Perfect in a salad, as a snack, or as a little garnish, sunflower seeds have been a staple in nut/trail mixes for a long time now, but often shrouded in mystery, we feel that there is a lot more to learn about the humble sunflower and where it ‘stems’ from. So sit back, relax, and enjoy while we tell you where sunflower seeds come from, how to harvest them, and give you a few fun facts about them that we bet you didn’t know.
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What are Sunflower Seeds?
Simply put, a sunflower seed is the fruit of the sunflower plant. These seeds are reaped from the sunflower’s huge flower heads, measuring over 12 inches in diameter. In fact, just one sunflower head can carry almost 2,000 seeds.
Some sunflower seeds are more frequently used than others. They include linoleic, high oleic, and sunflower oil seeds, each possessing unique degrees of monounsaturated, saturated, and poly-unsaturated fats.
Where do Sunflower Seeds Come From?
Many sunflower seeds worldwide are produced by just two countries: Ukraine and Russia. Meanwhile, Kansas is the sunflower state, and the sunflower is primarily the national flower of Ukraine.
Ukraine is considered the world’s largest producer of sunflower seeds, and Russia is second on the list. The US is still in the top 10 and is the world’s 10th largest sunflower seed producer. A high;y popular spot for sunflower seed production in the US is North and South Dakota; why? because the colder winters in Dakota help to keep pests away from the plants.
Harvesting the Seeds
Sunflower seeds are ready to harvest when the rear of the sunflower head turns from green to yellow to brown. In the field, a single harvesting machine chops the stems, feeding parts of the sunflower head through a machine to remove the seeds. Everything except the seeds is returned to the earth as mulch to avoid soil erosion and to provide additional nutrients for the crop the following season.
However, let’s say you are looking to harvest the seeds yourself. How would you even go about starting? Well, there are a couple of tell-tale signs. When the backs of the flower head are yellow and start becoming brownish it is the time for their harvest. By this time, the outer petals would have fallen down. The seeds mature long before this. Since the heads of the flower are moist, they are allowed to dry before harvest. At this time, the seeds are flat and shrunken.
Do not let the seeds fully mature on the stalk. If they mature, they will be easily eaten by birds and squirrels. To protect them from birds and squirrels, put brown paper over the flower head to cover it.
Using a knife or your hand, scrape off the dry parts of petals from the flower head. This will look like fluffy debris or greenish yellow buds covering the seeds. Now separate the seeds from the head of the flower. Keep a suitable container or a bucket ready to collect the seeds. Now, rub the seeds from the flower head with the help of your thumb. You can also save some raw seeds to plant for the next harvest.
When the seeds have been removed, again wash them and dry them before storing and consuming them. Washing will help in cleaning the dirt, particles of flower, and other matter, and when drying, use a thick towel that can absorb moisture, lay the seeds flat in a single layer, and let them dry out over the course of a few hours.
5 Fun Facts about Sunflower Seeds
Here are a couple of facts about sunflower seeds that we bet you didn’t know. You never know when specialist knowledge like this could come in handy.
- Sunflowers have been cultivated since 3000BC.
- The ancient Inca civilisation associated sunflowers with the Sun God
- When the Spanish conquistadors colonized the Americas, they took sunflowers back to Europe. By the 1500s, the flowers had started to spread around the world.
- In China, the sunflower is considered a token of good luck and good fortune. Sunflowers are considered highly auspicious, and the color yellow is often associated with intelligence and vitality. The flowers also stand for longevity, perhaps because ancient Chinese royalty associated the sunflower with immortality.
- Sunflowers can grow to be over 25 feet tall. In fact, a sunflower in Germany grew to be over 30 feet tall in 2014.
Birds are a threat to the sunflower; therefore, they need to be kept away, or the head of the flowers can be covered using clear bags. Top Sunflower Seed Producing Countries. Ukraine and Russia remain the top sunflower seed producers in the world. They produce almost half of the world’s sunflower seeds.
To grow sunflowers, you need a sunny, sheltered spot and good soil – add plenty of well-rotted manure or garden compost before planting, if you can. Protect the young plants from slugs and snails, and water your sunflowers regularly.
While sunflower seeds are healthy, they have several potential downsides. Though rich in nutrients, sunflower seeds are relatively high in calories. Eating the seeds in the shell is a simple way to slow your eating pace and calorie intake while snacking, as it takes time to crack open and spit out each shell.
As mentioned, sunflower seeds are high in dietary fiber. This fiber bulks up the stool and facilitates the peristaltic movement of the intestines, thus optimizing the digestive process. Another benefit of consuming this seed is that it makes the uptake of nutrients more efficient in the gut by improving bacterial balance.
Unsalted sunflower seeds can be a healthy snack when eaten in moderation. Still, if you eat too many, they may sabotage your weight-loss efforts in addition to causing other unwanted effects, especially because nuts and seeds can be quite calorie-dense.