switching to it. Sunflower oil can cause an increase in the body or even lead to the risk of obesity because even though sunflower oil is healthy, it does have a high proportion of fatty acids and can be considered a high-calorie oil. Hence, people with the tendency to gain weight can find it difficult to lose weight when consuming sunflower oil on a daily basis.
Other than that, some researchers claim there is a risk of cancer attached to the use of sunflower oil in high-heat cooking. As oil is heated at high temperatures (for example, for frying), it emits cooking oil fumes. These fumes contain toxic substances such as aldehydes, and these aldehydes pose a risk of cancer.
Sunflower oil is linked to generating high amounts of aldehydes as compared to other oils, which is why experts recommend not using oils for high-heat cooking.
There is no doubt that sunflower oil is one of the most versatile oils– from its use in the kitchen to its application in the kitchen, there is no limit to the many uses of sunflower oil. Other than that, it is also a great heart-healthy oil that everyone must add to their routine.
However, while keeping its benefits in mind, it is important to note the oil’s side effects and ensure not to overdo its use. Using a moderate amount of sunflower oil in your routine is the best way to enjoy its health benefits without putting yourself at any potential risk of side effects.