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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise

On the Highest Perch

Sunflowers Transcend Seedy Existence


Sunflower Seeds at a Glance
History Uses Name Origin Folklore/Oddities Medical Benefits
Growing Nutrition Purchasing Preparation Recipes

As the cheerful sunflower smiles down upon us from its daunting 12-foot stature, both humans and birds look forward with anticipation to the nourishment the flower will release as its seeds reach maturity. A plant that so loves the sun and even resembles the sun offers much of the nutrients given to it by the sun.

But the sunflower holds much more promise than its sweet, innocent face reveals. A recent scientific breakthrough by the Institute of Food Research may have uncovered an emulsifier in the sunflower seed's protein that can bind oil-based food ingredients with water-based food ingredients that may in time replace the familiar, well-established dairy-based protein known as casein.

In their search to discover a good emulsifier for stabilizing food, the researchers learned that a study conducted in the 1970's suggested the sunflower might hold promise. The high-tech methods of today's modern equipment allowed the researchers to separate the seed's various proteins and test them for their emulsion properties. One protein stood out with both oil-loving and water-loving abilities.

Further studies currently in progress may produce results that could have a major impact on the food industry. Food companies would have to reformulate their recipes, but the benefit may be worth the effort since sunflower seed protein may not create the allergy problems attributed to dairy-based casein.

History
Sunflowers are native to both North and South America where indigenous people were first to cultivate them. The natives, following a 4,000-year-old practice, chose the largest seeds from the biggest heads year after year, developing the largest sunflowers that, in turn, produced the largest seeds. Ancient farmers tended their sunflower gardens with bone hoes and antler rakes. To encourage an abundant crop, they created special songs and held ceremonies at the time the seeds were sown.

Buffalo Bird Woman, a Hidatsa Native American farmer born in 1839, carried the ancient tradition forward and sang to her plants. Native Americans form deep spiritual bonds with the earth and are grateful for all it produces. Buffalo Bird Woman said, "We cared for our crops in those days as we would care for a child, for we Indian people loved our garden just as a mother loves her children . . ."

Sunflower Carbon dating-14 indicated the seeds were an important staple for Native Americans as early as 2300 BCE. Sunflower seeds were part of the regular diet of the Native Americans long before corn, squash, and beans, known as the three sisters, arrived in North America. South of the border, the Aztecs of Mexico were growing sunflowers and eating the seeds well before the white man arrived.

European farmers who came to the U.S. in the 1800's almost entirely disregarded the sunflower plant. They considered wheat, rye and corn far easier to harvest, while sunflower seeds were more labor intensive. Gardening books of that period completely ignored the merits of sunflower seeds as a nutritious food.

Many foods never achieve popularity in their country of origin. It often takes reintroduction from another country that has developed special techniques for growing, cooking, and storing to bring them to light.

Outside the Native American community sunflowers never caught on as a major crop in North America. Even when Columbus, other Spanish explorers, and colonists introduced them to the European continent in the 1500's they received little more than a nod.

However, Russia's Peter the Great (1672 to 1725) traveled to Holland where he was charmed by the sight of sunflowers in bloom. He brought seeds back to Russia where they were eagerly accepted and frequently eaten as a snack. By the 1700's sunflowers were growing throughout Russia and being cultivated for disease resistance and the production of oil. The seeds were a favorite treat and were devoured enthusiastically.

Sunflowers made a return engagement to their native land in the 1870's with the Mennonites. Originally from Russia, the Mennonites settled in Canada where they grew sunflowers from seeds they brought from their homeland. The Mennonites sold their giant Russian-developed sunflower seeds to U.S. seed companies during the 1880's. Meanwhile, Europeans and Russians were cultivating sunflowers and developing their seeds and oil as important food staples.

During the 1870's, Argentina began cultivating the sunflower. When the Spanish Civil War of the 1930's created a shortage of olive oil shipped to Argentina, the Argentine farmers turned to the sunflower and eventually became the second largest producer of sunflower oil.

The Russians and Eastern Europeans discovered that one of the many merits of cooking with sunflower oil is that the oil remains liquid at lower temperatures than fats from animal sources. Sunflower oil was perfectly suited to the colder climates of the northern regions of Russia and Europe because it could pour easily in cold weather.

During Lent, the Russian Orthodox Church forbade the eating of oily plants. Because sunflower seeds were a new food source, there was no mention of them as a prohibited food during the Church's Lenten period. Therefore, the Russians could enjoy their sunflower seeds with gusto all throughout Lent.

Developed by a Russian crop scientist about 50 years ago, a new variety of sunflower produced 50% oil, almost twice as much oil from its seeds as the typical strains. The oil soon became an important commodity. Today the sunflower is considered second to the soybean as an oil crop on the world market.

The sunflower became a major crop in the U.S. during 1970's from a Russian oil-producing cultivar that was brought to the United States in 1966. Commercially one type of sunflower is grown for its seeds, while another variety is grown for its oil. Presently the states that grow sunflowers for commercial production include Minnesota, Kansas, Texas, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Topping the U.S. production are Russia and Argentina.

Known as "Mr. Sunflower," botanist Charles Heiser devoted his life to researching the details of the sunflower. He spent his career collecting sunflower seeds that were cultivated by Native Americans. His collection resides in the USDA Agricultural Research Service Plant Introduction Station at Iowa State University.

Another avid seed collector, Gary Nabhan, was also gathering sunflower seeds from the Native Americans for the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Many know of him through his non-profit seed conservation organization Native Seeds/SEARCH that makes Native American seeds available to the public.

Considered the most cheerful flower in the world, the sunflower is a symbol of light, hope, and innocence. While the U.S. State of Kansas adopted the sunflower as its state flower, Russia considers the sunflower its national flower. According to a Life Magazine article, 1996 was the Year of the Sunflower. However, not everyone held these thoughts dear. U.S. farmers considered the sunflower a weed. In 1972 the state of Iowa officially declared the sunflower a noxious weed.

In 1990, a sunflower-growing contest in Redwood City, California, honored the winner of a sunflower head that measured 23-inches (58 cm) across. Topping that, the Guinness Book of Records notes a Canadian grown sunflower head that measured 321/4-inches (82 cm) in diameter. It was grown by Emily Martin of Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Canada in September 1983. Surpassing the giants, the tallest recorded sunflower was grown1986 by M. Heijms of Oirschot, Netherlands. His sunflower plant reached the amazing height of 25-feet 5 1/2-inches (7.76 m) tall. The shortest, developed with a bonsai technique, measured 2-inches (5 cm) across.

Like many plants, some species of sunflowers have become extinct. In particular, a variety of sunflower that once grew in the marshy areas of present day Los Angeles has disappeared. A few other sunflower varieties are now considered on the endangered list. Sunflower

Preserving ancient varieties, some Hopi, Havasupai, Mandans, and Arikaras Native Americans still grow and preserve seeds of the same varieties originally grown by their ancestors. Though some of these ancient sunflower varieties are close to extinction, seed savers who collect heirloom seeds for their historical value recognize the importance of preserving them.

The sunflower is not only grown for its seeds and oil. The flower itself is favored for its cheery sun-like appearance and brilliant colors and frequently appears as a familiar motif in advertisements, logos, T-shirts, clothing designs, artist's drawings and paintings. Advertisers believe the flower symbolizes zestfulness, youth, and hardiness.

Barbara Flores, author of The Great Sunflower Book, grew up along the banks of the Menominee River in Wisconsin and enjoyed wandering through the stalks of wild sunflowers growing along the roadside. "Sunflowers were easy to talk to because they looked at you and came in families," she says.

Along with consuming sunflower seeds in their raw state as well as extracting their oil for cooking, modern day health enthusiasts enjoy sprouted sunflower seeds. People such as Beatrice Trum Hunter, Ann Wigmore, Paavo Airola, and Viktoras Kulvinskas have been instrumental in advocating the health benefits of sprouted seeds.

Naming the Sunflower
The scientific name for the sunflower genus is Helianthus, a two-part word. Helios means the sun, while Anthos means flower. Formally it could be interpreted as flower of the sun and shortened to sunflower.

The French noted that sunflowers have the peculiar habit of turning with the sun and named it tournesol, which means "turn with the sun." In the morning when the sun rises in the east, the sunflower faces east, and as the sun begins to sink into the western sky, the sunflower also looks toward the west.

Folklore and Oddities
Buffalo Bird Woman, a Native American of the Hidatsa tribe, describes a long-forgotten ceremonial practice. Under a tree in the garden, a wooden stage, called the watching stage, was built so two young girls could watch the garden and sing "watch-garden songs" to encourage the plants to grow. Buffalo Bird Woman likened the ritual to singing to a baby to "make it quiet and feel good."

Sunflowers were so important in daily life among Native Americans that they took on a significant role in ceremonial dances. Sunflowers symbolized strength and endurance. During the Lakota sun dance ceremony that lasted for several days, dancers wore large medallions shaped like sunflowers around their necks as they danced continuously throughout the ceremonial event.

Highlighting some of their ceremonies, the Hopi Indians drew images of their sacred sunflowers inside their lodges and kivas and dressed their hair with fresh sunflowers.

Sunflower seed balls made from the meal served as sustenance for weary Indian warriors. Far from home and low on energy, they would regain vigor from a bite or two of the nut-butter sunflower seed ball kept in flint cases that hung from their belts.

Vincent Van Gogh may have been responsible for energizing recent interest in sunflowers after a 1987 exhibit of his later paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. All told, his works included 15 paintings of sunflowers. His painting, Sunflowers, created in 1888, included 14 sunflowers of both the single- and double-petal variety. That work is displayed a museum in Germany.

To seek refuge from the encroaching Industrial Revolution, people of the Victorian era turned to the sunflower as their symbol of purity and wild spirit. They carved sunflowers onto wooden furniture, painted them on vases, and depicted them on railings made from wrought iron. Sunflower designs were even cast on facades of buildings.

John Piper, a painter, was so enamoured of the sunflower that his gravestone featured a carved sunflower as a reminder of the artist's fondness for the flower.

Sunflower Seed Cuisine
A historical practice of the Native Americans was to parch or dry the seeds and then pound them with smooth stones to a meal used to thicken soups and drinks.Often they were combined with bone marrow of buffalo or deer and then baked into cakes.

The Hidatsa Indian women created sunflower meal by first parching, or roasting, the seeds in a clay pot, and then stirring continually with a small stick to prevent burning them. An occasional taste test helped to determine when the seeds were properly dry and crisp. Using a horn spoon, they transferred the seeds to a wooden bowl and then pounded them into a meal in small batches in a corn mortar.

Native Americans didn't like to waste a single portion of their valuable crops. The outer hulls of the sunflowers were roasted and then steeped in boiling water, to create a coffee-like drink.

In the past, defatted sunflower meal was added to breads, giving them a nutty flavor and added nutrition. Today, the meal is used mainly as animal fodder.

Other Uses
Ancient tribes of Native Americans boiled the seeds of the sunflower in water to separate the oil that they skimmed off the top. The oil was then used as a hair dressing.

The Hopi Indians used the purplish black seed hulls to create red and indigo dyes that were used in dyeing grasses and other natural materials for basket weaving, clothing, and even face paint.

Early American pioneers pounded sunflower stalks to create a coarse fiber. Sunflower stalks also made excellent kindling. The resourceful pioneers of Canada put seed hulls to use by compressing them into kindling logs.

High quality sunflower oil is used for making margarine and salad dressings, while the lower quality is employed in making soaps, paints, and varnishes. Lower grade sunflower oils are even added to diesel fuel.

Sunflower seeds are an important bird food for large birds kept at home as pets as well as a major ingredient in mixes for wild birds.

The crafts industry is very fond of sunflowers as well as their seeds in making pressed flowers, dried sunflowers, stencils, candle holders for pillar candles, greeting cards, picture frames, flower pots, swags, and wreaths. Sunflower

In modern industry hardly anything goes to waste. The pith of the sunflower head is ten times lighter than cork and is an important ingredient in the production of life jackets and life belts.

The stalks and leaves are used as food for horses, cattle, and sheep. The crushed seeds left after extracting sunflower oil are then considered defatted sunflower meal and are used as animal fodder. The animals are fortunate to have such nutritious food that is rich in B vitamins and composed of 56% protein and 5% fiber.

Medicinal Benefits
Native Americans valued all parts of the sunflower for its healing properties. For cuts and bruises, the juices from the stem were applied directly to the injured areas.

They made a liniment by boiling the roots and applying the warm liquid to relieve any inflammation, pain and itching from poison ivy, snakebites and rheumatism. The seeds were used as a diuretic, as relief for constipation, chest pain, and ulcers, to rid the body of worms, and to cure warts.

Russians had a unique remedy for relieving rheumatism. They combined chopped sunflower heads, soap chips, and vodka into a mixture that was sun-aged for a period of nine days, and then rubbed the potion on their achy joints.

A tea made by boiling the stems of the sunflower offered relief from coughs and fevers.

John Douglas, a physician, recommends raw sunflower seeds to his patients with cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure because they are high in potassium and low in sodium. He also found that raw sunflower seeds offered allergy relief to some of his patients. For patients who were in his stop-smoking program, he recommended sunflower seeds, not only for their nutritional benefits, but to provide an activity to keep their hands and mouths busy.

The high vitamin E and polyunsaturated fat content provide benefits that help lower cholesterol.

Native American Sunflower Garden of the Mid 1800's
Buffalo Bird Woman, born in North Dakota in 1839, settled with her family along the Missouri River where she cultivated her highly respected agricultural skills. The women in her family used ancient farming practices handed down from generation to generation to work the soil and grow their typical native crops called "the three sisters" (corn, beans, and squash).

Their fourth staple was sunflowers, the first crop to be planted in the spring as soon the frost passed. Rather than planting the sunflowers close together in multiple rows as many commercial farmers would, they chose to plant them around the perimeter of their garden about nine paces apart. To Buffalo Bird Woman's family this sparseness was their measure of beauty.

At harvest time the plants were cut down, and the sunflower heads placed face down on the roofs of their dwellings to dry. The Indians believed that the seeds would dry and loosen more easily with the sun shining on the back of the heads. If rain threatened, they simply brought the sunflower heads inside their homes and carried them back to the roofs when the weather cleared.

Removing the seeds was called threshing, a process that was accomplished with the heads spread out on a skin face down and beaten with sticks. The dry seeds then simply fell out.

Sunflower heads left on the roof late in the fall when nighttime temperatures dipped to freezing resulted in seeds that released greater quantities of oil. The oily quality was so desirable that sometimes the Indians would deliberately leave threshed seeds outside overnight to induce freezing.

Growing
Considered giant daisies, sunflowers belong to the Helianthus annuus genus that lists bout 67 species, some wild and some cultivated. Most are native to the United States.

More than 150 varieties of sunflowers have been cultivated from these species. Some are branching, some are single stalk, some are very tall, some dwarf, some are summer blooming, and some fall blooming.

Sunflowers do not appear to have particular soil or climate needs. They grow in hot deserts such as the Mojave, the swamps in Florida, and the woodlands in the Pacific Northwest. Loose fertile soil that offers good drainage is important, however, as is a full day of sunshine.

Sunflower plants are self-seeding because of the many seeds that drop to the ground, remain dormant over the winter, then sprout in the spring. However, if you choose to create your own hybrid cultivar, plant two very different varieties at the same time. Remember that the florets (the seeded area from which the petals radiate) mature and open from the outside to the inside progressively. As the flowers begin to open, they are releasing pollen. This is the best time to cross-pollinate.

The outer circle of florets will mature first. Use a tweezers to open the tip of the floret where the pollen forms. Lift off some of the pollen from one plant, and place it on the same area of the other plant. Perform this pollination method on a few dozen florets and place a mark with a waterproof pen on the back of the flower heads to show where you pollinated.

Cover the flower head with a paper bag to protect it from cross-pollinating with other varieties the wind may carry to your plants. When the seeds are fully matured, you can remove the seeds that received your special procedure. Dry them completely and carefully and store them in a glass jar at room temperature until the following season. Plant the seeds in pots one-inch (2.5 cm) deep in full sun and transplant them into the ground when the plants reach a foot (30 cm) in height. Place a stake in the ground at the time of transplanting to avoid damaging the root system later on.

Most sunflowers are drought resistant but will thrive best if watered about once a week, especially in dry climates. To preserve moisture, provide a 3-inch (7.5 cm) to to 4-inch (10 cm.) mulch.

For the largest heads with the greatest number of seeds, give the plants plenty of room. Crowded plants will not reach their full potential. Some varieties produce black and white striped hulls, some gray and white, and others pure white hulls such as the Tarahumara White Shelled variety.

Harvesting can be accomplished by either of two methods. The first is to cover the seed head with cheesecloth or nylon netting and allow the seeds to thoroughly dry on the plant. The covering protects the seeds from the birds. When the seeds are dry, rub the seed head to release the seeds.

The second method is to cut the mature head from the plant with about a foot (30 cm) of the stem attached. Hang in a dry location away from mice, rats, or insects. Placing a paper bag with small air holes in it may be helpful for catching the seeds that may fall as they dry.

Because of their anatomy, sunflowers are closely related to the carrot and dill. Each produces flower tops with clusters of tiny flowers called florets, (the seed portion in the center of the sunflower) surrounded by ray petals. Some varieties contain showy double ray petals.

Each individual sunflower seed, or floret, contains its own ovary, stigma, style, and anthers. Attached to the outer ring of florets are the long ray petals that are sometimes a greenish color when immature and deepen to a yellow or orange color when fully mature. Difficult to imagine, a single sunflower head that measures 12 inches (30 cm) across could have as many as eight thousand florets.

Most people think of a bright yellow flower when forming a picture in their minds of a sunflower in bloom. With the multitude of varieties cultivated in recent years, sunflowers bloom in a constellation of golden hues, not just bright yellow. Gardening books feature sunflowers in many shades of yellow, brilliant yellow orange, white, deep bronzed scarlet, pinkish red, and even light brown. Some sunflowers are a dazzling rainbow of multi-colors. Some sunflowers have deep brown, almost black centers, some light brown, some green, and some even deep yellow brown.

While 20 varieties of sunflowers are annuals, thirty cultivars are perennials that live for several years. The most well known perennial in the sunflower family is the Jerusalem artichoke or sunchoke, H. tuberosus. Though sunchokes add pleasant variety to a tossed salad, they have a tendency to take over the veggie garden. Their texture is moist and crisp, similar to jicama, while their flavor is delicately sweet. Plant Jerusalem artichokes in a separate bed where they will not affect other plants. For more information on the Jerusalem artichoke, see the Jerusalem Artichoke Caper

Of greatest importance to commercial sunflower seed growers is the variety H. annuus that has been crossed with H. petiolaris to produce sunflowers that do not contain pollen. Because of this male sterile cultivar, commercial growers have been able to achieve high productivity of sunflowers that are pest resistant and have seeds with very high oil content.

Sunflowers provide more than beauty in the garden. They are considered excellent companion plants when planted in vegetable gardens, because they draw beneficial insects to the garden to keep the pesty bugs out. Plant sunflowers and squashes close together--they're great pals in the garden.

While all sunflower seeds are edible, commercial farmers focus on the large, hybridized Russian and Israeli varieties with their recognizable black and white striped hulls that are cultivated for their large seeds.

The Russian Mammoth is an heirloom variety grown for its seed kernels. A large head can measure up to 14 inches (35 cm) across and look down from stalks as tall as 12 feet (3.7 m). Seed heads from this variety can produce between 1,000 and 5,000 seeds.

When planting sunflowers for the birds to enjoy, keep in mind that small birds especially enjoy the smaller sunflower varieties with their tiny, more manageable seeds.

Nutritional Benefits
All seeds are highly concentrated food. Sunflower seeds are no exception.

Raw sunflower kernels provide higher levels of nutrients than toasted seeds. One ounce (28 grams) of raw seeds contains 160 calories and only 6 grams of carbohydrates. They offer an impressive 7 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber. The perfect low-sodium food, they contain only 3 grams of sodium; however, their fat content must be considered if weight is a concern. One ounce of raw seeds contains 13 grams of fat.

Across the nutrient scale, raw sunflower seeds contain impressive figures. Usually found in trace quantities, thiamin registers 0.41 mg, riboflavin 0.04 mg, and niacin 0.81 mg. The champion of folate, raw sunflower seeds contain 40.88 mcg for 1 ounce (28 grams). Minerals make a good showing with 6.68 mg calcium, 0.39 mg iron, 20.38 mg magnesium, 39.63 mg potassium, and 0.29 mg zinc. Because raw sunflower seeds are high in phosphorous, eat them in small quantities to prevent loss of calcium.

One of the richest sources of vitamin E with 50.27 IU for 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams), raw sunflower seeds are a powerful antioxidant that rids the body of harmful free radicals that pose risk for heart disease.

The figures for toasted sunflower seeds are slightly lower for most nutrients while calories are slightly higher at 175 for one ounce (28 grams). The fat content goes up to 16.1 grams, 1.7 grams saturated. Protein rates 5 grams with fiber at 3 grams.

Unsalted sunflower seed butter provides 164 calories for one ounce (28 grams) with 6 grams of protein. Total fat registers 13.5 grams with 1.4 grams saturated. Vitamin A content is 15 IU, while folic acid jumps to 67.3 mcg. The seed butter has a good range of B vitamins with the exception of the absence of B12. Calcium levels measure 34.6 mg, iron 1.3 mg, and magnesium 105 mg. There's even a good supply of zinc with 1.5 mg.

Sprouted sunflower seeds produce impressive nutritional data. Imagine, a little sprouted sunflower seed contains enough nutrients to start a whole new plant growing, one that can reach 6- to 12-foot (1.8 to 3.7 m) heights. In the germination process, all nutrients, including enzymes and trace minerals, multiply 300 to 1200%.

One of the richest sources of protein, 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) of sprouted sunflower seeds contains 22.78 grams. The mineral content soars in the sprouted state. That 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) offers a notable 116 mg of calcium, 5.06 mg of zinc, 689 mg of potassium, 1.75 mg copper, and 354 mg of magnesium.

Vitamins increase during sprouting when the seeds are producing a new life. Vitamin A increases to 50,000 IU, and Vitamin E offers 52.18 mg, while Vitamin D provides 92.0 IU for 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams). The Vitamin B family offers niacin at 4.50 mg, riboflavin at 0.25 mg, and thiamin at 2.29 mg. Sprouted sunflower seeds are also a rich source of iron, providing 6.77 mg for 31/2 ounces (100 grams) that can be a benefit to people with anemia.

Mature sprouted sunflower seeds are a rich source of chlorophyll noted for cleansing or detoxifying the liver and the blood. Chlorophyll benefits many functions within the body including building blood supply, revitalizing tissue, calming inflammation, activating enzymes, and deodorizing the body. Most commercial breath fresheners contain chlorophyll.

Purchasing and Storage
Whenever possible, purchase organic sunflower seeds, shelled or unshelled. Health food markets are one source where they might be available, but you may find the internet helpful in locating sources for organic bulk sunflower seeds at lower prices.

At summertime room temperatures shelled sunflower seeds are very subject to damage from Indian meal moths. For best results, store them in a plastic or glass container and keep them refrigerated year round. They can also be frozen.

Sunflower seeds with shells have an extended life and can be kept at room temperature for up to a year in cooler climates. In areas where temperatures climb above 70 degrees (21 C), the seeds are best kept in the refrigerator.

The highest quality sunflower oil is cold pressed. Once the bottle is opened, store it in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage. Though it has a low rancidity level, sunflower oil will spoil if not properly stored.

Sunflower Seeds Shelling Sunflower Seeds
Rarely do we see people in the United States cracking open sunflower seeds one at a time and snacking on them. The task proves to be too tedious in our busy world. An easier, more efficient method is to put a quantity of seeds into a large, plastic zip-lock bag, and use a rolling pin to break up the shells. Transfer the seeds to a large bowl filled with water and give them a vigorous stir. You'll notice that the kernels will sink to the bottom, while the shells float to the surface where they can be skimmed off. Then, spread the kernels out on an absorbent kitchen towel to dry.

Raw
The nice thing about sunflower seeds is that once they're shelled you don't have to do anything to them. You can even buy them already shelled, a real convenience.

Sprinkle them on your breakfast cereal of soaked oats and diced fruits.

Enhance a salad with a touch of crunch from a handful or two of sunflower seeds.

Add a handful to a fruit smoothie for added nutrition.

Garnish a raw soup with a sprinkle of sunflower seeds over the top just before serving.

Add them to your homemade trail mix of raw nuts, seeds, and diced dried fruits.

Add a little plastic baggie of sunflower seeds to kids' lunchboxes.

Combine sunflower seeds with pine nuts when making a pesto sauce.

Soak the sunflower seeds and prepare a seed pate in the food processor. Combine them with vegetables of choice and fresh herbs, a touch of lemon or lime juice, and season to taste.

Add sunflower seeds to a fruit and nut confection.

For the wild birds that visit your yard in the springtime, prepare a Birdie Trail Mix with sunflower seeds in the shell. Some birds love peanuts in the shell, so include a generous portion for them, and add some millet for the tiny birds. Include some dried currants, and the birdies will rejoice at the welcome meal you've provided.

Grind sunflower seeds in a nut mill and combine with rolled oats and chopped fresh herbs. Use this mixture to sprinkle over a tossed salad.

To create your own seasoning blend, toss raw sunflower seeds with sesame and flax seeds along with a little salt and your favorite herbs into the blender. Blend to a powdered consistency. Add cayenne pepper if you enjoy a spicy edge to your seasoning blend.

To make sunflower seeds more alkaline and enhance their digestibility, soak them overnight.

Toasting
Two methods of toasting sunflower seeds allow the cook to heighten the flavor of the seeds, adding a crunchy accent or flavorful garnish to a dish. Depending on time available, choose the quick toasting stove-top method or the slow oven-roasting technique.

Stove-top Method: Toss a handful or two of raw sunflower seeds into a dry non-stick skillet. Using high heat, stir continuously with a wooden spoon until seeds turn light golden brown, about 2 or 3 minutes. Watch them carefully to avoid burning. As soon as they begin to turn brown, turn off heat, and remove the seeds to a waiting dish to cool. Store in a tightly covered plastic container in the refrigerator.

Oven-roasting Method: Oven roasting permits the cook to toast a larger quantity of seeds at one time. Put a single layer of seeds on an ungreased baking sheet and roast at 300 F (Gas Mark 2) for 30 to 45 minutes, turning once or twice during roasting. Remove to a dish to cool. Store in a tightly covered plastic container in the refrigerator.

Toasted seeds add interesting texture to pasta dishes.

Sprinkle toasted seeds over salads.

Roasted vegetable salads come to life with a handful or two of toasted sunflower seeds.

Add a couple of handfuls of toasted sunflower seeds to cooked rice or grains.

Baking
When baking bread either the old-fashioned way or in a bread machine, add about 1/3 cup (80 ml) of sunflower seeds for a pleasantly nutty flavor.

Muffins are more enjoyable when the home chef adds special touches like sunflower seeds, either raw or toasted, that lend a pleasant texture.

Cookies are just made for crunchy add-ins like sunflower seeds.

Pancakes and waffles are a perfect medium to add an extra touch of health with 1/4 cup (60 ml) of sunflower seeds in the batter.

Homemade granola just begs for crunchy nutty additions like sunflower seeds.

Sprouting
Sunflower seeds are easy to sprout and offer many health benefits. Steve Meyerowitz, the Sproutman, says, "Sprouts are baby plants in their prime. At this stage of their growth, they have a greater concentration of proteins, vitamins and minerals, enzymes, RNA, DNA, bio-flavinoids, T-cells, etc., than at any other point in the plant's life--even when compared with the mature vegetable."

A wide mouth glass jar, a natural bamboo basket with shallow sides, a sprouting bag, or potting soil work well for sprouting sunflower seeds. Sprouting can be accomplished with the shells intact or with the shells removed. Delicious sunflower sprouts can be harvested in 8 to 12 days and stored in the refrigerator.

Shelled sunflower seeds can be soaked overnight in a bowl with water to cover. Next morning, drain off water, rinse the seeds, put them into a sprouting bag ideally made from linen, and sprout for two days at room temperature. The sprouting bag prevents the seeds from oxidizing and turning brown like cut up apples and pears. The sprout bag also keeps the sprouts perfectly moist while easily draining off excess liquid. Rinse the sprouts two or three times a day, and hang the bag over the faucet or lay on a dish drainer rack to drain. Refrigerate the sprouted seeds.

Sunflower seeds in the shell can also be sprouted. Though any untreated sunflower seeds will sprout, the small, black oil-sprouting grade will produce the best, most abundant results. The striped shell variety is a little more labor intensive because the shells have to be removed by hand after the seeds have sprouted.

Sprout Basket: Start by soaking about 6 tablespoons of the seeds overnight. If any seeds float, stir them into the water. Next day, drain off all the water and put the seeds into a loosely woven natural bamboo basket that has not been treated, painted, or coated with shellac. Create a loose tent with a plastic bag that is larger than the basket and can be zipped closed. Put the basket with the seeds inside the tent and zip closed. Remove and rinse about 3 times daily under a spray faucet and return to the tent. While light is important for developing the green leaves of the maturing sprouts, the seeds will do best with indirect light. In hot weather, it may be helpful to leave the end of the tent open for improved air circulation.

Sprouting Jar: Though a jar is not the best method for sprouting sunflower seeds, it does produce limited results. Sunflower sprouts do best when given the opportunity to grow tall, about 4 to 6-inches (10 to 15 cm) in height, and not be cramped into a jar that will inhibit their growth. When using a glass jar for sprouting, start by soaking the seeds overnight in the jar. Cover the top of the jar with cheesecloth secured with a rubber band. Next day, drain off water. Lay the jar on its side at an angle with the mouth of the jar resting lower to allow for drainage. Rinse sprouts 3 times a day, drain, and lay the jar on its side. There is no need to remove the cheesecloth to rinse the sprouts.

Soil-Sprouting: Purchase two aluminum foil pans, one about 9-inches by 13-inches (23 by 32.5 cm), the other a little larger to act as the drip pan. Use an ice pick or pointed nail to punch holes in the smaller pan. Then put a 1-inch (2.5 cm) layer of potting soil in the smaller pan. Soak the sunflower seeds with shells overnight, and drain the next morning. Arrange the seeds over the soil, cover with a layer of wet newspapers, and set the smaller pan into the larger one. Keep the newspapers moist, lifting each day to check the progress of the seeds. When you notice little sprouts emerging from the shells, remove the newspapers and provide plenty of light and warmth. Keep the soil moist. After several days you'll notice leaves begin to form at the tip of the sprout stem. Harvest your beautiful sprouts in about 10 to 14 days and enjoy them in salads and sandwiches.

Sunflower Oil
Because of its high vitamin E content, unprocessed sunflower oil has a low rancidity level, making it shelf stable and good for cooking. However, it is best used in its uncooked form to retain its valuable nutrients.

Light and delicate, sunflower oil is ideal for salad dressings. Sunflower oil also combines well with other robust flavored oils such as extra virgin olive oil.

When preparing an infused oil, use sunflower oil from the first pressing (usually stated on the label).

Easy infused oil: Fill an attractive glass bottle half full with fresh herbs, such as rosemary, tarragon, basil, or thyme. Add some spices such as peppercorns, ginger, fresh chiles, or paprika. Fill the bottle with sunflower oil, and allow herbs to infuse for about two weeks. Enjoy the flavored oil over salads.

Avoid infusing fresh garlic in oil that will be sitting out on the counter at room temperature. The result can cause botulism.

With a pleasant tang from the lemon juice, this easy blender salad dressing could become a favorite. It's quick to fix, enhances all varieties of greens, and stores well.

SUNFLOWER OIL AND LEMON DRESSING

    1 t. salt
    1/8 t. black pepper
    1/2 t. dried oregano
    1 large clove garlic, minced
    1/4 C. (60 ml) raw sunflower seeds
    1/2 C. (120 ml) sunflower seed oil
    1/2 C. (120 ml) fresh lemon juice
    1/2 C. (120 ml) water
    1 T. balsamic vinegar

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend to a creamy consistency. Pour into a jar or salad dressing bottle and store in the refrigerator.
  2. Shake well before each use. Makes1 1/3 cups ((320 ml).


Even people who don't like to cook will find these easy preps a temptation to spread on bread, toast, or crackers. When served with raw or even steamed veggies, these tasty dips will provide a wholesome, nutritious meal. The great thing about these recipes is that they are perfect for any season--just vary the veggies you serve on the side.

SUNNY SEED DIP

    1/2 C. (120 ml) raw sunflower seeds
    1/4 t. salt
    1/2 t. ground cumin
    Pinch of cayenne pepper
    1 T. apple cider vinegar
    1/2 t. Bragg's Liquid Aminos
    1/4 C. water

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, and process until almost smooth and creamy. You may have to stop the machine several times to scrape down the sides and redistribute ingredients. .
  2. Transfer to a small serving bowl.
  3. Serve with a platter of carrot sticks, celery sticks, bell pepper strips, anise bulb sticks, cucumber sticks, turnip slices, kohlrabi slices, rutabaga slices, and cauliflower and broccoli florets enjoy a wholesome meal. Makes about 1 cup (240 ml).


WASABI SUNFLOWER SPREAD

1/2 C. (120 ml) raw sunflower seeds
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. evaporated cane juice
1/4 + 1/8 t. wasabi paste
1 T. rice vinegar
3 T. water
1/2 t. Bragg's Liquid Aminos

  1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until almost smooth and creamy. You may have to stop the machine several times to scrape down the sides and redistribute ingredients.
  2. Transfer to a small serving bowl and serve with whole grain bread or raw veggies. Makes about 1 cup (240 ml)
  3. .


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