The safflower plant (Carthamus tinctorius L.) is a member of the Asteraceae family, or sunflower family.
This thistle-like plant is native to places such as China, India, Iran and Egypt. However, it is cultivated all over the world, including in North America — mainly for its oil, though it’s used as animal feed as well (
Safflower oil comes from the seeds of the safflower plant.
Two varieties of safflower oil are available: high-linoleic and high-oleic. High-linoleic safflower oil is rich in polyunsaturated fats, while high-oleic safflower oil contains more monounsaturated fats (2).
The more common type of safflower oil on the market is the high-oleic kind. It is used as a heat-stable cooking oil, especially for fried foods like french fries and chips (2).
This is because safflower oil has a high smoke point of around 450℉ (232℃). In fact, safflower oil has a higher smoke point than other commonly used oils, such as canola oil (3).
A smoke point is the temperature at which a fat begins to smoke, which creates toxic fumes and harmful compounds called free radicals (
As a general rule, fats that have a higher smoke point are better suited for sautéing and frying.
Like all oils, safflower oil isn’t a good source of nutrients, though it is high in vitamin E.
Here is the nutrition breakdown for 1 tablespoon (14 grams) of safflower oil (
- Calories: 124
- Fat: 14 grams
- Protein: 0 grams
- Carbs: 0 grams
- Vitamin E: 32% of the daily value (DV)
As you can see, safflower oil is composed primarily of fat. Aside from vitamin E, it is devoid of most other nutrients.
Safflower oil is composed mainly of oleic and linoleic acids. These two unsaturated fats make up 90% of safflower oil. The saturated fatty acids palmitic acid and stearic acid make up the remaining 10% (
Studies show that standard safflower oil contains (
- 6–8% palmitic acid
- 2–3% stearic acid
- 71–75% linoleic acid
- 16–20% oleic acid
However, the amount of linoleic acid and oleic acid in safflower seeds can vary a lot. Some varieties are very high in linoleic acid, containing as much as 89% linoleic acid. Others are very high in oleic acid, containing as much as 91% oleic acid (
Safflower oil comes from the seeds of the safflower plant. It’s rich in unsaturated fats and is used in high heat cooking, like frying.
As mentioned above, safflower oil is composed primarily of fat and, aside from vitamin E, lacks vitamins and minerals.
Like many oils, it’s high in vitamin E. This a fat-soluble nutrient that has antioxidant properties and plays a role in immune function.
However, many foods — including avocados, sunflower seeds, almonds, and spinach — contain vitamin E, so deficiency is rare in healthy people (
Compared with other oils like olive oil, safflower oil has much less evidence supporting its use as a healthful fat.
In fact, some studies suggest that the omega-6 fat linoleic acid, the primary component of standard safflower oil, may actually harm health when consumed in excess (
A 2020 review suggested that excess dietary linoleic acid intake may harm the brain by promoting neuroinflammation (
And while some studies have suggested that linoleic acid-rich oils, like standard safflower oil, may help reduce heart disease risk by lowering cholesterol, researchers argue that its effects on other aspects of health are less clear and that the current dietary intake of linoleic acid is far too high (
Even though the body needs very small amounts of linoleic acid to function, the amount currently consumed by most people far exceeds those needs.
Consumption of omega-6 linoleic acid has skyrocketed over the past few decades, shifting the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio from an ideal ratio of 4-to-1 to 20-to-1 (
Although your body needs both omega-3 and omega-6 fats, omega-3 fats like eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) tend to be more anti-inflammatory. Omega-6 fats like linoleic acid tend to be more pro-inflammatory (
This growing imbalance in the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio has been linked to many conditions, such as inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, heart disease, and more (
High-oleic safflower oil contains lower amounts of linoleic acid, so it may not contribute to these problems in the same way as standard safflower oil. To be labelled as high-oleic, safflower oil must contain at least 70% oleic acid (
Some studies suggest that vegetable oils high in oleic acid could be a healthy alternative to certain other oils, such as those containing trans fats or high levels of saturated fats. Although more research is needed, you may be able to lower your risk of heart disease by choosing high-oleic safflower oil instead of options high in saturated fat like coconut oil, palm oil, or butter (
Of course, decades of research supports eating more unsaturated fats from plant foods and less saturated fat from animal foods like butter in order to promote heart health. At the moment, there’s no evidence that safflower oil is any healthier or more effective in promoting heart health than other well-researched oils like olive oil (
High-oleic safflower oil may be a better choice than standard safflower oil, but there is only limited evidence for its health claims. Still, if you’re buying safflower oil, check the label to ensure you’re getting a high-oleic version.
Additionally, safflower oil is often found in fried foods like chips and french fries, which are better consumed in moderation.
Even though replacing some sources of saturated fat with unsaturated fat may support heart health, there’s no evidence that safflower oil is a superior choice to other oils like olive oil. Plus, some researchers warn that high intakes of omega-6 fats from sources like standard safflower oil may contribute to the risk of some health conditions. If you’re buying safflower oil, look for high-oleic safflower oil, which may not be associated with the same risks.
In addition to its culinary uses, safflower oil is used in the cosmetic industry in products like moisturizers. When applied topically, safflower oil can be used as a natural moisturizer for dry skin.
What’s more, research suggests that safflower oil may be helpful for treating skin wounds because of its antibacterial and antifungal properties (
However, if you have a serious skin wound, do not attempt to treat it with safflower oil. Instead, seek proper treatment from a healthcare professional.
Safflower oil has moisturizing and antimicrobial properties, making it a good choice for natural skin care.
Safflower oil is a type of fat that’s often used in high heat cooking methods like frying.
Even though small amounts of safflower oil won’t negatively impact health, consuming too few omega-3s and too much safflower oil and other omega-6-rich fat sources may contribute to an imbalance in your dietary omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This, in turn, may negatively impact overall health.
There’s also little evidence supporting the use of safflower oil to benefit any aspect of health or to suggest that it’s superior to other oils like olive oil.
If you do choose to consume safflower oil, use it sparingly. More often, use more evidence-based fat sources like olive oil, avocados, and nuts as part of a well-rounded diet.