Sunflower Power

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

| July/August 2008

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  • SFPOImage4 Esther Gehrig
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    Harvesting sunflowers in summer's heat.
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  • SFPOImage6 Paulson
  • SFPOImage5 Sierra

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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.

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