Canola and sunflower oil are both commonly used oils in the natural food industry. They are light in color and flavor, and you'll find them used in products like baked goods, snacks, granolas, bars and used for frying.
Similar as they are they also have their differences. Today we will dive into the rundown of what is the same and what the difference is when it comes to these two oils.
The Similarities Between Canola and Sunflower Oil
These oils are not identical but both are reasonably similar and have a lot of features in common.
Both Are Refined Oils
Canola and sunflower oil are both refined oils, which gives them the consistent, light color and flavor they both have.
Many natural oils undergo this same refining process which makes any oil have a lighter color and a consistent flavor from lot to lot. This refining process usually involves a high heat steam injection under vacuum. It also typically uses an earthen bleaching clay to pull any color pigment out of the oil. The final process will often involve filtering the final product.
The end result is a light-colored, neutral-flavored, almost fully clear oil. This process can be used with many different kinds of oils such as safflower, soybean, coconut, olive oil (refined and pure), grapeseed, and so many more. So remember, canola and sunflower oil are not the only ones.
Mild Flavor and light color
Because of the refining process that the oil goes through (above), sunflower and canola both have a delicate or mild flavor, and a light to clear, soft-yellow color.
Due to this same process, both options won't have a heavy taste or add a lot to the flavor of your products. In other words, these oils can be used for functionality without affecting the flavor that already exists in your food.
Available in high oleic versions
Both canola and sunflower oil have versions of the oil that are high oleic (HO), and they are radically different in fat make up than their normal varieties.
These high oleic versions consist primarily of monounsaturated fats around 80% of the total. Saturated fats and polyunsaturated linoleic acid make up the remaining balance.
High oleic canola and sunflower oils both have higher monounsaturated fat levels than olive oil -- and olive oil is known for containing this healthy fat!
High oleic versions also will have higher heat tolerance and smoke points. These oils make great options for frying or baking because they're especially stable in high heats. This will allow these HO oils to offer longer shelf life.
Expeller Pressed or Solvent Expelled Options
Canola and sunflower oil can be both expeller pressed or solvent expelled. Expeller pressed oils are most often found in the premium grades of each. When it comes to canola oil this mean that the non-gmo canola oil is most often expeller pressed. With the sunflower oil this would mean that the most commonly known expeller pressed version of sunflower oil is the high oleic variety.
When it comes to global supply and availability, the solvent expelled versions have more oil available around the world and are cheaper. But supply is always changing, so it's a good thing to to double check.
Differences between canola and sunflower oil
As much as these oils are similar, there are some basic differences to be aware of too.
Canola Plant Vs Sunflower Plant
Canola oil is produced from the canola plant. It is a yellow colored flowering plant from the mustard family that contains small black seeds used to make the oil. If you would like to learn more about the canola plant and it's history (along with how it relates to "rapeseed") read the following articles:
Sunflower oil is made from... you guessed it -- sunflowers! That's the same flower that you might plant in your garden, put in a vase on your table and the same seeds that you might love to eat.
GMO Vs non-GMO
Canola oil is available in both genetically engineered and non-GMO versions. Canola plants were (are) one of the primary plants to be genetically modified, so about 90% of the canola oil on the market is the conventional GMO version. However, the popularity of non-GMO canola is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, and supply is working to keep up. We will still continue to see these ratios change over the years.
Sunflower oil is naturally a non-GMO oil. This means that there is no genetically modified version of sunflower oil available. This makes it a low risk ingredient if you are getting your product Non-GMO Project Verified.
If you are looking to get your product Non-GMO Project Verified, know that canola is an option but it is considered a high risk ingredient. You'll have to source Non-GMO Project Verified Canola Oil. This Non-GMO Project Verified™ seal traces, documents and tests the oil back to the very ground level to make sure that there hasn't been genetic modification or a high risk of contamination along the way.
When it comes to a cost comparison, it will depend on which type (or grade) of canola or sunflower oil you are looking at. In general though, sunflower oil usually comes with a higher price tag than canola oil. Linoleic or classic sunflower (the lowest grade), is going to be the closest cost to canola oil because it's the cheapest kind of sunflower oil. The high oleic expeller pressed version of sunflower oil will be the highest cost.