With cheerful, golden faces that follow the sun as it crosses the sky, sunflowers are tall, strong flowers bearing exceptionally nutrient-packed seeds. Rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids and linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), sunflower seeds are the perfect healthy snack. A quarter-cup serving provides 90% of the RDA for vitamin E, 54% of the RDA for vitamin B1, 10% of the RDA for iron and six grams of protein.
Native to North America, the sunflower was used by Native Americans as an important, high-energy food source. Its seeds were pounded into bread flour, poured into vegetable-based stews, or eaten raw by the handful as a snack. The plant was taken to Europe in the 1500s, where an English patent for extracting its oil was later granted in 1716. A century later, Russian farmers were growing 2 million acres of sunflowers. The plant made its way back to the U.S. in 1880.
Sunflower seeds are harvested from the heads of the plants. They’re cracked open, and the “meat of the seeds (sometimes called the “kernel”) is eaten. Kernels can be roasted, salted and eaten, or raw seeds can be ground into nut butter or transformed into oil for cooking or skin care. Sunflower oil has become popular for frying because it’s low in saturated fat.
The National Sunflower Association suggests the following creative ways to eat sunflower kernels:
- Sprinkle on yogurt
- Sprinkle on muesli, hot breakfast cereal, ready-to-eat cereal
- Use as ice cream topping or coat a frozen novelty
- Top a salad
- Pack a pita with salad and sunflower kernels
- Toss with stir-fry vegetables
- Top your favorite pasta dish
- Use in baked goods such as bagels, muffins, multi-grain breads, carrot-sunflower cake, crackers and bars
- Try making caramel sunflower popcorn, sunflower trail mix, granola bars, sunflower date bars or cookies, chocolate sunflower bars/bark/brittle