Safflowers may have been cultivated since shortly after the birth of agriculture, but safflower oil is a relatively new and industrial product. Older cookbooks make no mention of it, either because it wasn’t yet a product back then, or it was so new to the market few cooks knew about it.
Before it was known for the cooking oil extracted from its seeds, safflower was used mostly for dyes. The plant’s dried petals produce saturated yellow, red, and pink tones, which were valued for centuries until synthetic pigments were developed.
Wondering if you should add this oil to your pantry! Maybe so! Here's what to know about it.
What it is: A neutral oil with a high smoke point
Varieties: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated
Best uses: Use monounsaturated safflower oil for sautéing, stir-frying, deep-frying, and baking
Substitutes: Any “neutral” oil such as grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil
What to Know About Safflower Oil
Safflower oil works in many cooking applications, and is popular for its versatility and moderate price. The oil itself has little aroma or taste. Think of it as a useful option for a well-stocked pantry: if you want to use safflower oil as a neutral oil for cooking and baking because it’s affordable and versatile, there’s nothing wrong with that.
You can find safflower oil with the other cooking oils in most any grocery store. But pay attention when you buy a bottle, because not all safflower oil is created equal. You’ll find two types:
- Monounsaturated: Most bottles of safflower oil on the market are monounsaturated (also known as high oleic). This type is the better choice of the two for high-heat cooking, but you can use it for most anything. It’s also more shelf-stable.
- Polyunsaturated (also known as high linoleic) safflower oil is best for uncooked foods, such as dressings. It is also much less shelf stable (read: you should refrigerate it!) because of its high polyunsaturated content.
How To Store
The best way to store safflower oil depends on which type it is.
For monounsaturated (high oleic) safflower oil, keep it in a cool, dark place, such as a cupboard, for up to six months. Light and heat can damage the oil, so keeping a bottle right next to the stove is not ideal.
Polyunsaturated safflower oil is less stable, so it should be stored in the refrigerator.
Like any oil, safflower oil can go rancid when stored improperly, which gives it a bad odor and flavor. If you have older safflower oil that smells and tastes off, throw it away. Rancid oils are not only unpleasant to eat; they are bad for your body.
How to Cook With Safflower Oil
Monounsaturated safflower oil’s plain taste and high smoke point make it suitable for many applications: sautéing, stir-frying, deep-frying, and baking. These traits make it a popular all-around oil to have on hand.
Polyunsaturated safflower oil, which is much less common, is not well-suited to high-heat cooking. You’d want to reserve it for dressings or for use in baking, where it won’t reach a high temperature.
What is a smoke point, anyway? And what does that have to do with high-heat cooking? You can read all about it in this guide: What Oil Should I Use for Cooking?
All types of safflower oil work in dressing, such as the one in our Asian coleslaw, mayonnaise, or any time you don’t want the flavor of the oil to be the star. You can also use it in baking recipes that call for oil.
The recipes below don’t specifically call out safflower oil, but it will work in all of them.
Any “neutral” oil such as grapeseed, canola, or vegetable oil can step in nicely for safflower oil.
Safflower is a member of the aster, or thistle, family. It is native to areas of Africa and Asia, but is now cultivated worldwide. It thrives in arid conditions.
Dried safflower petals were—and still are—used as a low-cost alternative to saffron (the name safflower, in fact, comes from this practice). Safflower petals have a much less distinct flavor, but they lend a saffron-like hue to dishes.