"I guess that sunflower seeds, especially in the 'by the cheekful' style of eating, have become a preferred alternative to chewing tobacco."
Last year I was visiting some friends in Italy and a local woman, famous for her cooking, invited us to her home for lunch. We were told to go down a certain road, and turn left after the field of girasole. I took these instructions down, not knowing what they meant, thinking it would become obvious once we got there. A quick check on my Blackberry's translator revealed our hidden landmark: sunflowers! We were surrounded by them, and at the end of the field, we made the turn and found her home and had a very memorable meal.
Sunflowers are native to the United States. The seeds were used by Native Americans in a variety of ways, for food, art, medicine, and ritual. Like peanuts, Spanish explorers in the 1500s recognized them as a valuable crop and loaded up their ships. They were grown all over Western Europe, mainly as ornamental flowers, but it was Peter the Great of Russia who recognized their value as an oilseed crop and commercialized their production. Different varieties are grown to produce seeds for eating and seeds to press oil from.
There seems to be a lot of controversy over the proper way to eat sunflower seeds. To begin, do you buy shelled or unshelled? Salted or unsalted? Do you put them in your mouth one at a time, or eat them by the handful?
Evidently there's a special technique of scooping 20 or so whole sunflower seeds into your mouth, keeping all but one on the side between your gums and your cheek, and cracking the about-to-be-eaten seed with your teeth on the other side of your mouth, using your tongue to roll it around before spitting out the shell.
There's no shortage of people wanting to display their talents.
How to Eat Unshelled Sunflower Seeds
This entertaining video features a little leaguer who just can't get enough sunflower seeds .
The Art of Enjoying Sunflower Seeds
And in this video, a coach instructs his charges on sunflower seed eating etiquette on the field, first exclaiming, "You will respect the seed!"
It's interesting that these two videos, some of the most viewed on the sunflower-eating topic on YouTube, are both somehow tied to baseball. I guess that sunflower seeds, especially in the "by the cheekful" style of eating, have become a preferred alternative to chewing tobacco.
Another interesting development in the world of sunflower seeds: flavors. When I was growing up, I remember just salted and unsalted. One company, humorously enough called Spitz offers seven different varieties, including dill pickle and chili lime.
Are you crazy for sunflower seeds? And if so, how do you eat them? One at a time, or have you mastered the art of the mouthful munch?
About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.