- Sunflower seeds are suddenly back in fashion, according to The Wall Street Journal. The crunchy, flavorful little kernels are making appearances in new and intriguing recipes.
- Instead of being relegated to health food store bulk bins, sunflower seeds are being brought forward and featured in salads and broths, used as rice substitutes and even given starring roles in fancy desserts.
- Chef Bruce Kalman at Union restaurant in Pasadena, California, toasts raw, hulled sunflower seeds and sprinkles them into fresh cauliflower salad. “Cauliflower flavor has to be coaxed out," he told the newspaper. "The earthiness of the sunflower seeds does that. And the crunch they have is beautiful with a bite of cauliflower, so it’s also about texture.”
Sunflower seeds — the fruit of the sunflower — have often been considered mainly a snack item, but they are one of the healthiest snacks around. Packed with vitamins and minerals, they are also an excellent source of antioxidants and essential oils. Organic sunflower seeds are marketed as a better-for-you, natural option, and non-GMO sunflower oil is touted as having a more neutral taste and a longer shelf life than other oils.
While they have a good health profile, sunflower seeds cannot be considered low-fat. A 100-gram serving of whole sunflower seeds (about 3.5 ounces) has 584 calories and is about 50% fat — although they're mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Besides being eaten raw or roasted for a snack, sunflower seeds are turned into oil and butter, ground into flour, used as a garnish, and added to granola bars, breads and other baked goods. A surprisingly large amount — about one-quarter of all U.S production — is used in birdseed, and sunflower meal is fed to beef and dairy cattle.
Large food companies are well aware of the food item's appeal. Earlier this year, Conagra acquired Thanasi Food, the upstart manufacturer behind Bigs sunflower seeds. The company's snacks portfolio already included David Seeds, a producer of packaged sunflower and pumpkin seed snacks.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, even though world production of sunflower seeds is up, demand for domestically produced ones remains steady both here and abroad because of the consistently larger size and uniform quality of the U.S. product.
With additional consumer exposure through trendy recipes in upscale restaurants, the popularity of sunflower seeds — as well as their demand on the open market — will likely continue to go up. Despite what may be increasing demand, prices for sunflower seeds to eat and produce oil look like they will largely hold steady for the rest of the year, according to the National Sunflower Association.