Safflower and canola are both commonly used oils in the natural food industry. They’re both light in color and flavor, and you’ll find them used in baked goods, snacks, granolas, bars and used for frying.
However, as similar as they are, they also have their differences. Today, I’ll give you the rundown of what's the same and what’s different when it comes to these two oils.
Similarities Between Safflower & Canola Oil
These oils are both reasonably similar and have a lot of features in common.
Both Oils Are Refined
Safflower and canola oil are both refined oils. Many natural oils undergo this refining process which makes the oil light in color and flavor, and consistent over time and throughout different lot batches.
The refining process is usually a high heat process, which uses a steam injection. It also typically uses an earthen bleaching clay to pull any pigment out of the oil. As a last step, the process will often involve filtering (or sometimes double filtering) of the final product.
The end result is a light colored, neutral flavored, almost-clear oil. This refining process is often used with canola oil, soybean oil, coconut oil, grapeseed oil, pure olive oil, extra light olive oil and many more — so safflower and canola oil are not the only ones!
Light Color & Mild Flavor
Because of the refining process that both oils go through (see above) each has a delicate and mild flavor, and a light (almost clear) soft yellow color.
This means that both options won’t leave a heavy taste or add a lot of flavor to your products. In other words, these oils can be used for their functionality without affecting the taste profile that already exists in your food.
High Oleic Versions Available
Safflower and canola oil both have versions available that are high oleic. However, safflower oil is most often found as a high oleic oil — there aren’t a lot of other options available on today’s market.
Canola oil, on the other hand, is more commonly found as a “regular” non-high oleic oil. This is simply because the sheer volume of conventional canola oil. But, high oleic versions of canola are available, both as a GMO and non-GMO oil.
These high oleic versions, keep in mind, have more monounsaturated fats (the good for you fats) and will have a higher heat tolerance and smoke point. High oleic oils make great oils for frying or baking because they’re especially stable in high heats and will offer longer a longer fry life.
Solvent Expelled or Expeller Pressed Options
Safflower and canola oil can both be solvent expeller or expeller pressed.
Though you can find both options, if you look at what is most prevalent for each type of oil, it’s actually a difference (see below). You’re most often going to find the canola oil in a conventional solvent expelled version (just because this economy canola oil dominates the market still).
Differences Between Safflower & Canola Oil
As much as these oils are similar, they also have some basic differences to be aware of.
Canola vs Safflower Plant
Canola oil is oil produced from the canola plant (a cousin of the original plant, grapeseed). These yellow flowered plants contain small black-brown seeds that are used to make the oil.
To learn more about the canola plant and it’s history, we suggest reading the following articles:
Safflower oil is made from a safflower plant. It is a knee-high, stalky, spiky plant that has a brightly colored flower at the top of it. Inside this flower-bulb is the safflower seeds that are used to make the oil.
Non-GMO vs GMO
Safflower oil is naturally non-GMO . This means that there is no genetically modified version of safflower oil available on the market. This makes it a low risk ingredient if you are getting your product Non-GMO Project Verified.
Canola oil is available in both genetically engineered and non-GMO versions. Canola plants were one of the primary plants to be genetically modified, so about 90% of the canola oil on the market today is the conventional GMO version. However, the popularity of non-GMO canola oil is growing by leaps and bounds, and supply is working to keep up. Those ratios will continue to change over the years.
If you are getting your product Non-GMO Project Verified, know that canola oil is an option but it is a high risk ingredient. You’ll have to source Non-GMO Project Verified Canola Oil, which follows, documents and tests the oil back to the ground level to make sure that there hasn’t been genetic modification (or a chance of cross-contamination) along the way.
Most Commonly Available: Safflower = High Oleic, Canola = Regular
In terms of what is most commonly available on the market, a high oleic safflower oil is most common — especially in the natural food space.
As for canola oil, there are both regular and high oleic versions available. However, canola oil has vast production, and conventional oil (made from regular seeds) makes up the bulk of that.
High oleic canola oil is less common and is considered a premium option.
Canola Supply Chain Availability Dwarfs Safflower
Canola is one of the most commonly produced oils in North America. The production volumes are huge.
In comparison, safflower oil is much smaller. If you’re looking for many many railcars of canola oil for a large-scale food production, the reality is that safflower oil just isn’t as readily available in those higher volumes.
Safflower oil usually comes with a higher price tag. This is to be expected, given that the production of safflower oil is much smaller than canola oil. Safflower oil is mostly a high oleic, expeller pressed oil, while most canola available is the lower cost conventional oil.
If you want safflower oil though, it’s worth the extra cost!
A Nutritional Comparison
How different are these oils nutritionally? The biggest difference between these two oils is the type of fat that they are made up of. Each type of oil is made up of a different ratio of monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and saturated fat. This isn't a straightforward comparison, because each type of oil has different varieties: high oleic, regular, organic, non-gmo, etc. However, I will compare the two most common types of each in the retail market: High Oleic Safflower Oil and regular Canola Oil.
High Oleic Safflower Oil
High oleic safflower is made up of about 70-75% monounsaturated fats, while the remainder primarily consists of polyunsaturated fat and a little bit of saturated fat. Remember, monounsaturated fats are the "healthy for you" fats like in avocado and olive oil, so most folks try to choose an oil that is higher in monounsaturated fats.
Canola Oil typically contains 50-60% monounsaturated fats, so not quite as high as the high oleic safflower oil. Not extremely different, but notable enough. Remember as well that regular canola oil is typically made with GMO seeds and solvent expelled -- while this doesn't play into fat make-up, it does need to be taken into account when you're looking at the overall "health" of an oil.
Topics: Sunflower/Safflower Oil