What Exactly Is High-Oleic Sunflower Oil, Anyway?
Sunflower oil is extracted from sunflower seeds, just like peanut oil is extracted from peanuts and olive oil is pressed from olives. It’s a very pale yellow in color, resembling canola, soybean and safflower oils. In fact, if you saw them all side-by-side, and even if you tasted them, you’d be hard put to tell the difference. So what makes high-oleic sunflower oil so special? And what does “high-oleic” even mean? Here’s the rundown.
It’s paleo friendly!
Paleo devotees, bloggers and certifiers generally agree that high-oleic sunflower oil (but not other types of sunflower oil) fits in with the paleo lifestyle because of its high proportion of monounsaturated fats, which brings us to point number two...
It’s high in monounsaturated fat.
High-oleic sunflower oil has a significant amount of monounsaturated omega-9 fatty acids—that’s what “high-oleic” signifies. Monounsaturated fat (oleic acid) is one of the two “healthy” fats, along with polyunsaturated fat (linoleic acid). Monounsaturated fat, in particular, can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while also helping to develop and maintain your cells. High-oleic sunflower oil is typically comprised of 82 percent monounsaturated fat and around nine percent linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat, the remainder being saturated fats.
It’s good for high-heat cooking and has a long shelf life.
High-oleic sunflower oil comes from a specific strain of sunflower seeds that plant breeders created because the food industry needed an oil with a long shelf life (meaning it doesn’t go rancid easily) that wouldn’t break down at high cooking temperatures. Traditional sunflower oil, which is made up of about 20 percent oleic acid and 68 percent linoleic acid, goes bad much faster than the high-oleic kind. That’s because the chemical structure of monounsaturated fats makes them less susceptible to oxidation. This is also the reason that people who follow the paleo dietary lifestyle prefer high-oleic over other types of sunflower oil.
It has a neutral flavor.
Product developers and food scientists often describe high-oleic sunflower oil as having a neutral flavor profile. Other people might describe it as tasteless. While that doesn’t sound like a positive trait if you’re, say, drizzling it over a salad, it’s perfect when you don’t want the oil to mess with other ingredient flavors, especially in baking. (Case in point: Mikey’s Pockets.)
It’s always non-GMO.
There are no GMO versions of sunflower seeds available today—hurray!—and a low risk that any will be developed in the foreseeable future. According to the National Sunflower Association, that’s because Europe is a major producer of sunflowers and the European Union does not currently permit any genetically modified crops to be grown in its borders. Additionally, in the United States there are regulations in place to address concerns that GMO sunflowers could cross-pollinate with wild species and contaminate the wild gene pool, making a genetically modified sunflower seed an impractical investment for seed companies.