Sunflower is considered one of the healthiest cooking oils and much of the discourse around healthy cooking oils is regarding the parameters that define ‘healthy’ for us. These can be the smoking point (a high smoking point means the oil holds on to its nutritional content at higher temperatures), the good MUFA or monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (as against bad saturated fats), HDL (good cholesterol), and so on. These also have a direct correlation with our heart health and lung health, as the experts would have us believe.
We purchased 12 popular brands of refined sunflower oil and subjected these to testing on parameters important to judge the quality of the product.
- Fortune Sunlite
- Healthy Heart
- Gold Drop
- Nature Fresh Acti-lite
- Gold Winner
- Heavy Metals
- Pesticide Residues
- Adulteration with non-edible oils and colouring matter
- Insoluble impurities
- Saponification value
- Iodine value
- Acid value
- Flash Point
The tested sunflower oil brands were in polypacks of one- litre capacity. Brands Dalda and Sunpure claim to be imported oils on their packing. The tests were conducted at an NABL- accredited laboratory and as per requirements specified in Indian Standard IS: 4277-2014 and Food Safety and Standards (FSS) Regulations, 2011, as well as nutritional declarations.
Based on the results, we have concluded that most of the tested brands fulfil the minimum requirements and can be considered to be safe for human consumption. While there were some variations, these were well within the specified limits. Use of re-heated oils should be avoided.
Value for Money
Freedom | Healthy Heart
Based on the overall test findings, Gemini is the top performer and is followed by Sundrop.
- The value-for-money brands are Freedom and Healthy Heart.
- All the brands met the standard requirements and can be considered safe for consumption.
- Harmful substances – that is, pesticides, aflatoxins and trans fat – were not found in any brand. Heavy metals were found in two brands but these were well below the specified limits.
- Iodine value of Dalda and Sunpure (imported oils) was found to be lower than the requirement of the standards.
The test was published in August 2017.
Score Card of the Brands Tested
Score Rating: >90: very good*****, 71-90: good****, 51-70: average***, 31-50: poor**, up to 30: very poor*
The declared shelf life of all tested brands is six to nine months. Where the shelf life is six months, there is all the more need for consumers to be aware, particularly if they are buying the large pack of five litres or higher capacity. They must ensure that the oil remains stable within the consumption period.
TEST RESULTS FOR PHYSICOCHEMICAL PARAMETERS
We tested the brands for any trace of lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium. Any traces must be within the permissible limit for these toxic metals.
All brands cleared the Lead test.
Lead, a cumulative poison, enters oil either through the soil or during production. It accumulates in the body and causes irreversible damage to the brain, nerve cells, red blood cells and the kidneys. The permissible limit for lead in sunflower oil is a maximum 0.5 parts per million (ppm).
All brands fell within the limits specified by the national standards.
Arsenic in Gold Drop was found to be 0.06 mg/kg.
Ingestion of arsenic can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms such as severe vomiting, high blood pressure, heart attack, etc. As per FSS Regulations, the maximum permissible limit is 0.1 ppm; as per Indian Standard it is 0.05 ppm.
Mercury was not detected in any of the brands.
The maximum permissible limit is 0.25 ppm as per Indian Standard and 1 ppm as per FSS Regulations.
Cadmium was not detected in any of the brands.
The maximum permissible limit of Cadmium is 1 ppm as per Indian Standard and 1.5 ppm as per FSS Regulations.
Antioxidants are the permitted food additives which when added to food products prevent their oxidative deterioration for better nutritional stability and quality. We tested the 12 sunflower oil brands for two types of antioxidants: TBHQ and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA). FSS Regulations recommend that antioxidants should not exceed 0.02 per cent, or 200 ppm, in concentration.
While BHA was not detected at all (up to the detection limit of 2 ppm), TBHQ was either not detected (Gemini, Sundrop, Nature Fresh, Sunpure) or found to be within the maximum recommended limit.
All brands were within the specified limit. Gemini scored highest on this parameter.
The saponification value helps to detect the presence of other oils/fats. Saponification value of sunflower oil should be between 188 and 194.
- Iodine value of Sunpure and Dalda (imported oils) was found to be less than 118-141, which means these brands did not meet the requirement set by the national standard for imported oils.
- Other brands were within the specified limit.
The iodine value is a measure of the unsaturated fats. It is expressed in terms of the number of centigrams of iodine absorbed per gram of sample (% iodine absorbed). Iodine value of sunflower oil shall be in the range of 100-145. For imported oil it shall be 118-141.
Unsaponifiable matter must not be more than 1.5 per cent by weight of sunflower oil.
- All brands were within the specified limit.
- Healthy Heart, Gemini and Freedom had lower unsaponifiable matter.
Refractive Index (at 40 degrees Celsius)
Refractive index of oil can be used to detect rancidity. It shall be 1.4640-1.4691 for sunflower oil; for imported category it shall be 1.461-1.468.
All brands were within the specified limit. They were clear and without any haziness.
Oils and Their Fats
- In the tested sunflower oil brands, saturated fatty acids ranged from 10.31 gm/100 gm (in Sundrop) to 12.71 gm/100 gm (Dalda).
- For MUFAs, the results ranged from 27.40 gm/100 gm (Sundrop) to 23.29 gm/100 gm (Dalda).
- PUFAs ranged from 65.68 gm/ 100 gm (Sunrich) to 62.57 gm/ 100 gm (Fortune).
- Trans fat was not found in any of the 12 brands.
All edible oils have virtually the same fat content but the proportion of different types of fatty acids varies from one type of oil to another. To begin with, there are unsaturated and saturated fats. Eating a lot of saturated fat increases the level of bad cholesterol (low- density lipoproteins, or LDL) in the blood. And it is generally acknowledged that high levels of LDL place you at greater risk of heart disease.
Unsaturated fats are of two kinds: Monounsaturated fats (MUFA) and polyunsaturated fats (PUFA).
MUFAs lower the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in the blood and raise the good cholesterol (HDL). PUFAs, on the other hand, reduce both the good and the bad cholesterol.
Then there are the trans fatty acids. These are unsaturated fatty acids produced when unsaturated oils are converted into semi solids by a process called hydrogenation. These are unsaturated fats but resemble saturated fats in many ways. Just like saturated fats, they also raise the level of ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood.
The acid value is the number of milligrams of potassium hydroxide necessary to neutralise the free acids in one gram of sample. The maximum acid value of sunflower oil shall be 0.5.
- All brands were within the specified limit.
- Freedom, Sunrich and Fortune had lower acid values.
The flash point of a volatile material is the lowest temperature at which it can vaporise to form an ignitable mixture in air. At the flash point, the vapour may cease to burn when the source of ignition is removed. It should not be less than 250 degrees C as per Indian standard.
- Flash point of all brands was found to be well above the specified limit.
Hexane is used to extract cooking oils from seeds.
- Hexane was not detected in any of the brands, up to a detection limit of O.5 ppm.
These Must Be Absent in Your Sunflower Oil
Non-Edible Oils (argemone oil, castor oil, mineral oil)I Rancidity (off-flavour/taste) I Insoluble Impurities I Colouring Matter
All brands were found to be free of these elements.
All brands were within the limit set by FSS Regulations.
Aflatoxins are poisonous and cancer-causing chemicals that are produced by certain moulds (Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus) that grow in soil, decaying vegetation, hay and grains. In edible oils, aflatoxins generally develop due to poor oil seed storage conditions; the presence of undesirable moisture in the oil seed enables aflatoxins to develop in the stored oil seeds.
Aflatoxins are highly toxic compounds and can cause both acute and chronic toxicity in humans and many other animals. Four types of aflatoxins are naturally found in foods. These are aflatoxins B1, B2, G1 and G2. Aflatoxin B1 is the most commonly found in food and also the most toxic.
The FSS Regulations have set the limit for aflatoxins in sunflower oil at 30 parts per billion (ppb). Agmark requires aflatoxins to be entirely absent in sunflower oil.
Pesticide is a chemical or biological agent (such as a virus, bacterium, antimicrobial, or disinfectant) that deters, incapacitates, kills, or otherwise discourages pests. Pesticides can be added during farming but must be absent in the final product.
These may cause acute and delayed health effects in people who are exposed. Such adverse health effects range from simple irritation of the skin and eyes to more severe effects like affecting the nervous system, mimicking hormones causing reproductive problems, and causing cancer.
We conducted tests for following pesticides residues as per requirements of FSS Regulations.
Phenthoate: Maximum permissible limit is 0.01 ppm.
- It was not detected in any of the samples.
Phorate: Maximum permissible limit is 0.05 ppm.
- It was not detected.
Trichlorfon: The maximum residue limit (MRL) has not been specified.
- It was not detected.
Specific Gravity at 30 degrees C
As per our tests, the specific gravity of the brands ranged from 0.9005 to 0.9185.
Specific gravity is the ratio of the density of a material to the density of water. Specific gravity of edible oils should be less than 1.00 as they are immiscible liquids, which means they are insoluble in water. There is no specific requirement specified in the standards.
FOR GENERAL QUALITIES
The following details shall be marked on each pack:
- Name and trade name b) Type and grade of oil
- Name and address of manufacturer/marketer d) Batch number, month and year of manufacture e) The product is ‘free from argemone oil’
- Nutritional information
- The words ‘best before’ (month and year)
- Net volume/weight
- Standard mark, if any (Agmark)
- Green dot denoting vegetarian status k) Customer care details
- FSSAI license number
- All brands have given the necessary information on their packs.
The sunflower oil should be packed in food-grade material that does not affect the properties of the oil and at the same time maintains the shelf life of the product. As far as possible, the product shall be either in such packages that can be recycled or packed in reusable and/or biodegradable materials.
- All brands were in polypack of one-litre capacity.
According to Legal Metrology (Packaged Commodities) Rules, for 1,000 ml-10,000 ml the tolerance limit is 1.5 per cent.
In our tests, all brands were found within the tolerance range +_1.5 per cent. Except for Sundrop, all brands were found to exceed the claimed quantity.
Physical observations on the 12 samples were made by laboratory scientists. The oil has to be a) clear, b) free of off-odour, and c) free of rancidity, adulterants, non-edible oils, sediments, suspended and other foreign matter, separated water and added colouring and flavouring substances.
Gemini, Healthy Heart and Dalda were given the highest score. The other brands followed close behind and were given equal scores.
How To Best Match Your Oils To Foods
One of the most important things to keep in mind is that oil behaves differently when heated – it changes texture, colour, taste and nutritional properties. When the oil reaches its smoking point, a lot of the nutrients are destroyed and it can sometimes form harmful compounds.
The only way to ensure that you consume healthy oil is by switching between two-three of them – for instance, by using groundnut oil one month and then using sunflower oil/mustard oil in another. Any single oil alone is not preferred.
Blending oils is another option, whereby you take equal proportions of different oils in one container and then use it. This way you do not get prolonged exposure to the side effects of one type of oil and also get the benefits of different oils.
You could also have two or more different kinds of oils in your kitchen which you could use for different purposes. For example, you could use olive oil for salads, groundnut/rice bran oil for frying, and mustard/ soybean/sunflower oil for other cooking purposes. This will let you avail of the health benefits offered by each oil brand.