Safflower Oil: A Neutral Oil From An Ancient Plant

Safflower oil comes from the safflower plant, which is most likely native to the Euphrates basin. By 2000 BCE, Egyptian farmers were cultivating the safflower plant as a crop. The seed would eventually be brought to other parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Spain by Arabs. From the Middle East, the safflower plant made it to China and India. It would make it to Japan by 3 CE.

Until the 20th century, the safflower plant was used to make food coloring rather than for providing cooking oil. It was an effective alternative to saffron, which was much more expensive because of its labor-intensive harvesting process. In the 1940s, Dr. Carl Claasen found that Sudanese and Egyptian safflower strains provided the best oil. Japan became an important market for American safflower oil in the 1950s, which is when cultivation on a commercial scale in the US began in earnest, but this was still mostly to provide an oil base for paints.

Early Spanish colonies in the New World used safflower as a substitute for saffron, but it would take a while for the oil to catch up in terms of popularity.

The market for safflower as a cooking oil would not take off until the 1960s. Today, safflower oil is a popular cooking oil and is used commercially to make margarine and in salad dressings. Most US safflower farming takes place in California, but some of it is also done in North Dakota and Montana.

Safflower oil flavor profile

Safflower oil is one of the least flavorful cooking oils in existence. It is prized for being neutral since it provides oil without masking or distracting from the flavors of other ingredients.

Health benefits of safflower oil

The type of safflower oil used for cooking is rich in:

  • Monounsaturated fatty acids: Safflower oil is known for being a rich source of monounsaturated fatty acids, which can help to combat inflammatory diseases.
  • Vitamins: Safflower oil is a good source of vitamins E and K. An antioxidant vitamin, vitamin E’s benefits include helping to alleviate inflammation and keeping the heart-healthy. Vitamin K is important for bone health and blood clotting.

If you consume safflower oil regularly, it may help to treat or prevent health problems like:

  • Heart disease: One of safflower oil’s important characteristics is that it is low in saturated fats. It is lower in these fats than olive oil and avocado oil. As a result, it is considered a beneficial oil for protecting heart health.
  • Arthritis: At least one study has shown that safflower oil can lower markers of inflammation, which means that it may be beneficial for inflammatory conditions like arthritis.

Health concerns

Safflower oil is fat, just like any other cooking oil. Even with its health benefits, it will still add a large number of calories to your diet, and this may result in obesity. Safflower oil is rich in omega-6 fatty acids. While omega-6 fatty acids are essential for good health, most Americans have enough of them in their diets. Too much can cause inflammation.

Common uses

Safflower oil is known for having a high smoke point in addition to its neutral flavor profile. As a result, it is an exceptionally versatile cooking oil that is good for all kinds of dishes ranging from high-heat stir-fries to deep-frying.