It’s time to let the sun shine in!
Enter Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)!
Sunflower seeds are packed with healthy fiber, protein, fats, minerals, vitamin E, and Phytochemicals.
About 90% of the fat in sunflower seeds is good, and rare unsaturated fat, which protects the heart — according to National Sunflower Association.
But how do you get these sunflower seeds? Where do sunflower seeds come from?
Sunflower seeds can be found at the large flower head at the top of the stalk. The dark center contains disk flowers, which is made up of 5 brown petals fused together in the form of a tubular shape.
Parts of a Sunflower
The image below illustrates the main parts of a sunflower from the flowers down to the root system:
Dehulling of Sunflower Seeds
Hull (or Husk) is primarily the outer coating or outer shell of a seed. Sunflower seeds are harvested with the hulls intact, however, it’s advisable to dehull (remove the outer shell) the seed. Here’s why:
Sunflower seeds should be dehulled to get the real seed needed for oil extraction. More so, the hulls make up 30% of the seed weight. Through dehulling, you can eliminate a ton of waxes that would otherwise be transferred while extracting the oil.
The wax content of non-dehulled sunflower seed is about 5X higher compared to a dehulled seed.
But you’ll likely find <15% wax content in the seed to ease percolation during solvent extraction. This is essential to prevent the kernels from baking together.
Where Do Sunflower Plants Grow Best?
The sunflower plant grows best in a dry, windy region.
Most of the world’s production of sunflowers is concentrated in the northern Midwest.
In 2009, nearly 50% of the crop was grown in North Dakota and South Dakota, with the rest spread across California, Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska.
While planting time is optimal in the northern states, southern states can plant much later.
Most of the production is contracted prior to planting, and future payments are based on the quality of the seeds.
Sunflower Seeds are Grown in North America
In North America, 85% of sunflower seeds are grown. The plant requires full sunlight and will grow in any soil, as long as it has plenty of water.
Most U.S. sunflower seed is exported to Japan and Canada.
The large seeds are consumed by Europeans, who prefer to eat them one by one, and are best enjoyed in small quantities.
However, only a handful of large seeds are grown in the US.
Why is it Called Sunflower?
Despite its name, it’s important to remember that it’s a botanical term. In fact, the sunflower is a cypsela. The pericarp protects the seed, making it edible.
The only problem is that the kernel has a high linoleic acid content, limiting its shelf life. The seeds are often eaten raw, which is why the name “sunflower” is misleading.
In North America, sunflower is cultivated mostly in the United States.
The most important reason for this is the influence of Peter the Great. Initially, the sunflower was a decorative plant, but in the 18th century, it was discovered that it could also be used as food.
It was first mentioned in literature in 1769. It was only later that it was cultivated commercially.
During Lent, the Russian Orthodox Church began to ban oil-based foods, including sunflowers, which was a huge success. The resulting oil was quickly consumed by the masses.
Sunflowers are Often Sold As Food Crop
Squirrels and birds are common predators of sunflowers.
Some of the most prolific crops are planted in densely vegetated areas. In addition to the oil they produce, sunflowers are also sold as food. There are a wide variety of ways to consume sunflower seeds.
The simplest way is to snack on them. You can enjoy them on your own or add them to salads and cereals.
Sunflowers are large plants with a short growing season.
They are cultivated in the US in a few varieties. Most varieties of sunflowers are domesticated.
Wild sunflowers are large plants with a single flower and stalk. Unlike wild sunflowers, these plants usually have a single stalk and a single flower. In the US, they are domesticated, with a single mammoth yellow ray flower.
Compared to their wild counterparts, domesticated sunflowers have only one or two flowers. Some species have been hybridized, but not the seed itself.
Do All Sunflowers Produce Sunflower Seeds?
Not all sunflower varieties produce seeds. But it’s common to find hybrid varieties as well.
Are sunflowers native to the northern Great Plains? The answer is a resounding yes. The annual broadleaf plant is native to most of North America and is the only oilseed that grows naturally on the continent.
It has been commercially grown in Canada since the early 1940s, but only started becoming a major agronomic crop in the U.S. in the 1950s.
The sunflower traces its origins back to plants found at archeological sites dating back to 3,000 BC.
Sunflower Seeds Are Edible
Sunflower seeds are edible and come in a variety of colors and sizes. It is easier to eat the seeds from bred sunflowers, as the seed pods are much larger.
Despite their size, Oilseed seeds are not as easily digested by people and may cause a tummy upset if they’re too old. Not all sunflowers produce sunflower seeds, though.
The Lifecycle of Sunflowers
Sunflowers have a lifecycle. They start as flowers, then flower, and then produce seeds. Interference with their life cycle can prevent seed development.
The Mongolian Giant is one of the biggest sunflowers, producing hundreds of thousands of seeds per head. The Mammoth Russian is another large producer and also hefty, producing a tonne of seeds.
Luckily, the seed germination process is not affected by soil pH.
Different Sunflower Varieties: Different Uses
Sunflowers are not all the same, so not all varieties are created equal. Some are bred just for the flowers, while others have been cultivated specifically for their seed production.
Some of the most popular types are those that produce large amounts of seeds.
For example, the Mongolian Giant produces over 1,000 seeds per head. Other giants include the Mammoth Russian, which can produce over 2 tons of seeds.
Not all sunflowers produce sunflower seeds, but hybrids are possible. The seeds are fertile if planted in the right soil and at the right time.
Some of them will self-seed, while others will not. A few sunflowers may even be self-seeded. So, the best sunflowers are hybrids, and they may be able to reproduce by self-seeding in some years.
If you want to grow a hybrid sunflower, you can buy seed from another breeder.
In order to produce sunflower seeds, they need to mature on the plant.
To become fully viable, the seeds must be able to survive in the environment. During this time, the flower heads are large and round and they nod in a way that makes them perfect for harvesting.
In the case of the latter, they double, triple, or even quadruple in size. This is due to their high oil content.
Sunflower seeds: Conclusion
All in all, sunflower seeds are edible and packed with essential nutrients to keep your heart and immune system healthy.
Growing, caring, and extracting oil from sunflower seeds is quite straightforward once you know what you’re doing.
You can plant sunflowers in containers, although they are more suitable for sunny areas. You can grow dwarf varieties in containers.
You can also grow large, giant, and striped sunflowers. All sunflowers are suitable for home gardens, but if you live in a cold climate, consider buying dwarf varieties.
In addition to growing in pots, you can also grow them in the ground.
There are many different types of sunflowers, ranging from one-foot plants to fifteen feet tall.