Here’s a concise guide to versatile sunflower seeds and sunflower butter — how to buy, store, toast, and use in all kinds of flavorful plant-based recipes.
The seeds of the majestic sunflower plant are a concentrated source of flavor and nutrients. Native to the Americas, the sunflower was introduced to the Mediterranean region in the early 16th century and, shortly after, to the Middle East. So these power-packed seeds have made their way into several cuisines.
Buying and storing
Sunflower seeds are less expensive to buy than many other nuts and seeds and are available in a variety of forms — shelled, unshelled, salted or unsalted, raw, dry-roasted or oil-roasted. Avoid overly salted and oil-roasted seeds. The most economical way of buying them is unshelled, in bulk. In this form, they’re useful for snacking, as popping them out of the shell is part of the fun.
However, if you’ll be using the seeds more extensively in cooking or baking, buy them shelled for easier use.
Whether you buy them raw or roasted is a matter of preference. Their flavor is definitely enhanced by roasting, and you can easily do so at home (see instructions ahead) Seeds in the shell will keep for a month or so in a cool, dry place; refrigerate them during the summer.
Sunflower seeds out of the shell can keep in the pantry, in a tightly lidded container, for a couple of weeks. But in my opinion, they’re best kept refrigerated at all times, as they’re quite susceptible to rancidity.
Are sunflower seeds good for you?
Short answer: yes! Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamins E, niacin, and folate. They’re also abundant in potassium, phosphorus, copper, iron, zinc, and other minerals.
1/4 cup (which is about 1 ounce) is a typical serving size, and provides 160 calories, 5.5 grams of protein, and 14 grams of fat. The seeds are 47 percent fat, and the fat is highly polyunsaturated — the use of sunflower oil as a general-purpose cooking oil has grown tremendously over recent years. Here’s more detailed information on the nutritional value of sunflower seeds.
Is there such a thing as sunflower seed allergy?
Allergy to sunflower and other seeds is far more rare than tree nut allergies. Still, be mindful if you suspect you may be allergic or sensitive to the seeds, and avoid them. Here’s more information on sunflower seed allergy.
How to toast sunflower seeds
If you purchase raw (untoasted) seeds, which can be more economical, it’s easy to toast (aka roast) them at home.
In the oven: Preheat the oven to 325º F. Spread shelled seeds in a parchment-lined baking pan. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally (and watch carefully, they toast quickly!), until they’re lightly browned and fragrant.
On the stovetop: You can also toast shelled seeds on a dry nonstick skillet quite easily. Simply cook over medium heat, stirring often, until lightly browned and fragrant. This will take between 5 and 10 minutes, depending on the quantity being toasted.
General uses for sunflower seeds
Trail mix: Combine these seeds with other nuts and dried fruits of your choice for a tasty trail mix type of snack.
Granola: Use as an ingredient in homemade granola. Since they toast quickly in the oven, it’s best to start with untoasted seeds for this purpose. Try this classic Homemade Crunchy Granola.
In cold cereal: Toss a tablespoon or so of toasted seeds into a serving of your favorite cold cereal.
Sunflower seed milk: Find a link to a recipe to this and other nut or seed-based milks in this post.
Energy balls: Like other seeds, sunflower seeds are a good ingredient to incorporate into no-bake energy balls (aka vegan truffles). Try these Peanut Butter Granola Energy Balls.
Salad and bowl topper: Toss seeds into or on top of green salads, grain salads, bean salads, coleslaws, and potato salads for a tasty crunch. Same for your colorful and creative Buddha bowls. Try this Barley Salad with Red Beans and Cucumber (photo above).
Pilafs and noodle dishes: Toasted, they make a nice addition to grain pilafs and noodle dishes.
Casserole topper: Use sunflower seeds as a topping for vegetable and pasta casseroles.
In or atop baked goods: Incorporate them whole or ground into bread dough, or add into muffin and quick-bread batters. Or, simply use the seeds as a topping for baked goods before they go into the oven.
Homemade granola bars: These seeds are a perfect addition to homemade granola bars.
An intensely flavored spread, sunflower butter is available in jars in natural foods stores, food co-ops, and well-stocked supermarkets.
Once a jar is opened, it’s best to keep it in the refrigerator, especially during the warmer months. Like the whole seeds, the butter is susceptible to rancidity.
Providing all the nutrients in the seeds, a 2-tablespoon serving of sunflower butter contains an average of 180 calories, 6 grams of protein, and 15 grams of fat. Sunflower butter doesn’t have the slight sweetness characteristic of nut butters and tastes more savory, almost like a paté. If you’d like to make your own (see below), you can add a little sweetness and/or salt to change the flavor profile.
Spread it on pumpernickel bread, rice cakes, or crackers. Add a tablespoon or two to recipes for grain, bean, or lentil burgers.
How to make your own sunflower butter
Considering that sunflower seeds are relatively inexpensive compared with other nuts and seeds, sunflower butter is surprisingly expensive when you buy it in a jar. It’s easy to make your own at home.
1 – Start with 2 cups lightly toasted seeds. Place in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until ground into a fine meal, almost like flour.
2 – Add 2 tablespoons agave or maple syrup and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to process until the mixture has the consistency of a nut butter. You’ll need to stop the machine and scrape down the sides from time to time. This process takes a good few minutes, so patience is needed! Don’t be tempted to add any water. Some recipes call for a tablespoon or two of coconut oil, but it’s not really necessary.
3 – If your machine starts to feel too warm, simply pause for a few minutes, let it cool down, then resume. Once the sunflower butter is ready, let it cool in the bowl of the processor if it feels a bit warm, then transfer into a tightly lidded jar.
Here are a few variations on homemade sunflower butter:
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