Sunflower Seeds: Usage, Benefits, and More
How do you get sunflower seeds out of the sunflower? It’s a question that’s plagued mankind for ages. But don’t worry, I’ll get to that later. First, let’s look at the history of these delicious little guys.
Sunflower seeds are a delicious seed that comes from the sunflower plant. They’re often eaten as a snack and can be salted or roasted. They’re also used in cooking and baking.
Let’s look at all of that in more detail. They’re a great alternative to nuts, so let’s get cracking!
In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What Are Sunflower Seeds?
- 2 Uses of Sunflower Seeds
- 3 Nutritional Value
- 4 Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
- 5 Considerations When Eating Sunflower Seeds
- 6 How to Enjoy Sunflower Seeds: Tips and Tricks
- 7 Production
- 8 Conclusion
What Are Sunflower Seeds?
The Basics: Origins, Types, and Production
Sunflower seeds are the edible fruits of the sunflower plant, scientifically known as Helianthus annuus. The plant is native to North America, where it thrives in tough locations and requires a lot of sun. The sunflower plant can grow up to 10 feet tall and produces hundreds of large, tough, and hairy fruits that measure about a single inch in length.
There are two types of sunflower seeds: black and striped. The black seeds have a higher oil content, while the striped ones are larger and have a lower oil content. Sunflower seeds are commonly sold roasted and salted, but they can also be sold raw or unsalted.
Sunflower seeds are technically fruits, but they are commonly referred to as seeds. They are a rich source of linoleic acid, an essential omega-6 fatty acid, and are also high in protein, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals.
Sunflower seeds are mainly grown for their oil, which is used in cooking and as a butter substitute. The seeds are also used in baked goods, salads, and as a snack. The production of sunflower seeds involves removing the seeds from the sunflower head, either by cracking the shell or disposing of the entire fruit.
Health Benefits and Potential Downsides
Sunflower seeds offer a range of health benefits, including:
- Lowering cholesterol levels
- Reducing inflammation
- Improving heart health
- Boosting brain function
- Supporting healthy skin and hair
However, sunflower seeds also have potential downsides, such as:
- High calorie and fat content
- Risk of allergic reactions
- Presence of phytic acid, which can reduce mineral absorption
Usage and Tips for Eating
Sunflower seeds are a versatile ingredient and can be incorporated into many dishes, such as:
- Adding to oatmeal or yogurt parfaits
- Sprinkling on salads or mixed vegetables
- Mixing into veggie burgers or homemade breads and goods
- Incorporating into pesto or banana sandwiches
When eating sunflower seeds, it is recommended to:
- Roast the seeds to bring out their flavor
- Crack the shells open vertically or horizontally to remove the seed intact
- Add salt or other seasonings to taste
- Enjoy as a snack or incorporate into meals for added nutrition
Sunflower seeds offer a great alternative to nuts and are perfect for those who want a bit of crunch without the outer shell that requires a lot of chewing. They can be found in most supermarkets and are sold in bulk or in single-serving packages. National brands and manufacturers offer roasted and salted sunflower seeds, but it is also possible to find raw and unsalted options. Nutritionist Lisa Sassos recommends adding sunflower seeds to your favorite dishes or enjoying them straight out of the bag for a healthy and satisfying snack.
Uses of Sunflower Seeds
As a Snack and Garnish
Sunflower seeds are a popular snack and garnish due to their crunchy texture and nutty flavor. They can be consumed raw or roasted, and are often dusted with salt or flour for added flavor. Some common examples of flavored sunflower seeds include hot, nacho, and BBQ, which are particularly popular in Eastern and Asian countries where they are often consumed as street food.
In Baked Goods
Sunflower seeds can be used as an ingredient in baked goods such as bread and muffins. They can be added to the dough or sprinkled on top for added texture and flavor. Sunflower seed brittle is also a popular treat produced by embedding the seeds in hard sugar.
As a Peanut Butter Substitute
Sunflower seed butter is a type of nut butter that is similar to peanut butter in taste and texture. It can be used as a substitute for peanut butter in recipes and is a common alternative in schools where peanut allergies are a concern.
For Pets and Wildlife
Dried sunflower seeds are a popular food for pets such as birds, hamsters, and squirrels. They are also commonly used as a food source for wild birds and other wildlife.
As a Health Supplement
Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals, making them a popular health supplement. According to the USDA database entry, a 100-gram serving of sunflower seeds contains roughly:
- 25 micrograms (μg) of riboflavin
- 4.9 milligrams (mg) of niacin
- 1.5 mg of pantothenic acid
- 227 μg of folate
They are also a good source of minerals such as magnesium and copper. A study found that consuming sunflower seeds 5 times a week resulted in lowered risk factors for chronic diseases.
As an Alternative to Chewing Tobacco
Sunflower seeds are a popular alternative to chewing tobacco among baseball players. They are mechanically cracked open with the teeth and the hull is spat out, leaving the packed seed to be chewed.
Sunflower seeds can be salted and stored in a bag for preservation. This method is called dry salting and is commonly used in Ukraine. The salted seeds can be consumed as a snack or used as a garnish.
As a Flavoring
Sunflower seeds can be used as a flavoring in dishes such as salads and stir-fries. They can also be sprouted and used in sandwiches and wraps for added texture and nutrition.
Types of Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds come in a variety of types, including:
- Black oil sunflower seeds: commonly used for oil production
- Striped sunflower seeds: mainly used for snacking
- Hulled sunflower seeds: the main type used for eating
Sunflower seeds are a unique source of nutrients, providing high levels of:
- Vitamin E: 82% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) per ounce
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine): 10% RDI per ounce
- Vitamin B6: 11% RDI per ounce
- Pantothenic acid: 20% RDI per ounce
- Folate: 17% RDI per ounce
- Fiber: 3 grams per ounce
- Protein: 6 grams per ounce
- Minerals: zinc, selenium, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus
Fats and Acids
Sunflower seeds are loaded with beneficial fats and acids, including:
- Polyunsaturated fats: 9 grams per ounce
- Monounsaturated fats: 3 grams per ounce
- Linoleic acid: 50% of the RDI per ounce
- Phenolic compounds: flavonoids and other plant compounds that protect cells from free radicals and play a role in preventing chronic diseases
Health Benefits of Sunflower Seeds
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease and Stroke
Research has shown that eating sunflower seeds multiple times a week can lead to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke. This is due to the high levels of magnesium and unsaturated fats in sunflower seeds, which can help to lower blood pressure and block the enzyme that causes arteries to constrict.
Promotes Healthy Skin
Sunflower seeds are abundant in vitamins and minerals that support the body’s ability to fight diseases and inflammatory markers. They contain vitamin E, zinc, and carotenoids, which have been reported to promote healthy skin. Additionally, research suggests that the chlorogenic acid in sunflower seeds may slow the rate at which carbs are released into the bloodstream, allowing for a gradual release of nutrients and promoting balanced blood sugar levels.
Studies conducted on animals and in laboratory settings have indicated that sunflower seeds may have antimicrobial properties that can support healing. Scientists draw firm conclusions about the effects of sunflower seeds on humans, but research suggests that adding sunflower seeds to your diet may have potential benefits for fighting infections and promoting overall health.
Potential Antidiabetic Effects
Some studies indicate that sunflower seeds may be effective in producing advanced antidiabetic effects. Tocopherols, which act as antioxidants, have been indicated to have antidiabetic effects. People who cannot synthesize tocopherol can obtain it from sunflower seeds. However, more research is needed to prove the effectiveness of sunflower seeds in treating diabetes.
In conclusion, sunflower seeds have multiple health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke, promoting healthy skin, and potentially having antimicrobial and antidiabetic effects. Adding sunflower seeds to your diet can be a simple and natural way to support your overall health.
Considerations When Eating Sunflower Seeds
Properly Discarding Hulls
Sunflower seeds are primarily composed of the seed itself, which is edible, and the hull, which is not. When eating sunflower seeds, it’s important to properly discard the hulls to avoid digestive upset. If the hulls are not chewed properly, they can cause sharp pieces of shell to damage the lining of the digestive tract.
Alternatives for Those with a Nut Allergy
For individuals with a nut allergy, sunflower seeds are often considered a safe alternative. However, it’s important to note that some people with a nut allergy may also have an allergy to sunflower seeds. If you have a nut allergy, it’s best to avoid sunflower seeds altogether or consult with a healthcare professional before consuming them. There are other alternatives to nuts that can be used in place of sunflower seeds, such as pumpkin seeds or sesame seeds.
How to Enjoy Sunflower Seeds: Tips and Tricks
Cracking and Spitting: How to Open Sunflower Seeds
– Hold the seed vertically between your front teeth and gently apply pressure until the shell cracks open.
- Alternatively, place the seed horizontally between your front teeth and bite down until the shell cracks open.
- Separate the shell from the seed with your tongue or fingers.
- Sunflower seeds are commonly sold shelled or unshelled, but cracking them yourself can be a fun and satisfying experience, particularly during baseball games or other outdoor sports.
Ways to Incorporate Sunflower Seeds into Your Diet
– Add a handful of sunflower seeds to homemade granola or sprinkle them on top of leafy green salads for a crunchy and tasty addition.
- Mix sunflower seeds into hot or cold fruit and yogurt bowls for added texture and nutrition.
- Use sunflower seeds as a protein-packed topping for tuna or chicken salads.
- Sautéed veggies can be coated with sunflower seeds for an added crunch.
- Place sunflower seeds on top of breads before baking for a nutty flavor.
- Sunflower seeds can also be blended with apple, banana, or turn to make a homemade nut butter.
Storage and Consumption
– Sunflower seeds are harmless to eat and contain a number of health benefits, including the chemical chlorogenic acid, which can help minimize the risk of rancid fat.
- To protect against rancidity, store sunflower seeds in an airtight container in the refrigerator or freezer.
- Unshelled varieties can last up to six months in the refrigerator and up to a year in the freezer.
- Added precautions should be taken to avoid consuming sunflower seeds that may contain harmful bacteria, such as salmonella.
- When purchasing sunflower seeds, it is important to buy from a responsible and reliable source.
- Studies have shown that some individuals may develop hypersensitivity or allergic reactions to sunflower seeds, particularly if they are prone to allergies to pollen or bird feed.
- To minimize the dangers of allergies, it is important to avoid consuming sunflower seeds if you have a known allergy to them.
- Sunflower seeds are a high-calorie food, so it is important to eat them in moderation if you are watching your calorie intake.
- A handful of sunflower seeds can pack a number of nutrients into your daily diet, but be sure to include them in proportion to your daily calorie needs.
The Sunflower Plant
Sunflower seeds come from the sunflower plant, which is a member of the genus Helianthus, comprising both annual and perennial flowering plants in the daisy family, Asteraceae. Sunflowers are commonly known as Helianthus in South America, where they are native, and in North America, where they are native to Central America.
The production of sunflower seeds involves a basic process of growing, harvesting, separating, roasting, and packaging. The process starts with planting sunflowers, which can grow up to 10 feet tall. After the sunflowers have matured, they are harvested, and the seeds are separated from the flower head. The seeds are then roasted and packaged for consumption.
Sunflower seeds are produced in many countries around the world, including Argentina, China, Turkey, Bulgaria, and Hungary. According to FAOSTAT, the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and Romania are the top sunflower seed-producing countries, with a total of 35.7 million tonnes combined in 2019. Sunflower seeds have contributed significantly to the global production of oilseed crops, with a total of 49.6 million tonnes produced in 2019.
So there you have it, everything you need to know about sunflower seeds. They’re a great snack to keep you going when you’re on the go, and don’t forget to crack open those shells! They’re a great source of protein, vitamins, and minerals. So don’t be afraid to crack open and give them a try!
Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.