Olive Oil vs. Sunflower Oil: What Is the Difference?

Olive oil and sunflower oil are two of the healthier vegetable oils and many consumers find themselves comparing these two items in the supermarket aisle, trying to spot the differences between the two. While these oils do have some similarities, they also have some key differences that distinguish them from each other. Read on to discover the difference between olive oil vs. sunflower oil.

When they shop for cooking oils, most people are considering three factors: what health benefits the oil provides, what flavor it has (if any) and at what temperature it will begin to smoke. Below, we compare olive oil and sunflower oil on nutritional benefits, flavor and smoke point to help you make an informed decision.

Olive oil and sunflower oil both have similar levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, a.k.a. the healthy fats, which help keep bad cholesterol in check while promoting good cholesterol. Sunflower oil is higher in linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated fat, while olive oil is higher in oleic acid, a monounsaturated fat. Both of them have relatively good levels of vitamin E, which helps defend against free radical damage. However, olive oil is higher in vitamin K, which helps contribute to blood clotting and strengthens bones. Because of this, olive oil has an edge when it comes to nutritional value.

Olive oil and sunflower oil have different flavor profiles, which affects when you might want to use them to cook. Extra virgin olive oil is the least processed type of olive oil and thus has the most distinct olive taste. The flavor of the olive oil depends on the types of olives that are used as a base, but is usually described as “grassy” or “peppery.” On the other hand, sunflower oil has a mild, slightly nutty taste reminiscent of the plant it comes from. Sunflower oil is more flavor neutral than olive oil and thus is appropriate for situations (such as baking certain recipes) where you might not want to taste the oil. On the other hand, you should definitely reach for olive oil if you want to get that classic, fresh flavor.

a bottle of oil on a table with grilled vegetables

Smoke Point
While olive oil is sometimes described as having a lower smoke point, high-quality extra virgin olive oil, such as that offered by Brightland, can get up to nearly 400 degrees Fahrenheit without smoking. Because most deep frying occurs between 350 and 375 degrees Fahrenheit, this is usually sufficient for at-home deep frying and other high heat cooking situations. Sunflower oil does offer a somewhat higher smoke point, around 450 degrees Fahrenheit, but most home cooking applications do not require heat this high. As a result, you can really use either of these oils for frying or sautéing.

Which Should You Choose?

At this point, you are probably wondering whether you should choose olive oil or sunflower oil. Both of these oils have some similarities, but also distinct differences that make them suited to different scenarios. Olive oil wins in taste and flavor, and it is a versatile oil to keep on hand for many different cooking applications, including frying. However, sunflower oil’s mild taste and higher smoke point makes it a good choice if you are baking or working at extremely high cooking temperatures. While you will probably find yourself reaching for olive oil more often, sunflower oil can be a good backup oil to keep in your pantry.

a bottle of brightland oil on a table with appetizers

It is important to note that extra virgin olive oil will provide both the best taste and the highest nutritional benefits. Other types of olive oil undergo additional refining processes, which negatively impacts both the taste and the nutritional compounds. For the highest quality olive oil, shop from a producer of domestic California extra virgin olive oil that will have more oversight in the harvesting and packaging processes.

At Brightland, we offer many different varieties of olive oil — everything from classic grassy olive oils to flavored basil olive oils. We also offer olive oil sets for those looking for a convenient way to sample different flavors. You cannot go wrong with any of our fresh and tasty olive oils.