Safflower oil is a vegetable oil derived from the seeds of the safflower plant, a member of the sunflower family1.
The flower thrives in arid climates2, such as those found in South Asia, China, India, Iran, and Egypt, and has long been used3 for medicinal purposes, including the treatment of menstrual pain and dysfunction, postpartum abdominal pain, and joint pain. Safflower oil in particular has been used2 in some areas of Asia and Africa to ease fevers, as well as in China, Japan, and Korea to improve4 skin and hair health.
Outside of medicinal purposes, safflower oil is also used as a cooking oil, thanks to its high smoke point of 450 degrees Fahrenheit, says Michelle Shapiro, R.D., a functional registered dietitian.
“Safflower oil, specifically high-oleic safflower oil, has a higher smoke point than other commonly used vegetable oils and is used for frying, sauteing, and other methods that may require high heat,” she notes. “It can be heated to high temperatures without breaking down and releasing harmful compounds.”
Since safflower oil is also nearly flavorless, it’s commonly used in processed foods, including baked goods, chips, popcorn, margarine, salad dressings, mayonnaise, and snack bars, she says.
To extract safflower oil from the plant’s seeds, processors may use chemical solvents (such as hexane) or supercritical carbon dioxide5 (aka high-pressure CO2), says Shapiro.
Mechanical extraction methods are also used: In the cold-pressing process, safflower seeds are crushed and pressed, then the oil is extracted at a low temperature to maintain its nutritional value, she notes. The expeller-pressing process is similar, but the oil is extracted at a higher temperature, she says.
There is also some safflower oil that is extracted using both chemical and mechanical processes.
After extraction, safflower oil is often refined to remove free fatty acids that can impact taste, waxes, and other natural compounds; bleached to reduce colored pigments; and deodorized to fully eliminate those free fatty acids and odors, research shows6. “This is done to create a consistent, shelf-stable, neutral-flavor product,” says Shapiro.