Sunflower Seeds

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About

The flower of Helianthus annuus, the only North American native to become a significant world crop, is a composite of a hundred or more small flowers, each of which produces a small fruit like the “seed” of the strawberry, a single seed contained in a thin hull. The seed is mainly storage cotyledons. The sunflower originated in the American Southwest, was domesticated in Mexico nearly 3,500 years before the arrival of European explorers, and brought to Europe around 1510 as a decorative plant. The first large crops were grown in France and Bavaria in the 18th century to produce vegetable oil. Today, the world’s leading producer by far is Russia. Improved Russian oil varieties were grown in North America during World War II, and sunflower is now one of the top annual oil crops worldwide. The eating varieties are larger than the oil types, with decoratively striped hulls that are easily removed. Sunflower seeds are especially rich in phenolic antioxidants and vitamin E.