Sunflower seeds are for the birds – and people

Sunflower seeds are very versatile. They can be eaten or fed to the birds.

Keep an eye on your sunflowers this fall, whether you want to harvest them for people food or bird food. Sunflowers are mature when the back of the heads turn brown and dry. Most of the yellow petals will have dried and fallen, with the seeds still plump. Sunflowers can tolerate some frost when they are small.

Cut off the entire flower head when you are ready to harvest the seeds. Next, place it in a net bag or tie a piece of cheesecloth around it before hanging it upside-down. The flower head should be hung in a warm, dry place with good air circulation for about three weeks. Seeds will drop out as they dry. Get the rest of the seeds out of the head by knocking it against a table or counter, or by rubbing two heads together. Be sure the seeds are fully dried before putting them in air-tight containers for storage. If the seeds are for the birds, no further processing is needed.

Seeds for people to eat can be hulled and eaten raw or used for baking. They can be hulled and fried or roasted, including roasting in the shell. Michigan State University Extension offers suggestions on how to prepare and preserve your sunflower seeds for snacks or in baked goods.

To hull dried sunflower seeds, begin by breaking them up with a rolling pin, hammer or food chopper. Then,  drop seeds and hulls into a large container of water and stir vigorously. The kernels will sink to the bottom and the shells will float. Dry the kernels before roasting or storing.

Roast plain sunflower seeds  on a cookie sheet in a 300 degreeFahrenheit oven for 15 to 25 minutes. If you like salted seeds, soak them overnight in a brine of two quarts of water to 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salt. The next morning, boil the seed brine with the seeds for a few minutes and drain. Spread the seeds on a cookie sheet and roast in a 200 degree Fahrenheit oven for three hours or until crisp. If roasted long enough, they are easy to shell. If preferred, you can baste them with just a little butter while they are roasting. Stir or shake occasionally so they roast evenly.

Another way to roast sunflower seeds is to simply mix them with butter and salt. Use about 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and 1 teaspoon salt for every 2 cups of seeds and roast them for about an hour at 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Shake or stir them occasionally.

To deep fry hulled seeds, allow 1/4 cup cooking oil for every cup of seeds. Fry at 250 degrees Fahrenheit until seeds are golden brown. Drain on absorbent paper and store, tightly covered.

Hulled raw sunflower seeds can be used in muffins, cookies, bread and homemade granola and can be sprinkled on salads and cereal.

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