Sunflower Power

Let's count the ways to enjoy this stately flower.

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Many a traveler has sighed at the sight of a field of golden sunflowers waving in the breeze. And it’s very likely that the traveler has a bag of sunflower seeds in the car. Whole sunflower seeds are a great summertime travel snack. But it doesn’t stop there. The ways sunflower seeds find their way into our diets are many.

Sunflower seed butter spread on toast, roasted kernels sprinkled on salad, bread made with kernels nestled in the dough or pressed into the top of a loaf. The possibilities are endless.

Farmers grow two types of food sunflowers. Small black seeds, used primarily for cooking oil, represent 75 to 80 percent of the market. The larger striped “confectionary” seeds go for foods ranging from snacks to breads.

There’s demand for both, experts say, but you have to be a lot more diligent with insect control on confectionaries. As Goodland, Kansas, farmer Steve Evert bluntly puts it, “When you bite into a sunflower seed, you don’t like to bite into a bug.”

Smooth and creamy

Sunflower butter is working its way to health and grocery stores near you. “It tastes like roasted sunflower seeds, with peanut butter consistency,” says Mike Williams, general manager of Red River Commodities in Lubbock, Texas. “I like to stir a spoonful into my oatmeal in the morning; it just adds to the flavor.”

Sunflower butter doesn’t carry the allergens that peanut butter does and is high in Vitamin E. Even school districts are showing increasing interest, Williams says. Twelve states now include this product in school lunch programs.

Red River processes SunButter in Fargo, North Dakota, in a peanut-free facility. Options include creamy, natural crunch, honey crunch, and organic.

Learn more at or visit our Web site at

Ready to roast

If you want to enjoy sunflower seeds from your garden, the National Sunflower Association (www.Sunflower tells you how.

To harvest: Heads are ready to harvest when backs turn brown. In northern areas, this might be after the first killing freeze. In warmer areas, the plant will dry down naturally.

Snip the head off the plant and rub seeds out by hand. If birds or other pests attack the heads, cut the heads and hang them upside down under cover or in the garage to air dry. But make sure the seeds are mature. Remove any plant debris.

To roast in-shell seeds: Cover unshelled seeds with salted water, using ¼ to ½ cup of salt per 2 quarts of water. Soak overnight. Drain and pat seeds dry to remove excess moisture. (You can roast seeds unsalted, by simply skipping the soaking process.)

Heat oven to 300°F. Spread seeds evenly on cookie sheet or shallow pan and bake 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Seeds often develop small cracks down centers as they roast. Taste after each stirring to see if seeds are completely roasted. After roasting, remove seeds from oven and allow to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

 Variations call for mixing 1 teaspoon melted butter with 1 cup seeds while still warm from oven; these are for immediate eating. Some experiment with seasonings, such as barbecue, Cajun and taco.

Enjoy the bounty

The versatile sunflower seed can be used for all manner of cooking. The National Sunflower Association offers the following simple recipes:


Roasted Sunflower Kernels

Heat oven to 400°F. Evenly spread 1 cup raw sunflower kernels over jellyroll or large roasting pan. Bake 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Let cool and store in airtight container. May be frozen up to 1 year. Get creative with this recipe by adding your favorite herbs and spices to make barbecue, dill pickle or other flavored varieties.


Caramel Sunflower Rolls

2 packages active dry yeast

¼ cup water (110-115°F)

½ cup granulated sugar

2 cups warm milk

1 teaspoon salt

¼ cup light molasses

2 eggs, beaten

4½ cups all purpose flour, divided

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ cup sunflower margarine

½ cup raw or roasted sunflower kernels

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed


In large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add sugar, milk, salt and molasses; mix well. Add eggs and 1 cup all-purpose flour; mix. Add wheat flour and mix well.

Add remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing after each cup, until dough is soft but not sticky. Knead 4-5 minutes. Roll ¼ inch thick and at least 18 inches long and spread with margarine. Use rolling pin to finely crush kernels; sprinkle over margarine. Sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar over kernels. Roll dough, jellyroll fashion, and cut into 24 rolls. Place in pans on top of the Caramel Sauce (see below). Cover and let rise for 1 hour in warm place.

Heat oven to 325°F. Bake 25-30 minutes. Invert onto serving platter.

Caramel Sauce: Melt 2 tablespoons sunflower margarine and add 1½ cups brown sugar and ¼ cup honey. Cook over low heat until mixture begins to boil. Pour caramel into two greased 8-by-12-inch pans. Sprinkle ¼ cup raw or roasted sunflower kernels over each pan.

Yields 24 rolls.