Large black sunflower seeds are the ones filled with the greatest quantities of sunflower oil - these oilseed varieties can be approximately 40 - 50% oil by weight. Producers generally press not only the seeds but the entire head of the sunflower so they make sure they will obtain the highest oil yield. Once the sunflower oil is extracted, it is sent for further refining and filtering. Modern oil extraction techniques create a byproduct called pressed sunflower seed cake or meal, which is high in protein and can be utilized for livestock feed.
The British Pharmacopoeia lists the following profile:
Palmitic acid : 4 - 9%,
Stearic acid : 1 - 7%,
Oleic acid : 14 - 40%,
Linoleic acid : 48 - 74%.
Sunflower oil contains lecithin, tocopherols, carotenoids and waxes and has a high Vitamin E content. It is a combination of mono-unsaturated and polyunsaturated fats with low saturated fat levels.
Much research is being done to determine uses for sunflower oil aside from edible concerns. Sunflower oil can be used in cosmetic formualtions and appears to have skin health benefits. Sunflower oil does help retain moisture in the skin like many other oils, but also may also form a barrier that resists infection over the skin.
Sunflower oil has been researched as a potential diesel substitute, with sunflower oil having the energy equivalent to 93% of # 2 U.S. diesel fuel. In the future, sunflower oil could also become a renewable bio-source for hydrogen. To date, however, the extraction process "costs" more energy than the hydrogen liberated would provide. Sunflower oil is also processed and used as lubricants in machinery, including automobiles. Additionally, experiments have shown that sunflower oil could be turned into plastic materials such as vinyl and latex - time will tell what new uses the sunflower will come in handy for!