The Versatile Sunflower Seed


by Sidonie Maroon,

Sunflowers dig deep, stand tall, turn towards the sun, and aren’t afraid to be big and bold. The best thing about sunflowers is that they share their bounty with all. Spring time is seed time, and sunflower seeds are my new darlings. They’re nutrient dense, full of fiber, rich in minerals and so many other health benefits.

Sunflower Seeds as Culinary Ingredient

As a chef I appreciate the diverse ways I can use them: they’re easily made into flour for grain free bread; they make a great seed butter. I can ferment them into a vegan cheese. They’re an excellent base for dips, sprout well and are addictive roasted. Sunflower seeds are versatile, and won’t break my budget like higher-priced nuts can.

Sunflower Seeds and Balancing Essential Fatty Acids

Sunflower seeds are high in omega-6 fatty acids. We want to balance our intake of essential fatty acids, and Americans are usually deficient in omega-3’s. This isn’t a problem if you’re eating a 4:1 ratio of omega-6’s to omega-3’s over the week. A salmon salad sandwich on sunflower bread, or sunflower spread with flax crackers would both do the trick. I wouldn’t exclude sunflower seeds from my diet because of this issue, but I also wouldn’t use much or any sunflower seed oil. Sunflower seed oil will increase your omega-6’s without the fiber and protein of the whole seed. In my opinion, whole is often better.

Sunflower Seed Flour is an alternative to Almond Flour

I became curious about sunflower seeds when the almond flour craze began. It amazed me how overused almonds were becoming in gluten-free, Paleo and Keto baking recipes. Almond flour is expensive, and I was concerned about how an increasing demand was affecting U.S. honey bees.

Demonizing healthy whole foods, like almonds, doesn’t work for me, but to rely on a single food as a dietary savior doesn’t either. Common sense and diversity in what we eat are what I advocate for.

Listening to our bodies

Sprout, roast or soak overnight in salt water, is there a best way to prepare sunflower seeds? I used to think soaking overnight eliminated, so called, anti-nutrients from seeds, and that this was important. But, the more I researched and experimented, the more I questioned the judgemental term ‘anti-nutrient’. It’s used to describe phytic acid; which is naturally present in seeds, nuts, grains and legumes. It turns out, like everything else, phytic acid is both beneficial and limiting to our health. The best solution I’ve come up, with to live peacefully with this bewildering topic, is to use a variety of recipes that use a diversity of methods. Heretical as it sounds, I now, sometimes, use my soaking water from beans and seeds in recipes. What works is to listening to my body, study traditional cuisines, and following the lead of the sunflower itself. The consistent wisdom of cooking and eating what feels right is a better guide than buying into yet another oft repeated but overemphasised food fear.

This is a complex subject and hard to find unbiased information about. If you’re interested, I recommend that you start by understanding what phytic acid and phytase are, and their role in the life cycle of seeds, and then move to human nutrition.

Sunflower Seed Recipe Box

Here’s a collection of recipes from my recent sunflower seed food exploration: a bread made with sunflower seed flour; a lacto fermented seed cheese; a soaked sunflower seed spread, and a crunchy roasted spicy sunflower snack.  


Sunflower Seed Buns

These quick, miraculous buns taste like, fresh from the oven, seeded whole wheat bread. They’re grain, starch and egg free. Even if you have no food sensitivities, they’re worth making, because they are so high in fiber and nutritionally dense.  

1 ¼ cup sunflower seeds

5 tablespoons psyllium seed powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

¾ teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons flax meal

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 cup boiling water

① Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper

② Mill the sunflower seeds into a flour using a Vitamix

③ Mix all dry ingredients together 

④ Add apple cider vinegar to boiling water and pour over dry ingredients

⑤ Quickly stir together until combined

⑥ Divide and shape into 6 evenly sized buns

⑦ Bake at 425 F for 15 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 F and bake for another 15 minutes

⑧ Let cool for at least 15 minutes allowing the gels to set.

⑨ Excellent eaten warm or toasted.

Lacto Fermented Sunflower Seed Spread 

A delicious lacto-fermented seed cheese, that’s easy to make and great to have around. It’s yummy plain or with the additional pressed garlic, fresh herbs and chives.


1 cup hulled toasted sunflower seeds

⅔ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup reserved soaking water. See note on seed soaking water

① In the evening, toast the sunflower seeds for 4 minutes on a medium low heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet.

② Put the toasted sunflower seeds in a pint-sized  mason jar and fill it to an inch below the rim with filtered water. Let it soak overnight (8-12 hours).

③ Strain off the soaking water and reserve ½ cup

④ Add the strained sunflower seeds to a food processor or Vitamix with ½ cup soaking  water and ⅔ teaspoon sea salt.  Blend until super smooth. This is easier in the Vitamix. Expect it to take up to 5 minutes in a food processor, scraping down the sides.

⑤ Return the puree back to the pint jar and cover with a cloth.

⑥ Leave on your counter to ferment at room temperature for 24 hours.  After 24 hours it’ll taste sour and look a little puffy.

Note: The top of the cheese will oxidize. I scrape the top off with a butter knife and taste under it. When the cheese ferments, it will taste like a mild cottage cheese. Keep refrigerated. It will keep until you see signs of mold or it smells bad, but I eat mine long before this happens.

Fantabulous Seed-Sauce

My friend Josie kept asking me if I’d tried the “Chipotle Bitchin’ Sauce” at the Coop. She loves it. No, I hadn’t and I still haven’t, but it inspired this fantabulous seed-sauce. I wanted a dip that would taste guacamole smooth with the hit of lime and chipotle. This does the trick. I ate the entire last batch, in the name of testing. It’s good with chips, or veggie sticks, or on a roll-up. It’s simple and fast to put together.         


1 cup hulled sunflower seeds: soaked overnight, in filtered water with 1 teaspoon sea salt added.

The water should cover the seeds by 1 inch.

½ cup of the soaking water

2 cloves garlic minced

¼ cup lime juice (about 2 limes) plus the zest

2 tablespoons avocado oil

1 ½ teaspoons chipotle sauce from canned chipotles (increase by ½ teaspoon for additional heat)

2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon sea salt or to taste

① Soak the sunflower seeds, overnight, in filtered water with 1 teaspoon of sea salt. The water should cover the seeds by 1 inch.

② Strain the seeds and reserve ½ cup of the soaking water.

③ Combine all the ingredients in a high-powered mixer or food processor, and process until smooth.

④ Taste and add extra lime or salt if needed.

Seed soaking note: I soak the seeds to open the bioavailable nutrition in the seeds and use the soaking water to take advantage of any nutrition leached into the water. If it concerns you, then substitute fresh water. I now use my legume soaking water to cook with. The general current consensus it to throw out all soaking water, but I can’t find any science to back this up and many traditional cultures do not throw out their soaking water. For instance, Mexican and Central American cuisines. I’m stepping off the anti-nutrient bandwagon for now. Please do what you think best.

Roasted Spicy Barbecue Flavored Sunflower Seeds

These spicy crunchy power houses make great snacks but also addictive, so watch out.


2 cups hulled sunflower seeds

1 egg white beaten until frothy

¼ cup coconut sugar

1 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon onion powder

½ teaspoon dried mustard powder

¼ teaspoon black pepper

¼ teaspoon cayenne powder

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

① Preheat oven to 300 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

② Whisk the egg white until frothy. Grind or crush the spices and salt together. 

③ Mix the sunflower seeds into the egg white. Sprinkle the spice mix on and combine until it coats the seeds. Spread out the seeds on the parchment paper.

④ Bake stirring halfway through until the seeds are dry about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool and brake apart before eating. Store in a dry container. They’ll keep for a week or two.