You may have heard that it is unhealthy to heat oil to its smoking point. If you want to eat healthy but occasionally wish to indulge in fried food, you should try an oil with a higher smoke point. If you’re looking for a cooking and salad oil with little flavor and suitable for high heat, safflower oil could be for you.

The safflower is a tall plant with spiked leaves and yellow or orange flowers. The flowers were used as a dye for clothing in ancient Egypt, and garlands of it were found in King Tut’s tomb.

Today, safflower petals can be used as a substitute for the unrelated saffron, the yellow spice often used to color and flavor rice dishes. Unfortunately, while safflower is much cheaper than saffron, it lacks its pungent and exotic kick.  

Safflower oil comes from the plant’s seeds. Two varieties are available: high-oleic and high-linoleic. High-oleic safflower oil contains monounsaturated fats, while high-linoleic safflower oil contains polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated safflower oil is good for unheated foods and monounsaturated safflower oil is good for high-heat cooking, making it a good substitute for olive oil when cooking.

Is It Good for You?

Safflower oil has three qualities that make it a good ingredient for healthy eating: it’s an unsaturated fat, it has little taste, and it can be heated to higher temperatures than many other less healthy cooking oils (in its monounsaturated form).

While research is still in its early stages, safflower oil shows a lot of potential when it comes to health benefits. Its healthy fatty acid content may be able to help with cholesterol. Try using it instead of butter or other partially hydrogenated oils. Olive oil has many of the same effects. However, safflower oil might be more appealing because it has little flavor and can be heated to higher temperatures than a lot of other cooking oils.

A 2009 test suggested that safflower oil might also be able to help lower blood sugar, and it’s also been studied for its antioxidant qualities. Safflower oil even has some cosmetic uses, such as a moisturizer for very dry skin and a carrier oil for scents.

Did Someone Say Fried Food?

While there’s no such thing as healthy fried food, if you crave something deep-fried every now and then, monounsaturated safflower oil is the healthiest oil for the job. It can certainly stand up to the heat. To justify using the quart (or two) of oil necessary for frying, maybe try relatively healthy fry-partners like zucchini or a medley of vegetables in tempura batter. You can use safflower oil to make French fries and sweet potato fries. Just remember those starchy vegetables soak up a lot of oil, so limit your indulgence.

You might also consider “faking” your fry with recipes like oven-fried chicken and just use enough oil to keep foods from sticking to the baking sheet.

Use monounsaturated safflower oil to cook your eggs, stir-fry dishes, and sautés. It can also be used for baking in any recipe that calls for oil. You can use it as a substitute for butter or shortening in baking — just use ⅓ cup of oil in place of ½ cup of the solid fat. The texture may be slightly different, but just remember the good you’re doing for your heart

For salad dressings and sauces that can be prepared over low heat, try polyunsaturated safflower oil. Use it in any recipe in which you want to put oil flavor on the back burner. However, keep in mind that polyunsaturated safflower oil is delicate and can turn rancid quickly. Always store it in a cool dark place or in your refrigerator. 

The bottom line is that safflower oil is a much healthier fat than butter and animal fats. It’s every bit as good for you as its popular shelf-mates olive oil and canola oil. It has less flavor than those oils and is generally less expensive. There’s a lot to recommend safflower oil as long as you use it sparingly.