The sunflower seed is the fruit of the sunflower (Helianthus anuus). There are 3 types of commonly used sunflower seeds: linoleic (most common), high oleic, and NuSun (developed for sunflower oil.
The world's production of sunflower seeds is led by Ukraine with 24% and Russia 21% of the world's total production. China, Romania, and Argentina also contribute significant volumes.
According to the National Sunflower Association sunflowers are native to North America. There is evidence that sunflowers were cultivated by native Americans since 3000B.C. Sunflower seeds were discovered and taken to Europe and from there spread to Russia where they were first commercialized as a crop and harvested for their oil. During the late 1800's they were brought back to North America where they are popular for their oil, seeds, and as a beautiful addition to a garden.
My first memory of sunflower seeds was in shells in vending machines, where for a penny you could get a handful. Later I remember my mother buying shelled sunflower seeds in a jar. She kept up nutrition and would often buy a new food that had high nutritional value that she had read about. I don't remember stocking sunflower seeds in the produce department. They were kept in packages and jar in the grocery department of the supermarket.
Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of vitamin E and a very good source of copper and vitamin B1. In addition sunflower seeds are a good source manganese, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, vitamin B6, folate and niacin.
Sunflower seeds, like nearly all types of nuts and seeds provide a healthy source of essential fatty acids in the form of linoleic acid. Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of fiber, amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B vitamins, phytosterols and more.
A 1/4 cup serving of sunflower seeds provides:
180 calories, 16 grams of fat, 6 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber
82% of vitamin E
70% of copper
43% vitamin B1 (thiamine)
34% of manganese
34% of selenium
33% of phosphorus
28% of magnesium
28% of vitamin B6
20% of folate
18% of vitamin B3
High in vitamin E, the body's primary fat soluble antioxidant. Vitamin E travels throughout the body and neutralizes free radicals that would damage fat containing structures and molecules. E has significant anti-inflammatory effects that result in the reduction of symptoms of asthma, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Vitamin E has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer, decrease the severity and frequency of hot flashes in menopausal women, and reduce the development of diabetic complications. Vitamin E also helps in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Phytosterols found in sunflower seeds are believed to reduce blood levels of cholesterol. Sunflower seeds also contain cardio protective fiber.
Sunflower seeds are a good source of magnesium , which has been demonstrated to help reduce the severity of asthma, lower high blood pressure and prevent migraine headaches., as well as reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Selenium in sunflower seeds is a trace mineral that is of fundamental importance to human health. Selenium has been shown to induce DNA repair and synthesis in damaged cells, to inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells and to induce their apoptosis, the self destruct sequence the body uses to eliminate worn out or abnormal cells.
Sunflower seeds are more commonly eaten as a snack than as part of a meal. They can also be used as garnishes or ingredients in various recipes. The seeds may be sold as in-shell seeds as dehulled kernels. When in-shell seeds are processed . They are first dried. afterward they may be roasted or dusted with salt or flour for preservation of flavor. in-shell sunflower seeds are particularly popular in the Mediterranean, Eastern European and Asian countries where they can be bought freshly roasted and are commonly consumed as street food, the hull being cracked open witah the teeth and spit out. In-shell sunflower seeds are also commonly eaten by baseball players as an alternative to chewing tobacco.
Sunflower oil has become popular over the p ast few decades. The oil is typically extracted by applying great pressure to the sunflower seeds and collecting the oil.
Selecting and Storing:
Sunflower seeds are sold either shelled or unshelled and are generally available in prepackaged containers as well as bulk bins. As with any bulk bin product, make sure the bins are kept covered and that the store has a good turnover to insure maximum freshness. Once at home store in the refrigerator to retard oil in sunflower seeds from becoming rancid.
Ways to Eat Sunflower Seeds:
- Add the seeds to homemade veggie burgers, meatballs, or meatloaves
- Toss some seeds onto a salad or use sunflower seed butter in a homemade sauce
- Try adding them to tuna or salmon salad since they add a nice crunch and texture
- Add some sunflower seed butter to your oatmeal in the morning, spread it on your sprouted grain toast instead of peanut butter, or add a tablespoon to your favorite healthy smoothie recipe
- Add the seeds to any baked goods you make, including grain=free muffins, breads, and scones
- Use ground sunflower seeds in place of chia seeds in any recipe, or sunflower butter in place of another nut butter