Sunflower seed

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Left: dehulled kernel. Right: whole seed with hull
Sunflower seed kernels, dried
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 2,445 kJ (584 kcal)
20 g
Sugars 2.62 g
Dietary fiber 8.6 g
51.46 g
Saturated 4.455 g
Monounsaturated 18.528 g
Polyunsaturated 23.137 g
20.78 g
Thiamine (B1)
1.48 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.355 mg
Niacin (B3)
8.335 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
1.13 mg
Vitamin B6
1.345 mg
Folate (B9)
227 μg
55.1 mg
Vitamin C
1.4 mg
Vitamin E
35.17 mg
78 mg
5.25 mg
325 mg
1.95 mg
660 mg
645 mg
9 mg
5 mg

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

The sunflower seed is the fruit of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus). The term "sunflower seed" is actually a misnomer when applied to the seed in its pericarp (hull). Botanically speaking, it is a cypsela. When dehulled, the edible remainder is called the sunflower kernel or heart.

There are three types of commonly used sunflower seeds: linoleic (most common), high oleic, and NuSun. Each variety has its own unique levels of monounsaturated, saturated, and polyunsaturated fats. The information in this article refers mainly to the linoleic variety.

For commercial purposes, sunflower seeds are usually classified by the pattern on their husks. If the husk is solid black, the seeds are called black oil sunflower seeds. The crops may be referred to as oilseed sunflower crops. These seeds are usually pressed to extract their oil. Striped sunflower seeds are primarily used for food; as a result, they may be called confectionery sunflower seeds.


Top sunflower seed producers – 2012
Source: Food and Agriculture Organization (FAOSTAT)[1]
Rank Country × 106 t Country area (km²)
1  Ukraine 8.39 603,550
2  Russia 7.99 17,075,400
3  Argentina 3.34 2,780,400
4  China 2.37 9,596,961
5  France 1.57 632,759
6  Romania 1.40 238,391
7  Bulgaria 1.39 110,994
8  Turkey 1.37 783,562
9  Hungary 1.32 93,028
10  United States 1.26 9,629,091
World total 37.07 41,544,136

Nutritional value

In a 100 gram serving, dried whole sunflower seeds provide 584 calories as a nutrient-dense food. The seeds are an excellent source (20% or higher of the Daily Value) of protein, dietary fiber, all B vitamins and vitamin E (table). The seeds also contain high levels of the dietary minerals, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, iron and zinc (table).

Half of a 100 gram serving is fat, mainly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, principally linoleic acid (table). Additionally, the seeds contain phytosterols which may contribute toward lower levels of blood cholesterol.[2]



Stereo image
Right frame 
Raw sunflower seeds, intended for planting. (stereo image)
Roasted and salted sunflower kernels used as a snack food

Sunflower seeds are more commonly eaten as a healthful snack than as part of a meal. They can also be used as garnishes or ingredients in various recipes. The seeds may be sold as in-shell seeds or dehulled kernels. The seeds can also be sprouted and eaten in salads.

When in-shell seeds are processed, they are first dried. Afterwards, they may also be roasted or dusted with salt or flour for preservation of flavor. Dehulling is commonly performed by cracking the hull with one's teeth and spitting it out while keeping the kernel in the mouth and eating it.

Sunflower seeds sold by the bag are either eaten "plain" (salted only) or with a variety of flavorings added by the maker including barbecue, pickle, hot sauce, bacon, ranch, and nacho cheese as well as others.

In-shell sunflower seeds are particularly popular in Mediterranean and Asian countries where they can be bought freshly roasted and are a common food, while in many countries, they can be bought freshly packed in various roasted flavors. In the United States, they are commonly eaten by baseball players as an alternative to chewing tobacco.[3]

Dehulled kernels have been mechanically processed to remove the hull. These kernels may be sold raw or roasted. These dehulled kernels are sometimes added to bread and other baked goods for their flavor. There is also sunflower butter, similar to peanut butter, but using sunflower seeds instead of peanuts. Apart from human consumption, sunflower seeds are also used as food for pets and wild birds in boxes and small bags.


Cross-section of a sunflower husk under an optical microscope (polarized light, magnification 100x):
1. Internal parenchyma
2. Sclerenchyma
3. Phytomelanin layer
4. Epidermis and cuticle

The hulls, or shells, are mostly composed of cellulose. They decompose slowly. They are burned as biomass fuel.[4]

Pressed oil

Over the past decades sunflower oil has become popular worldwide. The oil may be used as is, or may be processed into polyunsaturated margarines. The oil is typically extracted by applying great pressure to the sunflower seeds and collecting the oil. The protein-rich cake remaining after the seeds have been processed for oil is used as a livestock feed.

The original sunflower oil (linoleic sunflower oil) is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (about 68% linoleic acid) and low in saturated fats, such as palmitic acid and stearic acid. However, various hybrids have been developed to alter the fatty acid profile of the crop for various purposes.[5]

Sunflower seed deoiled cakes/meals

Oil extraction from the seeds with or without the hulls result in different types of meals, such as:

  • Whole seed expeller meal
  • Solvent extracted whole seed meal
  • Dehulled solvent extracted meal

Solvent-extracted meals are low in oil content. Defatted meal is used in feed stuffs.

See also


  1. "UN Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database". United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization: Statistics Division.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "Sunflower Seeds, Pistachios Among Top Nuts For Lowering Cholesterol". Science Daily. 7 December 2005. Retrieved 2011-03-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Blount, Roy, Jr. "The Seeds Of Content." Sports Illustrated, 06 Oct. 1980. Web. 07 Oct. 2013.[1]
  4. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  5. "National Sunflower Association : Sunflower Oil". Retrieved 2011-03-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>