Sunflower seeds have a pleasant, nutty flavor and a crunchy texture that makes them a welcome and simple addition sprinkled on salads, sandwiches, vegetable dishes, and yogurt as well as mixed into stuffings and granola.
Ground sunflower seeds can be combined with flour to make cakes, cookies, muffins, pancakes, and bread.
Lightly toasted sunflower seeds are a tasty snack for eating out of hand. Unshelled seeds also can be roasted and salted then eaten from the shells as a snack.
One flower head of the sunflower can contain up to 2,000 seeds. The sunflower goes to seed in late summer and fall.
Besides the seed, sunflower buds can be picked in early summer and steamed and eaten much like artichokes. Once the sunflower blooms, its bright yellow petals can be added to salads as a colorful garnish just like calendula or chrysanthemum petals.
Sunflower seed oil is used in cooking for sautéing and roasting as well as for salad dressings. About 35 to 45 percent of the weight of each seed is oil.
The sunflower grows as an annual in most temperate regions and as a perennial plant in tropical regions. Sunflowers can grow from 3 to 12 feet (1-3.7 m) tall depending upon variety. They have coarse, heart-shaped leaves.
The sunflower blossom is an inflorescence or collection of thousands of small, tubular flowers arranged side by side to form row after row of circles radiating from the center. This flat disc is surrounded by yellow petals. (Not all sunflower petals are yellow; some are orange, red, or copper colored.) Each flower produces grayish green or black seeds depending on the species enclosed in thin gray or black shells some with black and white stripes. The flower heads or discs can grow to 12 inches in diameter.
Choose. Sunflower seeds are sold shelled or unshelled, raw or roasted, salted or unsalted. Seeds should be firm and glossy. Avoid yellowish seeds which are no longer fresh.
The sunflower inflorescence can be cut from the stalk as soon as the backside of the seed head begins to turn from green to brown. The seeds can be harvested by hanging the heads in a dry, airy place until the seeds dry in about a week. Then the seeds can be rubbed off of the dried heads.
Prepare. To shell sunflowers by hand requires time. Sunflowers also can be shelled in a seed mill or an electric mixer.
- To shell sunflowers with an electric mixer, pour a small amount of shells into a bowl and turn the mixer on for a few seconds; then separate the seeds form the shells in water. Some seeds will be crushed using this method. Strain the seeds as quickly as possible and dry them.
- Toasting will enhance the flavor of sunflower seeds. Cook them in an ungreased skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Seeds also can be toasted in a single layer on a cookie sheet in a 350ºF (176ºC) oven for 5 to 7 minutes until they brown slightly.
- Seeds used as a topping for baked good need not be toasted because the oven will do the job. When sunflower seeds combine with baking soda in baked goods they take on a blue-green tinge that is not aesthetically pleasing.
- You can also bake sunflower seeds for 10 minutes in the oven at 200ºF (93ºC). Stir occasionally. Once baked coat the seeds with a small amount of oil so that salt will stick to them.
- To chop or dice sunflower seeds, slightly moisten the seeds with a little oil then chop them. They will not fly away.
- Use sunflower seed oil for dressing, sautéing, and roasting. Oil heated beyond 340ºF (170ºC) does not withstand heating and will burn.
Store. Keep unshelled sunflower seeds in a glass jar in a cool, dark, dry place. Shelled or ground seeds should be refrigerated and used within one month. Shelled and ground seed can be frozen.
Serve. Use sunflower seeds plain or roasted, whole or chopped, ground or sprouted.
Add seeds to salads, stuffings, sauces, vegetable dishes, cakes, and yogurt.
Ground seed can be combined with flour to make pancakes, cookies, cakes, and breads. Seeds can be ground to flour in a blender.
Sunflower floral buds can be eaten like artichokes.
Nutrition. Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamins B and E, calcium, phosphorus, and iron. One ounce of sunflower seeds supplies 76 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin E—the antioxidant vitamin.
Sunflower facts and trivia. The sunflower originated in Mexico and Peru. Native Americans have used various parts of the plant—the seeds, stems, flowers, and roots–for more than 5,000 years. The Spanish introduced the sunflower in the Old World in the fifteenth century. Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union are the leading producers of sunflowers today.
The botanical name for the sunflower is Helianthus, a conflation of the Greek words for sun, helios, and flower, anthos.
The botanical name of the sunflower is Helianthus annuus.