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How Sunflower Oil Is Made And Used

May 29, 2008
Sunflower seed are widely regarded as one of nature's most potent all-in-one sources for a variety of nutrients that the body needs and is used for a wide range of health purposes with heart disease and strengthening the immune system topping the list. Is sunflower seed oil any different?

The answer is, thankfully, no! Sunflower oil retains many of the health benefits of sunflower seeds despite the pressing needed to withdraw the oil from the kernel. Sunflower oil is extremely healthy and is perfect for kitchen use due to its clean (neutral) taste (as opposed to olive oils, which has an over empowering taste that does not sit well with all dishes) and high smoke point.

There are generally two types of sunflower oil - those with a high percentage of linoleic acid and those with a high percentage oleic acid. These differ in the amount of unsaturated fats that they contain. According to the Sunflower Society, linoleic has 11% saturated fats (the bad trans fats) whereas the premium high oleic sunflower oil has just 9%.

Linoleic sunflower oil is the natural oil and the most seen/used by the end user today. However, high oleic sunflower oil is becoming more popular due to the fact that the patent for this oil has recently expired and more farmers are starting to produce this variety. It has the advantage of a higher level of monounsaturated fats which have a more pronounced impact on lowering cholesterol than its polyunsaturated cousin.

However, high oleic is still at a premium due to the fact that polyunsaturated oils are prone to oxidation during commercial usage - most notably frying. This puts most of the crop out of reach for end users, though it is available to those willing to pay a premium for the health benefits.

The majority of sunflower oil is refined industrially and warm-pressed. Cold pressing sunflower oil is becoming more prominent and is labeled "Extra Virgin", the same as the label for premium olive oil. Cold pressed sunflower oil is considered to have a better taste than that of the refined variant, while also keeping more of its nutrients and having a higher level of monounsaturated fats.

Sunflower oil, as well as being extremely healthy, is also versatile. It is commonly used in cosmetic formulations due to its high Vitamin E level and emollient (moisturizing) properties. Most oils benefit the skin by retaining moisture, but sunflower oil is special in that it can also leave a protective layer on the skin that resists infection.
New research has shown that pre-term infants, who are more susceptible to skin disease due to under development of the skin, can benefit from the use of sunflower oil - applied directly.

The third use is as a biofuel. Though not widely used until recently, high oil prices and President Bush's announcement to have 9% of American cars running on biofuels have spurred research into using sunflower oil as an alternative to other oils.

Biodiesel can generally be made from any vegetable oil, though it is wise to refine it and de-wax it beforehand. The problem with using sunflower oil as a biodiesel alternative is that it is priced at a premium relative to soybean and canola oils due to the demand from the food processing industry. This makes it somewhat prohibitive to be considered on a larger scale.

However, the interest that industry has shown is due to sunflower seeds producing a much higher yield of oil per acre of planted crop than the soybean and thus making it more economical, though there are still various manufacturing challenges, although this is less difficult than the price barrier.

Looking at everything that sunflower seeds are being used for and the applications still to arise from current research inspires wonder and awe - from such an unlikely source, such wealth. Imagine that it was not given any attention when taken from the America's to the Old World. It just shows that first impressions aren't always right - particularly in the plant kingdom.
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This sunflower information is brought to you by The Sunflower Guy, the best way to send sunflowers anywhere.
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