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wooden bowl full of unshelled sunflower seeds with a metal scoop and a sunflower sitting on top

Everything You Need to Know About Sunflower Seeds

sunflower seeds

The sunflower ( Helianthus annuus ) is a beautiful plant, and it's grown commercially to produce oil and seeds. We all know where sunflower seeds come from - the clue is in the name, but how are they grown commercially? Do they go bad? Where can you buy high-quality sunflower seeds? Let's take a look.

How are Sunflower Seeds Grown?

Sunflowers are grown as a crop and harvested to produce sunflower oil and sunflower seeds. Many people prefer sunflower seeds over peanuts or tree nuts because they don't contain any of the major allergens. But did you know there's more than one way to grow them? If you want to learn how sunflowers are grown, keep reading!

Sunflowers like lots of sun and well-drained soil, but their exact requirements vary depending on whether you're planting them from seed or transplanting.

If you're planting sunflower seeds directly into the ground, choose a site that gets at least 6 hours of full sunlight per day. Sunflowers should be planted about 1 inch deep and at least 12 inches apart. Most sunflowers reach maturity in around 80 days, but some grow more quickly than others. Many growers leave their sunflowers in place for a few weeks after they're done blooming, which helps to dry the seeds out a little making them easier to harvest.

What Does a Sunflower's Head Consist of?

A sunflower head is made up of small, yellow flowers. Each flower has a stem that attaches it to the main head and contains both male and female reproductive organs. The base of each flower connects it to the stalk that holds the whole thing upright. Atop this stalk is where the seeds eventually form.

The male part of the flower consists of long, thin yellow stamens that produce pollen and wrap around a central cluster of developing (female) florets. The female parts include short pistils with sticky tips where the pollen lands and gets fertilized before moving on to develop into full-blown sunflower seeds.

How Does a Farmer Know When a Sunflower is Ready to Harvest?

In order for the sunflower seeds to be ready to harvest, they have to be mature. This means that they have developed from the florets and grown large enough so that they are heavy enough to fall naturally from the flower head. In most cases, as this stage approaches, the sunflowers start to turn brown and dry up around the edges, giving farmers a good indication that the seeds are ready.

Once sunflower heads reach maturity, they generally spend about one week "drying down" before harvesting can begin. This is when the florets start to dry out and turn brown while still remaining attached to the seed head.

How are Sunflower Seeds Harvested?

Once sunflowers are ready for harvesting, farmers will cut the stalks with specialized machines called combines. While passing through the combine, the sunflower seeds are effortlessly removed from the rest of the sunflower - the same way that wheat and other crops are harvested.

Next, the sunflower seeds undergo processing. During this stage of the harvest, they are weighed and separated by size before being cooled down in a wind chamber to prevent them from germinating.

The sorted sunflower seeds are then transferred into an even larger bin for transport before being trucked off to a facility that cleans, dries, and packages the seeds prior to distribution.

How Are Sunflower Seeds Shelled?

The most common method used by commercial producers to remove the shell from sunflower seeds is with an automated shelling machine. This machine crushes the shells of the sunflower seeds while allowing the seeds to escape. The seeds are then removed and cleaned before they are packaged and sold to consumers.

Most of the seeds that you find in grocery stores have already been shelled by a machine. This means that there is no need for you to shell them yourself! However, some specialty shops sell sunflower seeds that still have their shells intact.

Where are Sunflower Seeds Grown?

Sunflower seeds are grown and harvested mainly in Eastern Europe and Russia. There is also a significant amount of sunflower seed production in North America, particularly in the central plains region of the United States. Besides being grown to eat, sunflower seeds are also grown for their oil which is used as cooking oil or to make margarine, paints, varnishes, and even soap!

Are Sunflower Seeds Good For You?

Yes! Sunflower seeds are a healthy and nutritious choice. They contain:

  • Vitamin E:

Vitamin E is an antioxidant and helps protect against cellular damage, which can lead to various chronic diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, etc.  It also supports reproductive health!  Vitamin E can also help to relieve menstrual symptoms (irregular periods, PMS).  They are also good for the skin and hair!

  • Folate or Vitamin B9:

Sunflower seeds are one of the best plant-based sources of folate. They are essential for cell growth and development.  Folate helps your body produce new cells and prevent changes in DNA that may lead to cancer, especially in the colon and liver.  This is important for women because folate deficiency is linked to neural-tube defects in newborns!

  • Manganese:

Manganese is used for bone development, thyroid function, and wound healing. It also helps your body form connective tissue, which is excellent for growing bones!  

  • Phytosterols:

These are plant-based compounds that have been shown to lower cholesterol levels. Sunflower seeds have about 110mg of phytosterols per 100g serving!  Phytosterols also help to maintain a healthy immune system.

  • Protein:

Sunflower seeds contain about 25g of protein per 100g serving.  Protein is an essential part of any diet and should be found in every meal!  Sunflower seeds are considered by many to be one of the best sources of vegan protein!

  • Fiber:

Sunflower seeds are a good source of dietary fiber. Fiber helps to lower cholesterol, control blood sugar levels in diabetes, and boost digestive health!

  • Monounsaturated fats:

Sunflower seeds are a great source of monounsaturated fats. These types of fat help to reduce LDL or "bad" cholesterol levels while increasing HDL or "good" cholesterol levels.

  • Polyunsaturated fats:

Sunflower seeds are also a great source of polyunsaturated fat, which is essential for brain health and function!  Fatty acids are an integral part of cell membranes in the body.

  • Selenium:

Sunflower seeds are a great source of selenium!  Selenium is an essential mineral with antioxidant properties. It is also necessary for thyroid function!

How Many Sunflower Seeds Should You Eat For Weightloss?

Sunflower seeds are a healthy and nutritious snack making them perfect for those trying to lose weight. However, it is important not to overdo it!  Be sure to limit your portion size to avoid accidentally overeating. The serving size of sunflower seeds is about 1/4 cup which is approximately one ounce. A one-ounce serving of shelled sunflower seeds contains 163 calories which is the ideal amount for a snack.

Five Reason's Why Sunflower Seeds are a Great Healthy Snack

Snacking is sometimes given a bad reputation, but making a few healthy swaps to the foods you choose to eat as a mid-afternoon or evening snack can make all the difference. Sunflower seeds are an excellent source of nutrition and should be used as a replacement for that candy bar, a bag of chips, or a less healthy savory treat. If you're looking for a better alternative to a snack that you can eat on the go, sunflower seeds are a great choice. Here's why:

  1. Sunflower Seeds are a Great Source of Protein and Fiber

Sunflower seeds provide a generous portion of both protein and fiber. Protein is essential for healthy hair, skin, and nails. Fiber helps you to feel fuller longer and can help to combat hunger late in the day or when your schedule may leave you without a meal until later on.

  1. Sunflower Seeds are Convenient

Sunflower seeds can easily be taken along with you to work, school, or other activities. Sunflower seeds are available in the bulk foods section of many grocery stores and come pre-packaged as well, making them a simple and easy snack that is hard to resist.

  • Sunflower Seeds Keep You Feeling Full

    Sunflower seeds are high in protein, which provides long-lasting energy, making you feel fuller for longer. You can easily add sunflower seed butter to fruit like apples or bananas and celery sticks for a healthier and more filling take on the traditional peanut butter sandwich.

    • Sunflower Seeds Are Versatile

    Sunflower seeds can be eaten plain, added to salads, or made into sunflower seed butter. Sunflower seeds are also available hulled or shelled for easier snacking. If you have a sweet tooth, then sunflower seeds are perfect for flapjacks, granola bars, and tray bakes, and you can add them into bliss balls too!

    • Sunflower Seeds are Tasty!

    Sunflower seeds have a natural buttery taste and are extremely satiating! Whether you choose to enjoy them raw, roasted, or salted, they're bound to get your tastebuds tingling.

    Sunflower Seeds vs. Pumpkin Seeds - Which is Better for You?

    Sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are both healthy and delicious snacks, but which is better for you? The health benefits of sunflower seeds vs. pumpkin seeds largely depend on how they're prepared. Let's take a look at the nutritional breakdown of shelled sunflower and shelled pumpkin seeds.

    sunflower seed and pumpkin seeds against a white background

    Sunflower Seeds Vs. Pumpkin Seeds - The Breakdown

    • Protein

    A one-ounce serving of shelled sunflower seeds contains six grams of protein, while a one-ounce serving of shelled pumpkin seeds contains seven grams of protein. If protein intake is your goal, then both of these super-seeds will help you get there, but pumpkin seeds come out on top. 

    • Fat

    When it comes to fats, sunflower seeds are higher in fat than pumpkin seeds. A one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 14 grams of fat, while a one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains 13 grams of fat. Remember, while these numbers may seem high, they're primarily made up of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, which is the good heart-health kind.

    • Carbohydrates

    If it's carbs you're concerned with, then pumpkin seeds contain fewer carbohydrates than sunflower seeds. A one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains 5 grams of total carbohydrates (3.3g net), while a one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 6.5 grams of total carbohydrates (3.5g net).

    As you can see, once the fiber is taken into consideration, both pumpkin and sunflower seeds have a very similar net carbohydrate content.

    • Fiber

    Sunflower seeds have almost twice the amount of fiber than pumpkin seeds. A one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 3 grams of fiber, while a one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains 1.7 grams of fiber. Alongside protein, fiber is responsible for making you feel full for longer, so if you often get hunger cravings later in the day, try snacking on some sunflower seeds.

    • Vitamin E

    Sunflower seeds are a great source of vitamin E. A one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 37% of the RDA for vitamin E, while a one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains just 12% of the RDA. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant and works wonders from the inside out.

    • Calories

    Finally, let's compare calories. Sunflower seeds are higher in calories than pumpkin seeds. A one-ounce serving of sunflower seeds contains 160 calories, while a one-ounce serving of pumpkin seeds contains 150 calories. If you're watching your calorie intake, then pumpkin seeds may be the better option for you, but there's not a lot in it.

    Are Sunflower Seeds Better Than Pumpkin Seeds? -  The Conclusion

    With so much similarity between the two, it's hard to say which is better for you. The decision may come down to what you have access to or what you prefer. As long as you're getting your daily nutritional requirements met, then this really isn't a big deal! If you're not sure where to start, try including both seeds in your daily diet.

    Sunflower Seeds & Keto

    The keto diet is a very low-carb diet that was initially designed to help treat epilepsy in children.  The idea behind the keto diet is to get your body into ketosis, which is where your body switches its primary energy source from carbs (glucose) to fat (ketones).  

    On the keto diet, a person typically gets 70-80% of their daily calories from fats, 15-30% from protein, and 5-10% from carbs.  Sunflower seeds are low carb, high fat, AND high fiber!  They're pretty much perfect for keto diets!

    Are Sunflower Seeds Good for Keto?

    Sunflower seeds are a great addition to the keto diet.  They're high in fat but also contain some protein and carbs.  This makes sunflower seeds nutrient-dense while not being too calorie-dense.  As long as you keep an eye on your portion sizes, adding sunflower seeds to your keto diet is a great choice.

    A typical one-ounce serving of shelled sunflower seeds contains 6.5g of total carbohydrates and 3g of fiber, meaning that a serving contains 3.5g of net carbs.

    How Many Sunflower Seeds Should You Eat on Keto?

    If you're following a keto diet, then it's important that you monitor your carb intake. Most keto-friendly snacks contain less than 3g of net carbs per serving (one ounce), so make sure you eat no more than this in one sitting.  For example, if you plan to have sunflower seeds for a snack, then have no more than a 1/4 cup in one sitting.

    How to Make Use Of Sunflower Seeds on the Keto Diet

    Below are a few ideas for adding sunflower seeds to your keto diet!

    • Include sunflower seeds in a trail mix.  

    Combine 1/4 cup sunflower seeds with 1/4 cup almonds, 1/4 cup Brazil nuts, and a dash of unsweetened coconut flakes.

    • Add a handful of sunflower seeds to your morning green smoothie.  

    Blend two cups of spinach with 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk and a tablespoon of sunflower seeds, mint leaves, and 1/2 an avocado to make a delicious green smoothie that's perfect for breakfast!

    • Add chopped sunflower seeds to your keto bread recipe.

    Combine one cup of almond flour with 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 2 tablespoons of psyllium husk powder, and a teaspoon each of baking soda, salt, garlic powder, onion powder.  Add an egg to the mix followed by 2 tablespoons of melted butter or coconut oil for a healthy keto bread recipe that's perfect for sandwiches!

    unshelled sunflower seeds on a white background with a wooden spoon of shelled sunflower seeds

    Shelled or Unshelled? That's the Question

    Sunflower seeds can be eaten either shelled or unshelled, depending on your preference and also why you're eating them.  If you're trying to lose weight, then eating unshelled sunflower seeds is a great choice because they take longer to eat and help you feel fuller.  On the other hand, if you're snacking on sunflower seeds because you need a quick energy boost during your day, then shelled seeds would be the better choice because they're quick and convenient.

    Why Can't You Eat Sunflower Seed Shells?

    Unfortunately, sunflower seed shells contain a chemical called phytate which inhibits the absorption of minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc.  For this reason, sunflower seed shells are considered an anti-nutrient. If you choose to include sunflower seeds in your diet (and you absolutely should!), then make sure that you discard the shells.

    Why Buy Whole Unshelled Sunflower Seeds?

    Unshelled sunflower seeds have a longer shelf life than shelled sunflower seeds. For this reason, if you want to buy sunflower seeds in bulk, we recommend buying whole unshelled sunflower seeds and shelling them yourself as needed.

    How to Eat Whole Sunflower Seeds With Their Shells On

    If you buy whole sunflower seeds, then it's important that you learn how to eat them with their shells on. It can take a couple of tries to get the knack of de-shelling sunflower seeds, but once you master the technique, you'll be stripping the husks away in a heartbeat.

    By far, the easiest way to get into a sunflower seed is by cracking the husk with your teeth. Some people are able to separate the husk from the kernel within their mouth, while others will crack the seed with their teeth and then pick the kernel out with their fingers.

    What to Do with Leftover Sunflower Seed Shells

    Once you've finished munching on sunflower seeds, then you can discard the shells into your compost bin or garbage disposal.  Sunflower seed shells are biodegradable and rich in nutrients like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, copper, zinc, iron, manganese, molybdenum, selenium. Their allelopathic nature also makes sunflower seed husks a great addition to a mulch as they will help to prevent pesky weeds from ruining your gardening display. Just be sure to leave a gap for your plants, so the mulch doesn't inhibit their growth too.

    How to Store Sunflower Seeds at Home

    Whole shelled, or unshelled sunflower seeds can be stored in an airtight container away from direct sunlight and kept at room temperature for up to six months. If you want to store your sunflower seeds for longer than that, then place the container in the refrigerator, where they will stay fresh for up to six months or in the freezer for up to a year.

    While freezing sunflower seeds will increase their longevity, it can take away some of their crunchiness and make them less desirable to eat.

    Do You Need to Store Shell-On Sunflower Seeds?

    Whole sunflower seeds, meaning those still in their shells, have their own organic moisture protection, but it isn't as effective as being put in an airtight container. While their shell will protect them to a certain extent, whole sunflower seeds are still susceptible to mold and will eventually go rancid if not stored in an airtight container.

    How to Store Sunflower Seed Butter

    Sunflower seed butter is best stored in the refrigerator, where it will stay fresh for up to six weeks. If you plan to store your sunflower seed butter in the freezer, keep in mind that it may have a somewhat different consistency after thawing out.

    How to Tell If Your Sunflower Seeds Have Gone Off?

    Sunflower seeds are generally safe to eat for up to six months after their sell-by date. However, if your sunflower seeds develop an off odor or flavor, then you should discard them. Sunflower seeds that have "gone bad" will emit a rancid taste and smell when chewed on, which is a sure sign they shouldn't be eaten.

    Sunflower seeds that have "gone bad" will also develop gray or blue-green colored mold, which should be enough to convince you to throw the whole bag away. Avoiding sunflower seed contamination is easy enough by keeping your storage container tightly sealed and stored in a cool, dark place like the pantry or refrigerator.

    What Happens if You Eat Too Many Sunflower Seeds?

    Sunflower seeds are easy to eat - so don't feel bad if you've accidentally eaten the whole bag and not a 1/4 cup portion. The good news is, eating too many sunflower seeds isn't deadly - but it can cause an upset stomach.

    What are the Symptoms of Eating Too Many Sunflower Seeds?

    Eating too many sunflower seeds will likely lead to abdominal discomfort, including cramps, bloating, and flatulence. This may be accompanied by nausea and diarrhea if you've eaten an excessive amount of the seeds.

    If you're trying to lose weight, eating too many sunflower seeds may also cause you to gain weight, as the seeds are high in calories.

    How Long Does it Take For Symptoms to Develop After Eating Too Many Sunflower Seeds? 

    The symptoms are usually noticeable within two to five hours of eating an excessive amount of sunflower seeds. However, it can take anywhere from eight to 24 hours for the discomfort to completely go away.

    If you've eaten too many sunflower seeds, then try to drink lots of water to avoid dehydration. Drinking a lot of fluid will help flush out your system and decrease the risk of further associated symptoms, such as vomiting and diarrhea.

    How Many Sunflower Seeds Should You Eat?

    The recommended serving size for sunflower seeds is 1/4 cup, which has approximately 150 calories. If you're looking to increase your calorie intake or are trying to gain weight, then an increased serving size would be acceptable - but do keep in mind that consuming too many sunflower seeds may cause abdominal issues.

    slice of bread spread with sunflower seed butter next to a jar of sunflower seed butter and a bowl of shelled sunflower seeds

    How to Make Creamy Sunflower Seed Butter

    If you've ever tried the store-bought variety of sunflower seed butter, then you know that it's a far cry from what you can make at home.

    Making sunflower seed butter is easy, but it will help if your blender or food processor is high-powered since you need a strong machine that will have no trouble pureeing the raw sunflower seeds into butter.

    Sunflower Seed Butter Recipe

    For a sweeter sunflower seed butter, you may want to add: 

    • ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract 
    • 4 teaspoons of brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup

    How to Turn Sunflower Seeds into a Sunflower Spread

    To turn sunflower seeds into a sunflower butter spread, simply follow this recipe:

    1. Toast your sunflower seeds to deepen their flavor and release their natural oils. Preheat your oven to 350°F and spread your sunflower seeds out in a thin layer on a baking tray. Pop them in the oven for approximately 10 minutes until they are slightly golden brown.  Keep a close eye on them, so they don’t burn!
    2. Add your toasted sunflower seeds to a food processor with coconut oil and salt and blitz them into a fine powder. Keep going, and you’ll start to see some clumps forming. Keep processing, and slowly but surely, your sunflower seeds will begin to become a ball. This will relax and form a smooth butter in another couple of minutes.
    3. Keep processing until your sunflower seed butter is the consistency you want it to be, and remember to scrape down the sides. 
    4. If your food processor starts to get a bit hot at any point during processing, just turn it off and start again in a couple of minutes. While this will take longer, it won’t change your resulting sunflower seed butter.
    5. Once ready, store your sunflower seed butter in an airtight container. Your sunflower seed butter will last for up to two weeks at room temperature and for up to six weeks if stored in the fridge. 

    My Sunflower Seed Butter Isn’t Smooth?

    If your sunflower seed butter is still grainy, then you may need to process your sunflower seeds for longer to obtain a smooth consistency. The length of time it takes for your sunflower seeds to become smooth will depend on the power of your food processor and the oil content of your sunflower seeds.

    Using high-quality sunflower seeds is the best way to ensure a smooth sunflower seed butter.

    Where to Buy The Best Quality Sunflower Seeds

    The best place to buy sunflower seeds, nuts, or any food product is from a trusted source - don't go buying them from the internet if you don't know or trust the supplier!

    If you're trying to find the very highest quality sunflower seeds, then you're going to want to visit a specialist store. Fortunately, you're in the right place!

    If you're looking for a great place to buy high-quality sunflower seeds in Canada, then look no further than us here at Ayoub's Dried Fruit and Nuts. We offer a variety of shelled and whole sunflower seeds that are perfect for snacking on or cooking with. Here are five reasons to buy your sunflower seeds from Ayoub's.

    1. You Can Buy in Bulk

    Sunflower seeds are available in bulk at Ayoub's, which means that you can buy as few or as many sunflower seeds as you need.

    1. We Ship to You
      There is nowhere in Canada that Ayoub's sunflower seeds won’t go, from Whitehorse to Halifax. We ship all over Canada and even export to the U.S too!

    2. We Have Organic Sunflower Seeds
      If you're someone who prefers organic products, then you'll be happy to hear that we stock organic sunflower seeds amongst many other fantastic organic products.

    3. We Only Source the Very Best
      Ayoub's is a family-owned business founded in the early 1980s. We have been sourcing and selling the finest sunflower seeds, dried fruit, nuts, and other products for many decades and have an excellent reputation for quality.

    4. We Hand Roast Our Nuts & Seeds In-Store

    Finally, one of the things that make us stand out is our dedication to hand-roasting all of our roasted nuts and seeds in our stores, fresh every day. While this may take longer, it ensures perfection each and every time.

    Find the Finest Sunflower Seeds at Ayoub's

    So if you're looking for high-quality sunflower seeds in Canada, stop by Ayoub's Dried Fruit and Nuts today. We can't wait to see you!

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