Safflower is an annual flowering plant resembling a thistle with bright yellow, orange, or red flowers. It is grown as an oilseed crop in the upper midwest region of the United States.
While the safflower plant is primarily grown for its seeds, it also has uses as a color and flavor for foods. Other industries, like textiles and cosmetics, use the safflower plant as well. The flowers are a source for a pigment called carthamin or carthamine. The oil can be used as a lubricant or solvent due to it’s drying nature, and is quickly absorbed when used in skincare products. Safflower seeds are also added to birdseed as an alternative to sunflower seeds. The flavor of the unprocessed seed is a deterrent for squirrels.
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Two vareties of safflower oil are available - high oleic and high linoleic oils.
The typical variety used for food manufacturing is high oleic, as it is lower in saturated fatty acids. High-oleic safflower oil has approximately 78% monounsaturated, 15% polyunsaturated, and 7% saturated fatty acids. Food applications include use in margarine and salad dressings, and as a frying oil. It is bland in flavor, colorless and odorless. Its smoke point is 265°C, or 510°F, which makes it a good candidate for use in pan frying.
High-linoleic safflower oil has approximately 13% monounsaturated, 78% polyunsaturated, and 9% saturated fatty acids, and is often used in supplements. This website offers a summary of studies performed using safflower oil.
Both varieties contain vitamin E at 34 mg/100g and vitamin K at approximately 7 mg/100g, according to Bender’s Dictionary of Nutrition and Food Technology.
Safflower’s dried flowers are often used as a substitute for saffron in cooking and are known as “Mexican Saffron.” It may be used to color a food dish, but it does not produce the distinctive flavor that comes from saffron.
Safflower petals can also be used to flavor foods or teas, as they produce a lightly floral flavor and a sweet, slightly smokey, chocolate aroma.
Recently, a super high oleic safflower oil has been developed and commercialized. This product will produce approximately 92% oleic acid, compared to approximately 78% in the current commercial high oleic oil.
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