Sunflower seed oil

Sunflower oil is the non-volatile oil compressed from sunflower (Helianthus annuus) seeds. Sunflower oil is commonly used in food as a frying oil, and in cosmetic formulations as an emollient. Sunflower oil was first industrially produced in 1835 in the Russian Empire.[1][2] The world's largest sunflower oil producers now are Ukraine and Russia.[3]

Sunflower oil is a monounsaturated (MUFA)/polyunsaturated (PUFA) mixture of mostly oleic acid (omega-9)-linoleic acid (omega-6) group of oils. The oil content of the seed ranges from 22 to 36% (average, 28%): the kernel contains 45–55% oil. The expressed oil is of light amber color with a mild and pleasant flavor; refined oil is pale yellow. Refining losses are low and the oil has good keeping qualities with light tendency for flavor reversion. The oil contains appreciable quantities of vitamin E, sterols, squalene, and other aliphatic hydrocarbons, terpene and methyl ketones (chiefly methyl nonyl ketone).


Sunflower oil is mainly a triglyceride, a typical constituent is shown.[4] The British Pharmacopoeia lists the following profile:[5]

Several types of sunflower oils are produced, such as high linoleic, high oleic and mid oleic. Mid-oleic sunflower oil typically has at least 69% oleic acid. High oleic sunflower oil has at least 82% oleic acid. Variation in unsaturated fatty acids profile is strongly influenced by both genetics and climate. In the last decade, high stearic sunflower lines have been developed in Spain to avoid the use of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the food industry.[6][7]

The phosphatides (0.1–0.2%) present in the oil are lecithin (38.5%) and cephalin (61.5%); they occur in combination with protein and carbohydrates.

Sunflower oil also contains lecithin, tocopherols, carotenoids and waxes. Sunflower oil's properties are typical of a vegetable triglyceride oil. Sunflower oil is produced from oil type sunflower seeds. Sunflower oil is light in taste and appearance and has a high vitamin E content. It is a combination of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with low saturated fat levels.

Physical properties

Sunflower oil is liquid at room temperature. The refined oil is clear and slightly amber-colored with a slightly fatty odor.

Smoke point (refined) 232 °C 450 °F[8]
Smoke point (unrefined) 107 °C 225 °F[8]
Density (25 °C) 918.8 kg/m3[9]
Refractive index (25 °C) ≈1.4646[9]
Saponification value 188-194
Iodine value 120-145
Unsaponifiable matter 1.5-2.0%
Viscosity (25°C), unrefined 0.04914 kg/(M*S)[10]


As a frying oil, sunflower oil behaves as a typical vegetable triglyceride. In cosmetics, it has smoothing properties and is considered noncomedogenic. Only the high oleic variety possesses shelf life sufficient for commercial cosmetic formulation. Sunflower oil's INCI name is Helianthus annuus (Sunflower) Seed Oil.

Sunflower oil is also an ingredient in sunflower butter.

Sunflower oil can be used to run diesel engines when mixed with diesel in the tank.


Sunflower oil, high oleic (70% and over)
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 3,699 kJ (884 kcal)
Carbohydrates 0 g
Fat 100 g
- saturated 9.748 g
- monounsaturated 83.594 g
- polyunsaturated 3.798 g
Protein 0 g
Vitamin E 41.08 mg (274%)
Vitamin K 5.4 μg (5%)
Percentages are roughly approximated
using USDA Nutrient Database
Sunflower oil, standard
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 3,699 kJ (884 kcal)
Carbohydrates 0 g
Fat 100 g
- saturated 10.3 g
- monounsaturated 19.5 g
- polyunsaturated 65.7 g
Protein 0 g
Vitamin E 41.08 mg (274%)
Vitamin K 5.4 μg (5%)
Percentages are roughly approximated
using USDA Nutrient Database
Sunflower oil (NuSun), mid oleic
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 3,699 kJ (884 kcal)
Carbohydrates 0 g
Fat 100 g
- saturated 9.009 g
- monounsaturated 57.344 g
- polyunsaturated 28.962 g
Protein 0 g
Vitamin E 41.08 mg (274%)
Vitamin K 5.4 μg (5%)
Percentages are roughly approximated
using USDA Nutrient Database

Several varieties of sunflower oilseeds have been developed by standard (non-GMO) plant breeding methods. The original oilseed was high in linoleic acid (LA), a polyunsaturated ω-6 fatty acid. A premium high oleic acid strain, a monounsaturated ω-9 fatty acid, was developed in the late twentieth century. Early in the 21st century, a mid-oleic strain marketed as Nu-Sun was introduced as an improved frying oil that would have a low level of saturated fat, but would not require hydrogenation. These three major strains differ greatly in their levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. There are also minor differences in their saturated fat content.

Comparative properties of common cooking fats (per 100g)
Total fat Saturated fat Monounsaturated fat Polyunsaturated fat Smoke point
Sunflower oil 100g 11g 20g (84g in high oleic variety[11]) 69g (4g in high oleic variety[11]) 225 °C (437 °F)[12]
Soybean oil 100g 16g 23g 58g 257 °C (495 °F)[12]
Canola oil 100g 7g 63g 28g 205 °C (401 °F)[11][13]
Olive oil 100g 14g 73g 11g 190 °C (374 °F)[12]
Corn oil 100g 15g 30g 55g 230 °C (446 °F)[12]
Peanut oil 100g 17g 46g 32g 225 °C (437 °F)[12]
Rice bran oil 100g 25g 38g 37g 213 °C (415 °F)
Vegetable shortening (hydrogenated) 71g 23g (34%) 8g (11%) 37g (52%) 165 °C (329 °F)[12]
Lard 100g 39g 45g 11g 190 °C (374 °F)[12]
Suet 94g 52g (55%) 32g (34%) 3g (3%) 200°C (400°F)
Butter 81g 51g (63%) 21g (26%) 3g (4%) 150 °C (302 °F)[12]

Health benefits

There are a variety of health benefits associated with the consumption of sunflower oil.

Diet and cardiovascular benefits

Sunflower oil is high in the essential vitamin E and low in saturated fat. The two most common types of sunflower oil are linoleic and high oleic. Linoleic sunflower oil is a common cooking oil that has high levels of polyunsaturated fat. It is also known for having a clean taste and low levels of trans fat. High oleic sunflower oils are classified as having monounsaturated levels of 80% and above. Newer versions of sunflower oil have been developed as a hybrid containing linoleic acid. They have monounsaturated levels lower than other oleic sunflower oils. The hybrid oil also has lower saturated fat levels than linoleic sunflower oil.[14]

Restaurant and food industry uses

Restaurants and food manufacturers are becoming aware of the health benefits of sunflower oil. The oil can be used in conditions with extremely high cooking temperatures. It may also help food stay fresher and healthier for longer periods of time.[15] A number of common snack foods currently contain sunflower oil, including NewYork Fries French fries, Majans bhuja Mix healthy snacks, the Sri Lankan style Bombay Mix - Rani Mix, Kettle Chips, Sun Chips, Sunflower Chips, Ruffles, Walkers and Lay's potato chips. The recipe of Lay's potato chips was modified in late 2006 to use sunflower oil as the only frying oil;[16] by 2009, the recipe again included other "natural oils".

Skin protectant

Sunflower oil, like other oils, can retain moisture in the skin. It may also provide a protective barrier that resists infection in premature infants. Studies using sunflower oil have been conducted involving low birth weight infants who are often susceptible to infection due to their underdeveloped skin. The study determined that infants receiving a daily skin treatment of sunflower oil were 41% less likely to develop infections in the hospital.[17]

Oral Health

Sunflower oil is one of the few oils recommended for use for a process called Oil Pulling, where oil is swished in the mouth to improve oral heath.[18]

Suggested negative health effects

Sunflower oil is richer in omega−6 linoleic acid (48–74%) than most of vegetable oils. Some medical research suggests that excessive levels of certain omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids relative to certain omega-3 fatty acids, but likely in conjunction with exogenous toxins, may have negative health effects. Those include an increase in the likelihood postmenopausal women may develop breast cancer.[19] A similar effect was observed on prostate cancer, but the study was performed on mice.[20] Another study indicated that, when heated to frying temperature for extended periods, sunflower oil produces aldehydes, which may be associated with some neurodegenerative diseases.[21]

Preparation and storage

Because sunflower oil is primarily composed of healthier but less stable polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, it can be particularly susceptible to damage by heat and light. Keeping sunflower oil at low temperatures both during processing and storage can help to minimize rancidity and nutrient loss, as can storage in darker amber-colored bottles.

Methods of extraction

Sunflower oil can be extracted using chemical solvents such as hexane, or squeezed directly from sunflower seeds by crushing them in an expeller press.[22] Cold pressing sunflower oil using an expeller press under low-temperature conditions is a preferred method for those seeking an extraction process that doesn't involve chemical solvents, as well as for people following a raw foods diet.

Refined versus unrefined

Refining sunflower oil through solvent extraction, degumming, neutralization and bleaching can make it more stable and suitable for high-temperature cooking, but will also remove some of the oil's nutrients and flavor, including color pigments, free fatty acids, phospholipids, polyphenols and phytosterols. Unrefined sunflower oil is less heat stable, but will retain more of its original nutrient content and flavor, and is well suited to dishes that require low- or no-heat.


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