Sunflower seeds are the edible fruits of the sunflower plant. American Indian tribes in New Mexico and Arizona started to cultivate sunflowers in 3000 BC. Perhaps, even before the cultivation of corn. Still, they’re not only for food, but also for medicine, oil, and dye. By the year 1500, Spanish conquistadors were exporting these plants and their byproducts worldwide – including sunflower seeds.
Sunflower seeds are rich in good fats, vitamins, and minerals. They provide a subtle nutty flavor, which is enhanced when roasted. They also have a firm yet tender texture. Therefore, they’re popular not only as a stand-alone stack, but also in multi-grain breads, nutrition bars, and trail mixes.
Sunflower Seed Trivia
- Sunflower seeds have reached space; United States astronaut Don Pettit brought the seeds to the International Space Station in 2012. He even shared his gardening process through his blogs.
- Each sunflower’s head is in fact, thousands of tiny flowers. The disc florets found in the center of the sunflower’s head contain both male and female sex organs, which means they can self-pollinate and produce a seed.
- Dried sunflower seeds make a distinct, natural bird feed.
Sunflower Seed Buying Guide
Sunflower seeds can be easily found in almost any grocery store. But, it can be quite confusing to know which are the best ones to buy. Thus, here are some helpful tips on how to buy them:
- Sunflower seeds can be found in the spice, snacks, or nuts aisle of the grocery stores.
- Since sunflower seeds contain a high concentration of oil, they quickly become rancid. Thus, it is best to buy them in small amounts and consume them as soon as you can.
- Check out the sodium content as most sunflower seeds go heavy on the salt. Better yet, opt for no-salt-added, reduced-sodium, or low-sodium, and just add salt as you normally flavor your food.
- Know that there are plenty of flavored sunflower seeds to choose from. Pepper, pickle, taco, and ranch are just some of the popular flavors. However, like the roasted ones, they might contain high amounts of salt. Thus, it would be better to just buy the plain ones, with or without the shell, and flavor them yourself. Recipe can be found down below.
- As always, edible seeds from local food vendors and artisans in farmers’ markets are better than the mass-produced ones. Here, you’ll get close to no preservatives and the ingredients are usually organic. Their products are also made in small batches and you might be able to get free samples along the way. Feel free to check some of the local producers here at our Texas Real Food website.
Sunflower Seed Production & Farming in Texas
There are two main types of sunflower crops: black oilseed and confectionery. Black oilseed is primarily grown for its oil while confectionery is mainly for its edible seeds. These plants are currently grown in the state of Texas, especially in the southern regions. However, most of the confectionery and oil cultivars are hybrids, which are more expensive than the open-pollinated ones. Perhaps, due to their higher yields. Nevertheless, sunflowers are either standard or double dwarf. The standard height can surpass 6 feet tall while the dwarves can only surpass 40 inches tall. Dwarf hybrids, nonetheless, are commonly planted in narrow rows at a higher population, while standard hybrids are best planted in conventional rows. Both hybrids are best planted on a soil that is moist, firm, and ideally at 50ºF, which mostly occurs between mid-March or early-April. However, you can still plant the seeds after than or even in July, but you may get lower grain yields if that’s the case. Climatic conditions not only affect the yield, but it also affects the composition of fatty acids during oil production.
Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:
While most of the store-bought sunflower seeds are pure, some flavored or processed ones contain the following additives:
- MSG – Monosodium Glutamate is used to enhance the flavor of almost any product. It is the one responsible for creating that umami flavor. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it can cause headaches, flushing, palpitations, sweating, nausea, numbness, and weakness to some people. It allegedly can cause asthma, brain damages, and even cancer; however, these allegations remained controversial.
- Sodium – Although sodium is a natural food that balances our body fluids, it can cause harm when consumed past its RDA which is 2,300 mg per day.
- Thickening Agents – Added in the right amount, these thickening agents improve the viscosity of any food without changing its taste. Some natural thickeners include corn starch, potato starch, yellow cornmeal, wheat flour, and other flours.
- Dextrose and Maltodextrin – It is a type of sugar that acts as an artificial sweetener, food neutralizer, and a preservative. Too much consumption of this ingredient can lead to body fluid build-up and high blood sugar.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – This artificial sweetener never does any good to our health. Too much consumption of this additive can lead to diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, obesity, and other serious diseases. In addition, you may also find the dried version of this additive on the ingredients list.
- Smoked Torula Yeast – This is a type of yeast that contains single-celled fungi. First, they grow on wood alcohols, then they are deactivated and dried for consumption. This additive provides a smoky and umami flavor to foods.
- Citric Acid – This additive is a natural preservative in foods. It is a weak and organic acid that is found on citrus fruits. Thus, citric acid adds that sour or acidic taste to the product. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it may cause muscle cramps, weight gain, stomach pain, and convulsions.
- Polysorbates – These are oily liquids that act as an emulsifier and a preservative. Consuming great amounts of this additive can lead to hypersensitivity, rash, and non-allergic anaphylaxis.
- Artificial Flavorings – These are usually chemically-formulated products that are used to intensify the flavors of the product. Although they are labeled as such due to its very small quantitative participation, it’s always a better option to stay away from these ingredients. For sunflower seeds, some of which come in the following names: sodium diacetate, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, disodium succinate, sodium phosphate, soy protein isolate, TBHQ, and alike.
- Extractives – These additives are made with essential oils or condensed flavor essence of different spices. It can be mixed with solvents such as alcohol, or water. They act as a flavor enhancer and it also contributes to a longer shelf-life.
- Color Additives – these are food colorings or dyes that are added to food products to improve its color. Some are natural and some are artificial. Examples of these are turmeric or annatto extract (yellow), caramel (yellow to tan), beta-carotene (yellow to orange), grape skin extract (red and green), and dehydrated beets (bluish-red to brown). Nonetheless, this additive can cause skin irritation, rashes, and eczema. Artificial ones include Blue # 1, Yellow # 5, Yellow # 6, FD&C, and Red 40. It can upset one’s stomach and experience difficulty in breathing.
In addition to these, cadmium is also one of the reasons why you should eat sunflower seeds in moderation. Cadmium is not an additive though, but it is a metal that is found on the soil where the sunflower grows.
Sunflower seeds come in pouches, paper bags, plastic jars, or canisters that vary from snack size to bulk or wholesale size.
Enjoying Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds can be eaten raw or roasted, with or without the shell. Flavored varieties are also popular nowadays. But, even though the hulls or shells are good sources of fiber, the sharp pieces can puncture your stomach linings if not properly chewed. Thus, when you opt to discard the shells, you don’t have to use a knife or any other tool. You can simply run your tongue along the salty outer shell, crack it using your teeth, and spit the shell out before you start chewing the seed. If you find it hard and inconvenient though, you may choose to buy the shelled, sunflower kernels. These kernels make a great trail mix and granola bar. You can also sprinkle some on salads, cereals, yogurts, stir-fries, sautéed vegetables, burgers, casseroles, and baked goods. While these seeds are versatile, it’s also important to limit your intake to an ounce a day due to the cadmium and high sodium it may contain.
Sunflower seeds are best kept in an airtight container made with ceramic or glass. Otherwise, they can absorb plastic chemicals and it could be harmful. Although it’s not necessary to store them in the refrigerator, they should be at least stored in a dark, dry, and cool place away from sunlight and away from hot and humid zones like stoves, grills, or ovens, where it could last for up to 3 months. But, if you want to prolong its shelf life, we highly suggest you store them either in the refrigerator or in the freezer, where it could last up to 1 year. Meanwhile, sunflower oil is more stable than the seeds. Storing it into the pantry with the same characteristics listed above, an unopened one could last for two years without turning rancid, while the opened ones can last for a year.
Let’s get cooking!
Sunflower seeds are widely available in Texas that even the gasoline station stores sell them. But, sunflower seeds’ snacks or trail mixes could be expensive. Thus, it’s more convenient and affordable to make it at home. Plus, it’s healthy, vegan, and keto-friendly too! Below is a recipe for chili-lime sunflower seeds that we guarantee you and your family will surely love:
Yield: 4 cups / 16 servings
- 4 cups raw, shelled sunflower seeds (kernels)
- ¼ cup water
- Juice of 2 limes
- 2 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp cayenne powder
- ½ tsp kosher salt
- ½ tsp black pepper
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- In a large bowl, combine the sunflower seeds with water and half of the lime juice. Mix until all the seeds are wet. Set aside for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, line a sheet pan or baking tray with parchment paper.
- Pour the seeds in the pan and spread them out evenly.
- Bake in the oven for 3 minutes. Take it out of the oven and pour the remaining lime juice. Gently fold the seeds and spread it out once more.
- Bake in the oven, folding and spreading out every minute, for another 3 minutes or until the seeds are crispy. Store in an airtight container and consume within a week.