graines de tournesol (French), Sonnenblumensamen (German), semi di girasole (Italian), pipas (Spanish), lubb (Arabic), surya mukhi (Hindi), suraj mukhi (Bengali), surya-kanthi (Tamil), thaan tawan (Thai), bunga matahari (Malay), kui hua zi (Chinese)
(Helianthus annuus – Family Compositae)
Sunflower seeds are the fruits from an annual plant grown mainly for the valuable oil obtained from the seeds, but the seeds themselves are a valuable snack food. They can be eaten roasted or raw, with or without the shell, and with or without seasonings. Each plant has a remarkably large flowerhead. The record holder was thirty inches in diameter, containing several hundred seeds. The name is derived from the plant’s ability to turn its “head” towards the sun so that it faces east at dawn and west at dusk. The French, Italian, Spanish, and Chinese names all suggest this.
There are almost 1,100 different species within the genus Helianthus, with the common sunflower (H. annus) being the most numerous. Sunflowers are indigenous to a wide area of North America, and are particularly prevalent in the Great Plains region, having adapted well to the colder northern climate. The Oregon sunflower (Balsamorhiza sagittata) was used extensively by the Nez Perce Indians of Oregon and other tribes of Puget Sound. The roots also were cooked on hot stones and eaten. They have a pleasantly sweet flavour. The seeds were pounded into a meal. In 1615, Champlain noted extensive use of the sunflower seed among the Huron Indians. Several varieties of the sunflower were also found in Peru, Chile, and Brazil. Sunflower seeds have even been found in archaeological sites of the Andean Indians, dating back 3,000 years.
Although the sunflower was introduced to Spain from North America in the 16th century, early attempts to utilize it in Europe were unsuccessful. By the early 18th century, however, Peter the Great took it to Russia, where a chance circumstance caused it to become an important plant food. The church had banned the eating of oily plants on fast days; but the newcomer, the sunflower, was not on the list drawn up by the clerics. Therefore, the sharper-eyed laity, took to chewing the seeds to extract the oil from them. Russia then became, and still remains, the largest growers of the sunflower with the US second. In 1615, Champlain discovered the Hurons were growing the sunflower in with their cultivated crops of maize, and the seeds were later mixed with their corn soups. Writings from 1623, record that the sunflower flourished in Spain, where they allegedly attained heights of twenty-four feet. The sunflower was first grown as an oil crop in Bavaria in 1725, and in France in 1787.
Sunflower seeds contain 24% protein, 66% polyunsaturated fatty acids, as well as vitamins A, D, E, several B vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, potassium, as well as fluorine and iodine. Sprouted seeds are easily digested and are rich in Vitamin E, lecithin, and pectin. The large-seeded varieties are sold in markets to be eaten raw, while the smaller seeds are prized more for their oil. When cold-pressed, the citron-yellow sweet-tasting oil is considered to be equal to olive or almond oil to table use. When heat-pressed, the oil diminishes so in quality that it is used only for candle and soap-making.