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sunflower seed


Botanical name: Helianthus annus



The sunflower is one of the earth's most important oleiferous plants.

The sunflower is native to western and central North America. Indians used the seeds for thousands of years and cultivated the plant in the middle of the 13th century.

Around 1510, the Spaniards brought the sunflower to Europe, but it was not until the beginning of the 19th century that it was used in Russia as an oleiferous plant.

Today the sunflower is grown especially in Europe, Russia, Argentina, the USA and India. Sunflowers are also cultivated in Germany. However, they grow best in countries with a short, hot summer and an adequate supply of water.


Sunflower seeds are harvested in September / October by threshing. In Germany, shelled seeds are available the year round, while unshelled seeds are used mainly as bird seed.

Appearance, taste, characteristics

The sunflower is an annual plant and belongs botanically to the family Compositae. According to the variety it grows to 1.5–3 m high, in isolated cases even up to 4 m. Smaller varieties are preferred for field cultivation because they can be harvested by machine. The sunflower has a very strong, slightly hairy stalk and long-stemmed, heart-shaped leaves with rough hairs and a strongly dentate edge.

The plant blooms from July until October. The flower heads can attain a diameter of up to 40 cm. They are brown in the centre and carry long, yellow to orange petals. In one large blossom 1000–1500 fruits develop: the sunflower seeds. The shell portion of the entire fruit depends on the shell density and amounts to 15–20% today; earlier it was about 40%.

The shell of the fruit is leathery-woody, about 1–2 cm long, tapered at one end and round on the other. The colour can vary from black to whitish and it can be one colour or striped lengthwise. Beneath the shell is the meaty, beige-grey seed. The size and shape of the seed differ with the variety, but it is usually flattened and tapered at one end.

Sunflower seeds taste aromatic, sweet and nutty.


Like all other seeds, sunflower seeds contain very little water, but at the same time much fat and protein, which makes them high in calories.

The oil content of the seeds and their makeup of fatty acids are influenced considerably by the growing conditions, in particular the temperature. Normally, the content of linoleic acid predominates (up to 80%), but there are new breeds with an especially high content of oleic acid (up to 90%), the so-called high-oleic varieties.

In addition, the seeds contain large amounts of vitamin E and magnesium and have high contents of vitamins B1 and B6, folic acid and niacin. They are also rich in potassium and iron.

100 g contain:

Sunflower seeds
Energy (kcal)
Water (g)
Protein (g)
Fat (g)
Carbohydrates (g) (g)
Fibre (g)
Vitamin A (RE) (µg)
Vitamin E (mg)
Vitamin B1 (mg)
Vitamin B2 (mg)
Niacin (mg)
Vitamin B6 (mg)
Folic acid (µg)
Potassium (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Calcium (mg)
Magnesium (mg)
Iron (mg)
Saturated fatty acids
Monounsaturated fatty acids (g)
Polyunsaturated fatty acids (g)

Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Sunflower seeds should be stored in a dry, cool and dark place in an air-tight container; otherwise they will become rancid.

Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

In Germany, sunflower seeds are used particularly in baking. The whole seeds are mixed into baked goods or sprinkled on them as a decoration. They are equally popular in sweets, vegetarian patties and muesli mixes. Meanwhile, vegetarian sandwich spreads based on ground sunflower seeds are also sold.

The aroma of the seeds is more intense if they are roasted briefly in a dry pan prior to use. They can be strewn over vegetable dishes, soups, noodles and salads.

Particularly in the Mediterranean area and Eastern Europe, large-kernel seeds are eaten as a snack, either raw or roasted and salted.

Sunflower seeds belong to the group of oleiferous seeds, because they are used mainly to extract oil, which is used directly for cooking or to manufacture margarine.


Sunflower seeds with a low fat content are also sold as bird seed. The solid residue resulting from the extraction of oil, the so-called press cake, is used as concentrated feed for animals. The leaves and deseeded heads of the sunflowers are also used as animal fodder.





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