Sunflower oil technologies have increased where the oil has a unique fit in many food applications, not just snack foods.
“It has traditionally been used in snack foods for decades,” said Michelle Peitz, technical sales for ADM Oils. Peitz works directly with food manufacturers to find the oil solution they need for their specific application.
Not all manufacturers realize the benefits of sunflower oil.
“Sunflower oil is a premium oil compared to some of the other more commoditized oils in the marketplace,” Peitz said, adding that could be a reason not all food manufacturers have been choosing sunflower oil, and instead might choose a generic vegetable oil.
With education, that could change in the future, especially if consumers want it, and see it as a better-for-you oil in food.
“Sunflower oil is a fantastic fit for snack foods, especially potato chips,” she said. “An ingredient list of potatoes, sunflower oil and salt looks really nice on a label. If a manufacturer is making a non-GMO claim, they often choose sunflower oil.”
Do consumers know about sunflower oil?
“Familiarity and not knowing how to use it could be a barrier,” Peitz said. “People see vegetable oil and they know what to do with that. When they see sunflower oil, they think they have to do something special with it. It seems premium.”
ADM decided to conduct a study asking consumers about their attitudes and knowledge of oils.
“We found that consumers aren’t as aware of sunflower oil as they are of other types of oils, so there is an opportunity to educate the marketplace about its uses and benefits,” she said.
While the survey showed consumers are not necessarily avoiding sunflower oil, they are also not using it as often as they’re using other oils.
Another technology that is challenging for manufacturers and a reason they stick with what they know is labeling.
“Manufacturers can use what’s called a ‘flex label,’ which means they can label multiple oil choices and switch them out,” Peitz said. “For those who choose to label just one oil, change can be challenging. Label changes are often costly, and concerns around changing consumer experience can be a factor.”
Peitz said there are three kinds of sunflower oil for manufacturers: mid-oleic, high-oleic and linoleic. Only high-oleic and mid-oleic are used in foods.
“High-oleic sunflower oil is used because it is stable and can be used in applications that require a longer shelf life,” she said. “It meets the needs for all of those when it comes to food manufacturers.”
Mid-oleic, also used for stability, has a limited amount of linolenic acid and greater than 65 percent oleic acid.
Here’s what manufacturers and consumers should know about sunflower oil:
- Sunflower oil can be used as a coating oil for applications like snack bars or on dried fruit to keep moisture locked in and to keep fruit pieces from sticking together.
- The oil also works well as a pan spray because it does not get a sticky or gummy texture when used with high heat like some other types of oil.
- Sunflower oil can be used anywhere from potato chips to the better-for-you (known as healthy type) positioned snack foods, to gourmet, specialty snack foods.
Quality is the main factor that sunflower oil producers can provide manufacturers.
“The manufacturers that have been choosing sunflower oil understand the value they are getting from sunflower producers, whether it is for meeting consumer demands or for overall product quality,” she said. “It is a premium oil compared to some of the other more commoditized oils in the marketplace.”
Sunflower oil has actually been around for along time in North America.
In the mid-90s, the USDA, farmers, and processors got together to convert a sunflower seed crop into what is known today as mid-oleic sunflower oil.
What kind of technologies are increasing sunflower oil usage?
The industry is educating in various ways, including demonstrating online and showing people more uses for sunflower oil.
“Look at peanut oil. It is perceived that you fry your turkey in peanut oil. Sunflower oil needs an association with a use like that,” Peitz said.
Sunflower oil is an important ingredient for sauces and condiments and salty snacks. “We need to associate sunflower oil with cooking preparation methods such as basting, grilling, drizzling, flavor infusions and premium and artisan cooking. That will stir up interest for sunflower oil,” she said.
Peitz believes sunflower oil has a “really relevant story to tell right now. It has a value for food manufacturers looking for stability, and it is what consumers are looking for.”